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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
On the fourth Hebrew anniversary of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that the days of unilateral, unreciprocated Israeli actions were over.
In a swipe at disengagement, Netanyahu said, "peace will go back to being based on reciprocity, not unilateralism."
"In the framework of the peace agreements, Israel expects that the Palestinians will recognize the State of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, that the problem of the refugees will be resolved outside Israel's borders and that there will be effective security arrangements and demilitarization, with international recognition and guarantees," he said."These are not preconditions for the start of a peace process, but the basic conditions for establishing a lasting and stable peace. Palestinian moderates should internalize this."
Documents leaked to the Arabic press over the weekend indicated that Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, will reject at its upcoming convention in Bethlehem Israel's call for the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The prime minister emphasized that Israel was willing to open peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Syria and any other Arab country, without preconditions. "Whoever sets preconditions for opening negotiations delays the peace process," he said. "We wholeheartedly support President Obama's regional initiative. In the framework of that initiative, the Arab countries, especially the main Arab states, must contribute with normalization steps towards Israel."
These comments came against the background of Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal's rejection in Washington on Friday of US efforts to get the Saudis to make some kind of gestures to Israel in order to help relaunch the diplomatic process.
"Today," Netanyahu said, "is the day Israel uprooted approximately 10,000 Israelis - men, women and children - from their homes. To our regret, Gaza has become a base for Hamas-led, Iran-sponsored terrorism. Thousands of rockets and missiles have been fired at us."
The prime minister said he was committed to a "full rehabilitation" of the evacuees "in order to enable them to rebuild their destroyed lives."
He said the cabinet would discuss the issue at length during next week's meeting.
Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not tolerate rocket and missile fire of any kind, neither barrages nor individual attacks, adding that "all firing will be vigorously responded to." While bewailing what has transpired in Gaza over the last four years, Netanyahu - during the cabinet meeting - pointed to the significant economic growth in the West Bank over the last few months, and said that if this pace continued, the West Bank economy could register 10 percent growth in 2009.
Netanyahu said this was due in no small part to Israel's removing both security and bureaucratic obstacles in the West Bank to help facilitate economic activity.
While saying that economic cooperation with the PA was limited because Abbas had put conditions on negotiations with Israel, Netanyahu said the influence of steps his government has taken on removing IDF roadblocks and cutting through bureaucratic red tape to move economic projects forward were being felt.
"What will the future of the peace process look like in one or two years if the PA economy grows by more than 10% a year?" he asked. "That impact will be significant."
He said there were currently two economic models the PA could follow: that of Dubai or that of Gaza. "I'm not saying it will be Dubai here," Netanyahu said, "but the more you move in that direction, the closer you bring peace; and the farther away you get from that, the more distant peace becomes."