Israel demanded on Sunday that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized and recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland, as he staked out his starting position for new Middle East peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said reaching a deal would be difficult but possible. The conditions he laid down, coupled with a swift Palestinian rejection, illustrated just how difficult the task will be for the US to meet its goal of brokering peace within a year.
Talks are set to begin in Washington next week.
“We want to surprise all of the critics and skeptics. But to do that we need a real partner on the Palestinian side,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet. “If we discover that we have such a partner, we will be able to quickly reach a historic agreement between the two peoples.”
In his first public comments since the White House announced the planned resumption of talks on Friday, Netanyahu gave the first signs of what has been an extremely vague vision for a final settlement.
He said any future Palestinian state would not be allowed to have an army, would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and accept other Israeli security demands, he said, without elaborating.
He will be negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which holds sway only in the West Bank. The PLO wants a state in all of the West Bank, neighboring east Jerusalem and the seaside Gaza Strip on the other side of Israel.
Gaza is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel.
In the past, Netanyahu has said Israel would have to maintain a security presence along the West Bank’s border with Jordan in order to prevent arms smuggling, and that east Jerusalem, the sector of the holy city claimed by the Palestinians as their capital, must remain under Israeli control.
His Likud party is also a champion of the movement to settle Jews in the West Bank, which Israel captured along with east Jerusalem and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war.
“Achieving a peace agreement between us and the Palestinian Authority is difficult but possible,” Netanyahu said.
The Palestinians have long rejected Netanyahu’s demands. They say that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would threaten the status of Israel’s Arab minority and undermine the rights of Palestinian refugees whose families lost homes during Israel’s creation in 1948.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned US President Barack Obama that he will pull out of the talks if Israel ends a slowdown on West Bank settlement construction, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said yesterday.
Abbas gave the warning in a letter that he sent to Obama, as well as EU, the UN and Russia, Erekat said.
“If the Israeli government continues settlement activities, then by this it would have decided to stop negotiations, because we can’t continue with it if settlements continue,” Erekat said.
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