Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel must have a presence in the West Bank even after a peace agreement is achieved, the first time he has spelled out such a demand.
He said the experience of rocket attacks from the Lebanese and Gaza borders means Israel must be able to prevent such weapons from being brought into a Palestinian entity in the West Bank.
"We cannot afford to have that across from the center of our country," he told foreign reporters Wednesday in Jerusalem.
"We are surrounded by an ever-growing arsenal of rockets placed in the Iranian-supported enclaves to the north and to the south," he said, referring to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians want to create an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem with no Israeli presence, military or civilian.
Under the current situation, Israel is in overall control of the West Bank and its borders, though the Palestinian Authority patrols main population centers.
Netanyahu outlined the defensive systems Israel is developing to knock down incoming rockets, but he admitted that they are "prohibitively expensive." He said that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza get their rockets from neighboring countries, and that must be stopped.
At the news conference, Netanyahu also appealed for tough international sanctions against Iran. He said there is "wide acceptance" of Israel's view that Iran poses a strategic threat because of its nuclear program.
"The question is, is there a willingness to act. We will soon find out," he said.
Netanyahu did not refer to the possibility that Israel or others might attack Iran militarily. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful, but Israel, the U.S. and others suspect that Iran is constructing nuclear weapons.
Request for U.S. negotiators
In earlier developments Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas proposed that the Obama administration negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state with Israel.
Such a proxy arrangement could provide a way around the current deadlock over reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks, which broke off more than a year ago. Abbas says he won't return to the table without a complete Israeli settlement freeze, something Netanyahu has refused to do.
The state would have to be established in the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast War — the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — but the Palestinians would agree to swap up to 3 percent of the territory to accommodate some Israeli settlements, the aide said.
Abbas made the proposal in recent meetings with Egyptian officials who passed the idea along to Washington, the aide said. It was not clear how the Americans reacted.
U.S. envoy heads to region
Abbas is expected to discuss his proposal with Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who was to arrive in Israel later Wednesday. Mitchell is to hold separate talks with Netanyahu and Abbas on Thursday and Friday.
The Obama administration has suggested bypassing the settlement issue by getting the two sides to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state, including a partition of Jerusalem.