Israel would be willing to make painful concessions in order to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority, International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told the British Daily Telegraph in an interview published Thursday.
Steinitz said that a “demilitarized” Palestinian state was the “only possible solution” to the conflict between the sides.
The comments come on the eve of the first peace talks between the sides for three years. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, the Israeli chief negotiator, is scheduled to meet PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat in Washington on Tuesday.
“I think that this is the only possible solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Steinitz told the Daily Telegraph. “At the end of the day, we will have such a situation. It’s going to be difficult to achieve it - there are many obstacles in the way - but I think there is no other solution to the problem.”
In order to reach agreement, Israel was willing to relinquish territory in Judea and Samaria, he said.
“We are prepared to make considerable concessions and it’s not going to be easy,” said Steinitz. “Both sides will have to make very significant concessions and very difficult concessions. We will probably have to make very serious territorial concessions. And the Palestinians will have to make also both territorial concessions - because there will be settlement blocs - but more important still they will have to recognize the very existence of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
He added that the PA must recognize not only Israel’s right to exist but its status as a Jewish state. They will also have to abandon their demand for the “right of return” which would see millions of refugees who fled Israel during the 1948 War of Independence and their descendants flooding Israel. As for Jerusalem, Steinitz said the status quo was the only option.
“We are ready for a two states for two people solution,” he told the Daily Telegraph. “If we reach an end of conflict peace agreement with the Palestinians, we will have a referendum. I can tell you, I am confident that most Israelis will support it - even if we will have to make considerable and difficult concessions, including territorial concessions. But on one condition: that Israelis will be totally convinced that what we are getting in return is genuine, enduring peace and real security.”
The “existential” threat to Israeli security comes from Iran’s nuclear ambitions, added Steinitz, noting that Iranian president-elect Hassan Rouhani, who will formally take office on August 3, had “cheated” the West when he led negotiations over the nuclear program a decade ago.
“He [Rouhani] is cunning, he’s charming and he will smile all the way to the bomb unless the Western world will do everything necessary to stop him,” warned Steinitz.
The West, he added, should send Iran a “clear message” by stating: “You want to save the Iranian economy? Give up the nuclear project. You want to continue the nuclear project? You will destroy the Iranian economy and even expose yourself to potential possible military attack. There is no third way, nothing in between. No middle way.”
On Syria, Steinitz said that Israel’s policy was “not to interfere” in a “terrible tragedy”. Britain and France have persuaded the European Union to lift its arms embargo on Syria, a step that would allow the supply of weapons to the rebels.
As for whether they should go ahead and arm the opponents of President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, Steinitz said, “We are not against it. I think, as Prime Minster Netanyahu said, you have to be very careful about the kind of weapons you supply to opposition groups in order to minimize the risk that they will be used for different purposes.”
He added, “The picture is very clear. The West sided with the opposition from the beginning and said ‘Assad must go’. Iran and Russia sided with Assad from the beginning. But Assad got very real tangible military support from Iran and Russia - and the opposition got only virtual military support from the West. He got weapons and they got words.
“I want to leave it to the Western countries to decide. But I think, generally speaking, if you side with somebody, probably people expect that it will be meaningful,” said Steinitz.
In the interview Steinitz thanked British Foreign Secretary William Hague for his push in getting the European Union to blacklist the “military wing” of the Hizbullah terror group.
“Britain’s pivotal and important role in finally getting the right decision” had been a “token of friendship to Israel,” said Steinitz.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)