Last updated: 19 March, 2015

Palestinians must hold ‘genuine’ peace talks: Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday denied making a U-turn by saying he would never agree to the creation of a Palestinian state, arguing that the conditions were not yet ripe.

Holding out an olive branch to the United States, the veteran politician insisted the Palestinian Authority had to cut its ties with Hamas militants, recognize the existence of a Jewish state and engage in “genuine” peace talks with Israel.

Taking to the US airwaves, he empathically denied going back on a long commitment to seeking a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in comments made in the last days of the election campaign, which raised global alarm.

“I didn’t retract any of the things I said in my speech six years ago, calling for a solution in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes a Jewish state. I said that the conditions for that, today, are not achievable,” Netanyahu told Fox News channel’s “The Kelly File.”

Netanyahu accused Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of rejecting “the acceptance of a Jewish state. He’s made a pact with the Palestinian terrorist organization, Hamas, that calls for our destruction.”

The Israeli leader also pointed to turmoil in the region unleashed in the wake of the Arab Spring, claiming that meant militants from the Islamic State group were only dozens of miles from Israel’s borders.

Speaking with NBC television, Netanyahu insisted he was “proud to be the prime minister of all Israeli citizens, Arabs and Jews alike” after triggering outrage for warning supporters that Israeli Arabs were “turning out in droves” to the polls.

He suggested to NBC that he remained open to the possibility of new peace talks, saying: “I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable.”

Israel would “need the recognition of (a) Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution.”

But he insisted that to make that happen, “you have to have real negotiations with people committed to peace … it’s time we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed too.”

Iran, which backs Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was ready to start pouring arms into the West Bank run by the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu claimed.

– ‘You can’t impose peace’ –

“We withdrew from Gaza, we got thousands of rockets on our heads. (We) don’t want it to happen again. I think the administration has said time and time again, the only way to achieve peace is a negotiated solution — you can’t impose peace,” he told NBC News.

“If you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for an achievable peace.”

The Israeli leader also maintained that his controversial anti-Arab comments on a Facebook page aimed at drumming up support at the ballot box were an attempt “to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party.”

Some outside groups had vowed to “try to get out votes for a specific party, an amalgamation of Islamists and other groups,” Netanyahu said, without giving any details, insisting he was not “trying to suppress a vote.”

The White House on Wednesday had chastised Netanyahu for his remarks, saying such rhetoric “seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens.”