Netanyahu: Way to peace runs through economy

Developing Palestinian economy without ceding additional land is best policy, Bibi says.

netanyahu 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
netanyahu 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A government policy that would advocate the economic development of the Palestinian territories without ceding additional land is the best option for alleviating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Likud opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday. "If we develop the [Palestinian] economy, we are depriving militant Islam from getting new recruits," Netanyahu said in an address to the New York-based World Jewish Congress's governing board in Jerusalem. The former prime minister said a three-pronged government policy that entailed Israel maintaining security control, "economic peace" and involving its Arab neighbors in regional cooperation was not a substitute for Palestinian national aspirations, but was the best way to rendering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict less acute. "Economic prosperity will do more for peace than 1,000 economic conferences," Netanyahu said, characterizing the government's current policy as a "virtual peace process with a virtual partner." He said such economic development - such as joint tourism projects and investments that would create jobs - was most feasible in the border areas between Israel and the West Bank, as well as in the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu reiterated his long-held view that any additional Israeli withdrawals would only strengthen Islamic extremism, noting that unilateral withdrawals from both Lebanon and Gaza had only led to rocket attacks on Israeli communities. "If we leave, Hamas, al-Qaida, [Islamic] Jihad, and Iran come in," Netanyahu said. "How many time can you repeat the same mistake?" And any division of Jerusalem, such as the government has been considering, would turn the capital into a mecca for radical Islam, and would likely set off a global conflict that would destroy any chance for peace, he said. "If we are prepared to give up Jerusalem - the Temple Mount and the Old City - what is it we are not prepared to give up?" Netanyahu asked. The opposition leader, who leads in the polls to become the next prime minister, said that if he won the next election he would invite all Zionist parties to unite under such a platform. In a separate address Tuesday evening, President Shimon Peres also said that a Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian economic partnership was the best way of advancing peace under the current circumstances, with Hamas running Gaza. "We need to open a journey to peace on the economic track, not instead of political negotiations but in parallel," he said. Peres said there was a "golden opportunity" to create a joint economic zone from the Red Sea in the South to the Syrian border in the North.