In a move that will surely anger the Palestinians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
“This is a great day for peace,” he told a joint press conference with the US president, Barack Obama.
“The creation of the state of Palestine will be a major turning point in the history of the region,” Netanyahu said.
“It will be the beginning of the end of the occupation of Palestine.”
However, it will take years to complete the creation.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Hamas militant group have been locked in a protracted conflict since 2007, when the two sides signed an interim agreement aimed at ending the Israeli occupation.
Israel, which occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip before the creation, has repeatedly refused to recognize the new Palestinian state, saying it is illegal.
The two sides have traded accusations over the years, and a peace deal has never been reached.
Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, DC, January 13, 2021.
Israel has said it will continue to build settlements in the occupied West Bank as it seeks to build a state, and is also looking to annex East Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian territory.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.
Netanyahu’s announcement comes after US Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel’s “dangerous expansion of settlements in east Jerusalem is a grave threat to peace and stability in the region”.
“Israel must stop building illegal settlements,” Kerry said in a statement, which was issued on Tuesday, the same day as Netanyahu’s address.
He added that the US will continue working with its allies to advance a two-state solution that “reaffirms Israel’s right to exist and ensures that Israel remains a Jewish and democratic state”.
Kerry, who is due to travel to Israel on Wednesday, told a press conference: “I think it is clear that this is an opportunity for both sides to work toward a solution to this issue and I think it will not be easy to achieve.”
Palestinians have accused Israel of using illegal settlements as cover for a larger expansionist agenda in the West bank and Gaza.
Israeli authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Israel’s move is expected to anger the Palestinian leadership.
The PA has rejected any settlement expansion and has called for the construction of a “safe zone” for Palestinians.
In response, Israel’s government has said the creation and maintenance of a Jewish state would have dire consequences for the region, and its settlements are “illegal”.
Netanyahu’s move came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would “not accept any Israeli initiative to annex Jerusalem”.
Abbas has been calling for the creation or annexation of a state in the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967.
“We will not allow the annexation of Jerusalem to be legitimised, it is a violation of our right to return to the land we call Palestine,” Abbas told reporters on Monday.
Abbas also said that Israel’s latest move will only lead to more violence.
“Any Israeli initiative is an attack on the Arab nation and its people,” he said.
In the past, the Palestinian Authority has accused Israel’s security forces of using force to prevent Palestinian protesters from entering Israeli-controlled territory in occupied East Jerusalem.
A senior PA official, Mahmoud al-Batsh, told Reuters news agency that the new plan would create a buffer zone for Palestinian protesters in the northern occupied West Jerusalem.
“If the Israeli forces do not stop the incursions and aggression, then the Palestinian people will go out to the streets,” he warned.
“They will not give up the struggle.”
The US has repeatedly said that the PA is illegitimate and that it has no right to the city of Jerusalem.
Abbas’ statement comes a day after US President Donald Trump called the US President to congratulate him on his announcement, saying: “It’s good to see the US making a strong stand against the expansionist policies of Israel.”
The White House statement also said Trump called Netanyahu to express his appreciation for his decision.
“I am grateful for the President’s bold move and call on him to do the same for his fellow Arab states in the Middle East,” Trump said.
The Israeli government’s announcement follows Netanyahu’s decision to impose a new tax on imports from the US.
The new tax, which is due on January 6, will impose a surcharge on American consumers who import Israeli goods, and on goods from the EU.