In his first major foreign policy speech since taking office, the prime minister expressed support for a Palestinian state, said no new settlements would be built and Jerusalem will remain the capital of a unified Israel.
The prime minister's groundbreaking speech, delivered at Tel Aviv's Bar Ilan University, drew sharp criticism from members of his own government and Likud Party. Israel's Channel One television reported the Kadima party declared it would not remain in the government, and the Likud Party sought to convene an emergency faction meeting to vote on the speech.
Parliamentarian Aryeh Eldad said Netanyahu had lost the support of the national camp, and accused him of crossing all the red lines. "In saying a demilitarized Palestinian state, Netanyahu is trying to eat a pig that has been slaughtered in a kosher way. There is no such thing as a Palestinian state," he told The Jerusalem Post.
Another parliamentarian affiliated with the left told Haaretz that Netanyahu's position will create further difficulties for purposeful negotiations.
A statement issued by the White House said U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes the important step forward by Netanyahu.
"The president is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations," the statement said.
Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israeli television Netanyahu's position will be impossible to accept. Netanyahu, he said, will have to wait 1,000 years before even one Palestinian will agree to negotiate with him. The Israeli prime minister spoke about a Palestinian state, but removed the status of Jerusalem and the refugee issue from the negotiations, he said.
If Israel "receives a commitment to Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state and a demilitarized Palestinian state, we can reach a final agreement," The Jerusalem Post quoted the prime minister as saying. This, he insisted, is a prerequisite for regional peace.
Achieving peace, Netanyahu said, requires courage and honesty from both sides. Provisions must be made to ensure Palestinians have no weapons and no opportunity to create pacts with hostile entities if a Palestinian state is to exist peacefully alongside Israel.
Jerusalem will remain the unified capital of Israel, he said.
Touching on the settlement issue, considered a major bone of contention, between the United States and Israel, Netanyahu declared there would be no new settlements or expanding of existing ones.
"I turn to Arab leaders: Let's make peace, I am ready … I am willing to go to Damascus, Riyadh and Beirut -- to meet anytime and anywhere," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu maintained the biggest threat to Israel and the region remains Iran and the confluence of "radical Islamism and nuclear weaponry,"" the Post said.
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