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. "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.
BCC News – January 21, 2010