Israel PM: Root of Palestinian conflict 'not territorial'
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Israelis pray at the site where an Israeli settler was stabbed to death by a knife-wielding Palestinian earlier in the day near Tappuah junction south of Nablus on April 30, 2013. AFP photo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said the root of the conflict with the Palestinians was not about territory but about their refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.
"The root of the conflict is not territorial. It started a long time before 1967," Netanyahu said in a meeting with foreign ministry officials.
"The Palestinians' lack of will to recognise the state of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people is the root of the conflict," he said.
His remarks, which were communicated by a senior government source, appeared to be a reference to moves by the Arab League to revive and modify its 2002 peace initiative.
The Saudi-led proposal, which offers full diplomatic ties with the Arab world in exchange for Israel's withdrawal from land occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War, now includes a reference to the principle of mutually agreed land swaps, in a move hailed by Washington as "a very big step forward." The step was welcomed by Israel's chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, but Netanyahu said an Israeli withdrawal would not solve the conflict, which was not about land but about "the very existence of a Jewish state," the source said.
"You saw what happened when we left the Gaza Strip (in 2005). We evacuated the last settler and what did we get? Rockets," Netanyahu told the diplomats, urging them to drive home the message.
"If we reach a peace agreement I want to know that the conflict will not continue. That there won't be any more Palestinian claims afterwards," he said.
"The root of the conflict is Acre, Jaffa and Ashkelon and you need to say it. You don't need to apologise. You need to say the truth," he told them.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently engaged in efforts to relaunch stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, believes the Arab Peace Initiative could provide a framework for a future peace deal.
But Netanyahu has ruled out any Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, saying they would be "indefensible."
Israel will not talk on basis of 1967 lines: minister
Israel will keep refusing to negotiate on the basis of a total withdrawal from land it seized during the 1967 Six-Day War, a minister said Wednesday after the Arab League modified its peace plan.
"If Israel agrees to come to the negotiating table while accepting in advance that talks would be held on the basis of the 1967 lines, there wouldn't be very much to negotiate about," said Gilad Erdan, a minister in the security cabinet and considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"We cannot start negotiations after agreeing in advance to give up everything," he told public radio.
His remarks came a day after the Arab League moderated the terms of its 2002 peace initiative.
The initiative will now incorporate the principle of mutual land swaps in the context of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, in exchange for full diplomatic ties with the Arab world.
Netanyahu has so far categorically rejected outright any return to the "indefensible" lines which existed before June 4, 1967.
"I hope that Abu Mazen doesn't think that Israel will give up its positions and agree to hand over all the land where we believe we have a right to settle," said Erdan, referring to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Israel hopes the principle of land swaps will allow it to retain the large blocs where most of the settlers live, while the Palestinians would be compensated by receiving territory currently under Israeli sovereignty.
The Arab League's acceptance of land swaps was welcomed by Israel's chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, but won a decidedly tepid response from a government official, who said specific positions would be unveiled only "when the negotiations start." Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat also played down the significance of the move, saying it was merely a statement of the official Palestinian position which accepts the principle of "minor agreed border modifications." US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently engaged in efforts to relaunch the stalled peace talks, believes the Arab Peace Initiative could provide a framework for a future peace deal.
Speaking on Tuesday, he hailed the move as "a very big step forward."