Jerusalem: Any peace treaty with the Palestinians must be based on Israel`s ability to defend itself and not on mere "good will", hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday hours before the arrival of US Secretary of State John Kerry to push for peace talks.
"Peace rests on security. It is not based on good will or legitimacy as some think. It is based, first and foremost, on our ability to defend ourselves," he said at a ceremony to mark the 109th anniversary of the death of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of Zionism.
The Likud party leader`s remarks came as US Secretary of State is due to arrive in Jerusalem later on Thursday for a fifth round of talks in his ongoing effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which collapsed in 2010 over the issue of Israel`s settlement policy.
Netanyahu cautioned his countrymen not to be "fool" and believe that a peace agreement with the Palestinians would put to halt "defamation" of Israel.
"Israel wants peace and doesn`t want a bi-national state, but let`s not fool ourselves into believing that if we reach an agreement with the Palestinians it will eliminate the unbridled defamation against the Jewish state," he said.
Left-leaning Israeli daily Ha`aretz on Thursday reported that a senior cabinet minister from Netanyahu`s party has said that the Israeli leader would be willing to withdraw from most of the West Bank and evacuate numerous settlements as part of an agreement with the Palestinians, as long as his security demands were satisfied.
The senior minister was quoted as saying that Netanyahu knows very well that if negotiations with the Palestinians resume under Kerry`s leadership, he will have to hold serious discussions on the borders of a Palestinian state.
"Netanyahu understands that for a peace agreement, it will be necessary to withdraw from more than 90 per cent of the West Bank and evacuate more than a few settlements," he said.
The minister also said the issue of security arrangements is Netanyahu`s main concern, and this will be his main demand in the negotiations.
"If his security demands are met, he is prepared to make significant territorial concessions," the minister said.
Elaborating on the security needs he said that Netanyahu wants the future Palestinian state to be demilitarised, and he also wants the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to be able to maintain a long-term presence along the Jordan River, even if Israel cedes sovereignty there.
Another Israeli source familiar with the discussions
Netanyahu has been holding on the Palestinian issue told similar things to the Israeli daily.
"Netanyahu doesn`t have a map of the borders of the future Palestinian state," the source said.
"But all of his considerations on this issue stem from practical issues, not from ideology. His two key principles are maintaining the settlement blocs as part of Israel and a military presence in the Jordan Valley, without Israeli sovereignty there," he added.
The senior Likud minister also asserted that Netanyahu very much wants to resume talks with the Palestinians, but he isn`t convinced that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is equally eager.
"He`s not certain there`s a partner," the minister said.
He also reportedly said that Netanyahu believes the talks will have to continue for at least a year and that he`s interested in serious negotiations, "not the kind that will blow up after a few weeks".
"At first, everyone will take extreme, hard-line positions," he said adding, "But Netanyahu thinks these positions will start to coalesce once both sides begin to see the entire package."
The minister said Netanyahu would be able to mobilise broad-based political support for a deal with the Palestinians, even within his ruling Likud party.
"If he leads it, they`ll go with him. Even those who on Wednesday present themselves as right-wing," he said.