Netanyahu: Israel will keep military presence in Jordan Valley

Netanyahu: Israel will keep military presence in Jordan Valley

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israel should keep a military presence in the eastern West Bank, along the border with Jordan, dpa reported.

The was necessary to prevent weapons smuggling into the prospective, demilitarized Palestinian state, he told foreign reporters at an annual reception in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu spoke as US President Barack Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, was due to start a new round of talks in Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah Thursday and Friday, part of the ongoing US bid to revive long-stalled peace negotiations.

Israel, said the premier, could not afford a "replica" in the West Bank of the Gaza Strip, from where Palestinian militants have fired missiles into Israeli territory following its 2005 unilateral pullout from the coastal enclave.

Israel has to ensure a way to stop rockets from entering the territory bordering it and "this will require an Israeli presence on the eastern side of a prospective Palestinian state," said the premier of the mainstream hardline Likud party.

Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians for the current impasse in the peace process. Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were broken off ahead of Israel's February 2009 elections, which saw the nationalist Likud party grab power from the centrist Kadima party.

"We want to move forward," Netanyahu said, "but the Palestinians have placed preconditions which did not exist in the 16 years since Oslo."

"They have climbed higher in the tree. They like it up there. They are piling demand upon demand," he charged, adding: "They should be told: 'get serious and negotiate'."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has demanded a freeze of all Israeli construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before he would sit down at the negotiating table with the Netanyahu government.

Netanyahu in late November announced a 10-month construction moratorium in West Bank settlements, but refused to halt building in Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem built on occupied land, beyond the "green line" separating Israel from the West Bank.

"Israel draws a clear between Jerusalem and settlements," he reiterated Wednesday.

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