Netanyahu wants Israeli force on Palestinian border

Israeli soldiers stand guard during a Palestinian protest against Israel's offensive in Gaza, in the village of al-Masara, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, January 2, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday raised publicly for the first time the prospect of maintaining Israeli forces along the eastern border of a future Palestinian state to prevent arms smuggling.

“The problem of demilitarization must be resolved effectively and this entails effectively blocking unauthorized entry, first and foremost from the east, wherever the border is defined,” Netanyahu said in a speech to Israeli ambassadors.

“I doubt whether anything except a real presence of the State of Israel, of Israeli forces, can accomplish that,” he said, expanding on his vision of a nation with only limited sovereignty.

Netanyahu has said the state Palestinians want to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip must be demilitarized, but he had not made specific reference until now to the stationing of Israeli forces on its Jordanian frontier.

Israel and Egypt maintain control over the borders of the Gaza Strip under interim peace deals. Israel imposed a blockade after Hamas Islamists seized the territory in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group.

His comments about an Israeli presence along the border echoed a policy advocated by previous Israeli governments and spelled out new terms in any future negotiations with the Palestinians on statehood.

Palestinians want a contiguous state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and were granted limited self-autonomy in the 1993 Oslo Accords. They have said they want full control over the entire border with Jordan in any future deal, but have not ruled out the presence of an international force.

Netanyahu said an “international arrangement” for the borders of a Palestinian state, similar to the deployment of a U.N. force in southern Lebanon after Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah guerrillas, would not suffice.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been frozen for the past year. Abbas has said they could resume only if Israel halted all settlement activity.

Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Louise Ireland