JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that planned peace talks with the Palestinians will be tough and any agreement reached would have to be ratified in a national referendum.
Netanyahu appeared to be lowering expectations for the talks in his first on-camera remarks since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's weekend announcement that negotiations would soon resume after a five-year hiatus. Netanyahu pledged to insist on Israel's security needs above all — saying his main guiding principles will be to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel and avoid a future Palestinian state in the West Bank becoming an Iranian-backed "terror state."
"I am committed to two objectives that must guide the result — if there will be a result. And if there will be a result, it will be put to a national referendum," he said at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting. "It won't be easy. But we are entering the talks with integrity, honesty, and hope that this process is handled responsibly, seriously and to the point."
Hardliners have floating referendum proposals before, usually as an attempt to add an additional obstacle to any efforts to cede war-won territories as part of a future peace agreement.
After a round of intense shuttle diplomacy, Kerry announced on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to the peace process, which broke down in 2008. The two sides are to meet — likely in the coming week — to work out final details before actually resuming formal negotiations on the toughest issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A statement from Netanyahu's office on Saturday described the talks as being in Israel's strategic interests.
Final status negotiations aim to reach a deal on the core issues of the conflict, including borders, the fate of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and security arrangements. While Netanyahu stressed Israel's security needs as a top priority, the Palestinians say they agreed to talks only after learning they would be based on Israel's pre-1967 borders.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had previously refused to negotiate with Israel so long as settlement construction continued in part of his hoped-for state. Israel has said it will release some Palestinian prisoners as a good will gesture, but there are few other official details to emerge about the framework of the talks.