Israel will not dismantle any West Bank settlements during his next term of office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in interviews published on Friday, four days ahead of elections he is expected to win.
“The days of bulldozers flattening settlements is behind us not in front of us,” he told the Ma’ariv daily.
Israeli settlements have been one of the main stumbling blocks to getting Israeli-Palestinian peace talks started again, after President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that there could be no negotiations until Israel agreed to freeze construction in its West Bank settlements.
Although Mr. Netanyahu did institute a limited, partial 10-month freeze from November 2009 to September 2010, he refused to renew it, and says negotiations must be conducted without any preconditions.
The international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal. Israel disputes this, and says that in any peace agreement it will retain large blocks of settlements, located near the de facto West Bank-Israel borders.
Mr. Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post daily that “there is a common acceptance that the so-called settlement blocs will remain part of Israel” in any peace agreement.
Critics have charged that Israel’s settlements prevent the possibility of a Palestinian state ever arising, and many legislators in Netanyahu’s own Likud-Beteinu faction disown the two-state solution to the conflict.
Mr. Netanyahu however told the Jerusalem Post that “I don’t think it is a good idea for the Jewish state (for the Palestinians to be incorporated as citizens of Israel).” He repeated the point in the Ma’ariv interview, saying that “first of all, nobody wants a bi-national state.” The Israeli leader blamed Mr. Abbas for the peace process impasse, accusing him of avoiding negotiations.
“He’s run away from negotiations for the last four years. He’s piled on precondition upon precondition,” he told the Post.
“He went to the UN for a unilateral resolution, which is a fundamental breach of the (Israeli-Palestinian interim) Oslo Accords.
He embraced (the radical Islamist) Hamas (movement). If he changes that and comes back to the table without preconditions, he’ll find me there, if I’m elected prime minister.” “The Palestinians are posing entry conditions for commencing negotiations that we cannot accept,” he told Ma’ariv.
“On the other hand,” he added, “I have conditions for how to end the negotiations. Their entry conditions are unacceptable to me, and my conditions for concluding the negotiations are unacceptable to them. That is the actual reality.” Commenting on reported remarks by U.S. President Barack Obama, that he was leading Israel down a path of near-total isolation by expediting settlement construction plans, Netanyahu admitted that he and the president “cooperate on many things” but “also have our differences.” “I respect the president and I know that we would both like to see peace achieved in this region, even if we sometimes disagree on the best way to achieve it,” he said.
Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beteinu faction is tipped to emerge from the January 22 elections as the strongest party in parliament, with around 35 of the 120 seats in the House, and he is the odds-on favourite to be given the nod by President Shimon Peres to form the next Israeli government.