Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally put forward the concept of a Palestinian State in his address Sunday night before a packed audience at the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University. In his carefully worded address, much shorter than the one U.S. President Barack Obama had given in Cairo a week before, Netanyahu said that he supports the idea of a Palestinian State alongside a Jewish one. “I come to you, the Palestinian People – come, let us have peace together and develop the region together”.
He noted that this state, when created, must abide by a number of principles; including being fully demilitarized and not allowed to have an air force, navy or mechanized army, and that they would only be allowed to have enough small arms to maintain law an order and preserve their national security. “We are prepared to let the Palestinians live in their designated areas but we don’t want to have their missiles landing on our cities such as Kfar Sava and Petach Tikvah, as well as our international airport” he continued.
The Prime Minister pointed out that Israel will remain a Jewish State with an undivided capital in Jerusalem. He said that the lands upon which the Palestinian claim as their national homeland is also Jewish homeland with a historical connection going back 3,400 years. He added that these lands are the ones given by God to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and as such “will remain as an indispensable part of the Jewish Homeland”. He added that one of the conditions of the Palestinians being allowed to have “their little state” would be their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. He was quick to add that the Palestinians would be allowed their national identity and religious freedom within their own borders. “We don’t want to impose our religion, flag, or national identity upon them” he said.
In reference to what President Obama had said about “the state of Israel being created as a result of the horrors of the Holocaust”, he pointed out that Jewish claim to this land goes back more than 3,500 years. He further pointed out that had a Jewish state been established earlier (at the time of Balfour Declaration for example) “there might not have been a Holocaust as Jews would have had a place to go to prior to the onset on WWII.
The question of Palestinian refugees was also mentioned and this issue would not be acceptable within the borders of Israel. “A solution will be found for these refugees, but outside Israel’s borders”, he added.
Netanyahu both began and ended his 30 minute speech by offering to reach out to the heads of all Arab states who are interested in having peace with Israel. “I am prepared to meet with Arab leaders anytime, anywhere, including Beirut, Damascus –even Jerusalem”. He specifically mentioned that he would not meet with terrorists, but did say that his government would make the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit “a top priority”.
He ended his speech by calling upon leaders of the Arab World “to continue the path of Menachem Begin and (slain Egyptian president) Anwar Sadat in making peace with Israel. “We must not forget the sacrifices they made for peace” he said, and ended by quoting a passing from the biblical Book of Isaiah: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they commit war anymore”.
Now the ball is in the Palestinian’s court.