Netanyahu: Israeli security, settlement interests vital to attaining peace

Photo: Netanyahu: Israeli security, settlement interests vital to attaining peace / Israel

The feasibility of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians hangs on ensuring Israel's "security and settlement interests," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, Xinhua reported.

"Peace will only come when our security and settlement interests get ensured," Netanyahu said in a conference hosted by the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry in the northern city of Tiberias.

It was the first time that Netanyahu added West Bank settlements into his oft-stated demand for ironclad security guarantees as a prerequisite for inking a peace deal. The remark comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to arrive in the region Thursday to push forward peacemaking efforts.

On Sunday, Likud members of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation voted in support of a controversial bill to annex the Jordan Valley, sparking the ire of the Palestinians and left- leaning opposition factions in the Israeli parliament.

Commenting on the release of a third batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails as part of a deal struck in July to resume peace negotiations, Netanyahu lambasted the Palestinian Authority for the former militants' homecoming overnight Monday.

"I see our neighbors and their most senior leadership celebrate, " he said. "Murderers are not heroes, and this is not the way to educate for peace and the way peace is made."

President Shimon Peres adopted a more placated tone in his address at Tuesday's conference in Tiberias, saying that Israel's greatest strategic strength was peace.

"Israel is facing a new reality that includes new opportunities. The European Union and the Arab League are putting forward proposals which only a few years ago we couldn't have dreamt of," Peres said, expressing his hope that "some of us can throw out their preconceptions."

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