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 recognize 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 recognize 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.
They came after Gilad Erdan, a minister in the security cabinet and considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to a public radio.
“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.
“We cannot start negotiations after agreeing in advance to give up everything,” he added.
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 apologize. You need to say the truth,” he told them.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently engaged in efforts to re-launch 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.”