Israeli leader predicts 'cold peace' in Middle East
By ARON HELLER
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that any agreement to emerge from newly restarted talks with the Palestinians will likely initially result in a “cold peace,” and therefore Israel must insist on “iron-clad security arrangements” to protect itself in case the accord collapses.
Netanyahu’s cautious outlook in a video address to the Brookings Institution in Washington came a day after President Barack Obama gave an optimistic prognosis before the same audience, insisting a peace framework could be attained in a matter of months.
The Obama administration embarked on an ambitious nine-month process in July to try to resolve the Israeli and Palestinians’ decades-long conflict.
The sides only agreed to enter talks after heavy American pressure and have since held a series of quiet meetings that have resulted in no tangible results, yet plenty of finger-pointing.
The Palestinians accuse Israel of negotiating in bad faith by continuing to build settlements in areas they hope will become part of a future Palestinian state. Israel counters it is the Palestinians who are preventing peace because they continue to refuse to recognize it as a Jewish state.
“It is not too much to ask. It is the minimum requirement for peace. But it is not the only requirement,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t delude myself. I think that any kind of peace we’ll have is likely, initially, to be a cold peace and it must withstand the forces of terrorism and the ravaging forces of radicalism and all the forces backed by Iran and others that will try to unravel the peace.”
Israel has previously held several rounds of peace talks with the Palestinians over the past two decades that have ultimately collapsed. It has forged peace deals with two other Arab neighbors, Jordan and Egypt.
The peace with Egypt, Israel’s first with an Arab country, is often described as “cold” since beyond the absence of war it did not evolve into warm diplomatic relations.
Responding to Israeli security fears, John Kerry arrived in the region last week for his eighth visit to as secretary of state. This time he was accompanied by his security adviser, retired Gen. John Allen, who presented proposals on ensuring Israeli security under a peace deal. The idea, American officials said, was that by easing Israeli concerns, other issues, such as borders, could then fall into place.
Kerry said that dozens of experts had been working with Allen on the proposals. He gave no details on specifics. But Israeli media, citing Israeli officials, have said the proposals include a continued Israeli security presence in the West Bank after a deal is signed, backing a key demand of Netanyahu’s.
In his address to the Brookings Institution, Obama said any peace deal would have to be implemented in stages.
The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in 1967, for an independent state. Netanyahu rejects a full return to Israel’s pre-1967 lines and has indicated he wants to keep control of large parts of the West Bank and all of east Jerusalem. He says the core of the dispute is not land claims, but a Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s ancient connection to the land.
But Netanyahu has also faced questions from within his own government about his level of commitment to peace.
On Sunday, the leader of his largest coalition partner vowed to prevent “what seems to be an ongoing attempt to delay and dilute the current round of negotiations.”
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said his Yesh Atid party would serve as a “fig leaf” in a government that did not aggressively seek peace and warned that changes to a coalition that includes a pro-settler party may have to be made.
“With each passing day, the absence of an agreement between us and the Palestinians represents a clear and present danger to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,” he said at a business conference in Tel Aviv.
“The tragic irony here is that everyone knows more or less how this conflict will be resolved; one state on one side, another state on the other side. The only thing we don’t know is how much more time will elapse before this happens and how much blood will be shed until then,” he said.
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