US State Department officials welcomed comments by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reaffirming his support of the two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria – but warned that Israeli leaders must take concrete steps to advance the negotiating process.
Speaking at a State Department press briefing on Tuesday, spokesman John Kirby praised recent statements from Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said the 2002 Arab Initiative could serve as the basis for a future peace settlement, albeit it with some significant changes.
“We welcome them [such comments]. We welcome their stated support for a two-state solution. As the Secretary himself has said many times, the Arab Peace Initiative can play a critical role in advancing peace in the region.”
But Kirby was quick to temper his approval, suggesting that Israeli leaders have done little to actually advance the two-state solution and that their policies must change to reflect their support of Palestinian statehood.
“The Secretary supports all paths forward that could potentially get us to a two-state solution. But again, it requires leadership there at the local level.”
Kirby suggested Israel’s decision not to attend the upcoming French peace summit showed Israeli leaders were not prepared to go beyond rhetorical affirmations of support for a two-state solution, and slammed plans for Jewish housing in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan (Shiloach).
“[Israel’s participant in the French peace summit] is up to the Israeli Government to speak to. It’s not about going to please anybody. It’s going – it’s about being there to be a part of a discussion and to explore ideas and options that might help us get closer to a two-state solution. Obviously… the first and most important thing is that the leaders themselves in the region have got to be leaders. They’ve got to make some tough decisions. And they have to show in real ways, not just rhetoric, that they’re willing to take the steps necessary to get us to a two-state solution, and to date they haven’t done that.”
Plans by the Ateret Cohanim organization, which looks to reclaim Jewish properties in Jerusalem and revitalize historically Jewish neighborhoods, to build a three-story apartment building in Silwan near the Old City of Jerusalem were condemned by Kirby, who suggested they reflected a failure by Israeli leadership to “do the right thing.”
“We strongly oppose all settlement activity, which we continue to believe are counterproductive to the cause of peace. And again, we’re looking for both sides here to do the right thing, to show the right leadership, to get us to a better solution.”