Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he would never accept preconditions from the Palestinians for resuming talks, just a day after appearing to set his own condition that a future Palestinian state must be "demilitarised and recognise Israel as a Jewish state". The Israeli prime minister added that construction in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories "will continue".
He told the Knesset (parliament) Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that Palestinian calls for a building freeze before negotiations are an "impassable obstacle" to negotiations. Netanyahu claimed that he made his position very clear during his recent talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of creating excuses to avoid talks.
According to the Times of Israel, Netanyahu said, "Every time Israel gives the Palestinians what they want, but they add new demands." In another newspaper report, he claimed that settlement building does not have a substantial effect on the chances of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.
"Settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements does not significantly change our ability to reach an agreement – that is a false claim. The real question is whether there is or is not a willingness [among the Palestinians] to accept a Jewish state," he told Haaretz. Somewhat bizarrely, an official in Netanyahu's office claimed that a settlement freeze "just drives Palestinians away from the negotiating table".
Commentators in London point to the hypocrisy of the Israeli position and the ongoing breach of international laws and conventions by the Netanyahu government's settlement programme. "That is the real issue," said MEMO's Ibrahim Hewitt, "not Palestinian requests for Israel to abide by the law. Why doesn't John Kerry insist on Israel toeing the legal line instead of seeking ways to circumvent its illegal policies?"