Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Netanyahu to Foreign reporters: Israel must have West Bank presence after peace deal

(AP).Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel must have a presence in the West Bank even after a peace agreement is achieved, the first time he has spelled out such a demand.

He said the experience of rocket attacks from the Lebanese and Gaza borders means Israel must be able to prevent such weapons from being brought into a Palestinian entity in the West Bank.

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

"We are surrounded by an ever-growing arsenal of rockets placed in the Iranian-supported enclaves to the north and to the south," he said, referring to Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu outlined the defensive systems Israel is developing to knock down incoming rockets, but he admitted that they are prohibitively expensive. He said that Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza get their rockets from neighboring countries, and that must be stopped.

Addressing the Peace process, Mr Netanyahu criticized the Palestinian Authority for continuing to refuse to resume peace talks.

"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.

"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.

At the news conference, Netanyahu also appealed for tough internationalsanctions against Iran. He said there is wide acceptance of Israel's view that Iran poses a strategic threat because of its nuclear program.

"The question is, is there a willingness to act. We will soon find out," he said.