Page last updated at 04:22 GMT, Thursday, 21 January 2010

Netanyahu demands future Israeli presence in West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu (20 January 2010)
Mr Netanyahu criticised the Palestinians for refusing to resume peace talks

Israel's prime minister has said it must maintain a presence along the eastern border of a future Palestinian state to stop the smuggling of weapons.

Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had to be able to prevent missile attacks from neighbouring territory, as it had experienced with Lebanon and Gaza.

"We cannot afford to have that across from the centre of our country," he told foreign reporters in Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu also reiterated calls for an immediate resumption of peace talks.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has said it will only resume talks when the construction of Jewish settlements is halted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Last month, Israel announced a 10-month suspension of new residential building work in settlements in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is due to discuss the impasse during separate meetings with Mr Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday and Friday.

'Prepared for peace'

Addressing foreign media on Wednesday evening, Mr Netanyahu criticised the Palestinian Authority for continuing to refuse to resume peace talks.

Once again Netanyahu asks for dictation, not negotiations
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat

"The Palestinians have climbed up a tree. And they like it up there," he said, explaining that his government had taken significant steps to promote economic growth in the West Bank by easing restrictions on movement.

"People bring ladders to them. We bring ladders to them. The higher the ladder, the higher they climb."

"I'm prepared for peace. Are the Palestinians ready for peace?"

Mr Netanyahu then revealed he would demand a military presence in the West Bank even after a Palestinian state was created.

Israel could not afford to allow militants to fire rockets across a border that ran alongside its major population centres, he said. Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in recent years.

Israeli troops look out over the Jordan Valley (2001)
Israeli troops hold strategic positions along the Jordan river valley

"The ability to proliferate into contiguous areas thousands of rockets and missiles... is something that creates a monumental security problem," Mr Netanyahu said.

"We must ensure... there is a way to stop the infiltration of weapons."

"In the case of the future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of the prospective Palestinian state," he added.

Correspondents say Mr Netanyahu's comments signal that Israel would look to hold onto strategic positions along the Jordan Valley.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, immediately rejected Mr Netanyahu's call, saying a Palestinian state would not allow any Israeli presence.

"Once again Netanyahu asks for dictation, not negotiations," he told the Associated Press.

Currently, Israel is in overall control of the West Bank and its borders, although the Palestinian Authority patrols major population centres.

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