JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel must have a presence in the West Bank to stop rockets from being imported 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 any future 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.
"In the case of a future settlement with the Palestinians, this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state," he said, without elaborating.
Until recent months, Netanyahu hesitated to refer to the concept of a Palestinian state and has not outlined how much, if any, of the West Bank he would be willing to give up.
"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 Gaza.
Under the current situation, Israel is in overall control of the West Bank and its borders, though the Palestinian Authority patrols main population centers.
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.
Palestinians want to create an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem with no Israeli presence, military or civilian.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has proposed that the Obama administration negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state with Israel, a Palestinian official said Wednesday, as a U.S. envoy headed to the region for another attempt to restart Mideast peace talks.
Such a proxy arrangement could provide a way around the current deadlock over reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks, which broke off more than a year ago. Abbas says he won't return to the table without a complete Israeli settlement freeze, something Netanyahu has refused to do.
As an alternative, U.S. officials could replace Palestinian negotiators in border talks with Israel, said an Abbas aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the content of internal meetings. The U.S. negotiators would be given clear parameters, the aide said.
Abbas made the proposal in recent meetings with Egyptian officials who passed the idea along to Washington, the aide said. It was not clear how the Americans reacted.
Officials at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, which serves the West Bank, had no comment.
Netanyahu did not refer to the proposal at his Wednesday news conference.
Abbas is expected to discuss his proposal with Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, who was to arrive in Israel later Wednesday. Mitchell is to hold separate talks with Netanyahu and Abbas on Thursday and Friday.
At the news conference, Netanyahu also appealed for tough international sanctions 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.
Netanyahu did not refer to the possibility that Israel or others might attack Iran militarily. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful, but Israel, the U.S. and others suspect that Iran is constructing nuclear weapons.