In briefing following meeting with Trump, PM says Palestinians will not be Israeli ‘subjects,’ reveals he requested US recognize Israeli annexation of Golan Heights
“I said it before, and I will repeat it here again: I don’t want to annex close to 2.5 millions Palestinians to Israel. I do not want them to be our subjects,” he told Israeli and international reporters moments after he left the White House for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump earlier Wednesday.
At the same time, Netanyahu revealed that he asked the president to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed in 1981. He refused to say how Trump and his aides responded, but said they did not appear surprised.
Echoing his remarks from a joint press conference with Trump earlier, Netanyahu argued that his positions on Palestinian statehood have not changed since his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan university, in which he recognized, in principle, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognized the Jewish state.
During the briefing, however, the prime minister repeatedly dodged questions as to whether his Bar-Ilan speech was still valid or whether he still endorses a Palestinian state.
Asked if the two-state solution is dead, Netanyahu said that depended on how one defined that term. “Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state and continues to talk about the right of return and does not agree to the IDF having full security control [over the West Bank]. That is his policy, and it is unacceptable to us.”
Lamenting the use of “labels,” such as two-state solution or one-state solution, Netanyahu insisted that his positions regarding Palestinian statehood have not changed at all. “I have been very consistent about that,” he said.
Netanyahu’s apparent distancing from the two-state solution came a day after the White House said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not have to come in that form and that the president will not insist on it.
Trump said Wednesday that he believed a peace deal was possible, but indicated that he was not going to tell Israelis or Palestinians how to reach it. “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, showing receptiveness to Netanyahu’s call for a regional initiative that relied on Israel’s improving relationships with Arab countries.
During their meeting, Netanyahu said he and Trump discussed the issue of West Bank settlements, indicating that the two leaders have yet to reach an agreement on the issue.
Earlier on Wednesday, Trump had turned to Netanyahu during their joint press conference and issued a good-natured warning to the Israeli leader over his government’s continued West Bank settlemen construction, telling him, “I’d like you to hold off on settlements for a little bit.”
Netanyahu told reporters Wednesday that the Trump administration and Israel “want to reach agreement (on settlements). We discussed it and will continue to discuss it in order to get to an agreement.” He refused to say whether an agreement was already reached, or whether the sought arrangement could resemble the Bush-Sharon letter in which former US president George W. Bush, in 2004, acknowledged the existence of large Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank and said it would be “unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
In the letter, Bush also insisted that “any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
Netanyahu did say that recently announced plans for some 6,000 housing units in various settlements across the West Bank and in East Jerusalem would still go ahead. However, he was hesitant to talk about the establishment of a new settlement, which Netanyahu promised the settler community as compensation for Amona, an illegal outpost that was evacuated last month due to a court order that determined it was built on private Palestinian land.
Plans for a new settlement were “still being negotiated,” Netanyahu said, but “if there’s a request to examine this issue from so friendly a president, I think it’s appropriate to make the effort.”
“In Jerusalem, we’ll continue to build, and everything we’ve already announced will be built. But, on the rest, we need to discuss [it] and reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said, adding that where the US and Israel see “eye to eye on the rest of the issues, we must examine any request on this issue because it is in our interest.”
Netanyahu also said he and Trump discussed “at great length” regional challenges, especially the Iran nuclear agreement and the regime’s increasing aggression and the Syrian civil war, though he refused to divulge details.
“The president repeated in private what he also said publicly, that this is a terrible deal and that he’s committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Netanyahu said. “We agreed to cooperate in confronting Iranian aggression in the region.”
During their joint appearance in the White House’s East Room, Trump called the 2015 Iranian nuclear pact “one of the worst deals I’ve ever seen” but stopped short of calling for its cancellation.
“My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon,” he said.
Netanyahu told the journalists at the Blair House Wednesday that Tehran would be able to develop many nuclear weapons once the deal expires, and that it was his goal to prevent such an outcome.
“There are a variety of ways to go about that, and I discussed them at great length with the president,” he said, refusing to provide more details.
The prime minister hailed Trump as a staunch ally of Israel and the best friend the Jewish people could wish for, while rejecting concerns over the White House’s International Holocaust Day statement last month, which failed to mention the Jewish people, as misplaced.
“There is no doubt that the president and his team understand very well the significance of the Holocaust as an attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, and that they fully appreciate the centrality of the Holocaust in Jewish life,” he said.