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Netanyahu: Palestinians need to demilitarize

/ Source: The Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel cannot live side by side with a new Palestinian state if it must continually be in fear of attack.

But Netanyahu repeated in a nationally broadcast interview his groundbreaking statement saying that he would accept a Palestinian state. But at the same time, he told NBC's TODAY show in an interview from Jerusalem that it would have to be a demilitarized state.

On the issue of further Jewish settlements in territory the Palestinians wish to claim as their own in a new state, Netanyahu said "I think I made it also clear that I would not build new settlements." He said that he and President Barack Obama are trying to resolve that issue.

Netanyahu said his vision is of separate Jewish and Palestinian states, living side by side in harmony, "not enmity."

The prime minister said his concern about Israel's security "is not a political exercise."

"We've got an enclave in Gaza and we can't have rockets in Tel Aviv," he said.

Netanyahu said that Israel has been pummeled by attacks from its Palestinian territories, telling NBC's Ann Curry: "Let's just think about seven rockets in New York, not to mention 7,000 in Tel Aviv ... Of course, that's (demilitarized zone) a requirement for peace."

On the issue of new settlements in the West Bank, he said, "This is a subject that I have discussed with" Washington.

"I think that President Obama and I are trying to reach a common understanding of this," he said. "I think we'll find some common ground."

Hard-liners back Netanyahu
Netanyahu's conditions, along with demands that Israel retain sovereignty over a united Jerusalem, enraged the Palestinians but won him support from hard-liners inside his government who historically have been cool to the idea of Palestinian independence.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the most powerful hard-liner in Netanyahu's government, said the prime minister's speech outlined "the balance between our aspirations for peace and the aspiration for security.

"Netanyahu opened the door to the Palestinians and the Arab nations to begin peace talks, and we hope the other side will take up the offer to renew negotiations," Lieberman said after the speech.

Eli Yishai, head of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas party, said Netanyahu "stressed his commitment to plausible peace and security."

Shas, Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu and the centrist Labor Party are Netanyahu's main coalition allies. Labor has long endorsed the concept of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu spoke after months of pressure from Washington to endorse Palestinian statehood, as successive Israeli governments before his have done.

Palestinians denounce proposal
The Palestinians want to establish a state that includes all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. Netanyahu ruled out sharing Jerusalem and made no mention of uprooting Jewish settlements built in the West Bank. Instead, he said existing settlements should be allowed to expand while negotiations proceed.

Palestinian officials denounced Netanyahu's proposal immediately after he finished his speech, saying the conditions in effect ruled out negotiations on all key issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Netanyahu's speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations," said negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Monday the Israeli leader had merely laid out an opening position that outlined his vision of a future peace agreement.

"These are not preconditions, but they're essential requirements for success in these talks," he told reporters.

‘Roots of the conflict’
Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, a former military chief, said the speech was important because of the Palestinian reaction.

"I think what was presented yesterday reflects a broad Israeli consensus," Yaalon told Army Radio. "I think it was important to juxtapose the broad Israeli consensus with the Palestinian rejectionism, which we exposed yesterday."

Even Cabinet Minister Benny Begin, who left Netanyahu's first government more than a decade ago following territorial concessions to the Palestinians, did not openly clash with him.

"Even though I have reservations about certain elements of his speech, the prime minister said important things that touch on the roots of the conflict," said Begin, a member of Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party.

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