Netanyahu: Conflict with Palestinians Not about Settlements

Ma'ale Adumim - Settlement near Jerusalem. Illustrative.

Amid a diplomatic controversy regarding settlement construction, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained on Thursday his country’s approach and argued that new apartments are not the root of the dispute with the Palestinians. Speaking in a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netanyahu pointed out that Arabs have sought to wipe out Israel before settlements existed and currently attack from Gaza after Israel evacuated the territory.

“I think the root cause is not the settlements; it’s an issue to be resolved. The root cause is the opposition to the State of Israel in any border,” Netanyahu was quoted by his office as saying. “I hope that we can engage at least part of the Palestinian people in a discussion about mutual coexistence, about mutual peace, about two states for two peoples, about a Jewish state living next to a Palestinian state, about security borders for Israel. This is our task.”

The discussion follows an Israeli decision to build new settlement buildings in response to the Palestinians seeking and receiving an upgrade in their United Nations status to non-member state. Israel has said the UN move is unacceptable and circumvents peace talks.

The Palestinians have slammed the Israeli settlement decision and threatened to take the matter to the powerful UN Security Council, which has the ability to impose sanctions on behalf of the UN. A previous resolution at the Council to condemn settlements without punitive measures was vetoed by the US in 2011.

One area Israel has expressed interest in developing near Jerusalem, known as the E1 corridor, has been blasted by the Palestinians as threatening the contiguity of a prospective Palestinian state. However, Netanyahu explained the territory is expected to be part of Israel in any agreement anyway and therefore is not a threat to a deal.

“Successive governments from Yitzhak Rabin on down to my predecessor, Mr. [Ehud] Olmert, have also said that this will be incorporated in a final peace treaty between Israel,” said Netanyahu, referring to two previous Israeli leaders that held substantive peace talks with the Palestinians.

“All Israeli governments have built in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and in what are called the settlement blocs, which are really suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where roughly 90% of Israeli citizens live in Judea and Samaria,” said Netanyahu, referring to the Biblical name for West Bank.

“…The curious thing is that most governments who have looked at these suggestions, these proposals over the years, including the Palestinians themselves as revealed in leaked documents, understand that these blocs, these arrangements are going to be part of Israel in a final political settlement of peace.”

Netanyahu also reiterated his openness to talking with the Palestinian leadership.  “You can’t finish a negotiation unless you start it,” he said. “And Israel was and remains prepared to begin such direct negotiations without preconditions.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, December 6, 2012)