Israel: Criticism deep rooted
Jerusalem - Anyone who thinks the world would rally to Israel's side if it pulled out of the West Bank might as well believe in the tooth fairy, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest advisors said on Wednesday.
The advisor, Ron Dermer, said the image problems Israel faced internationally, especially after criticism of its conduct in last year's Gaza war, stemmed from something deeper than opposition to its political policies.
He said in a speech that "core opponents" - radical Islam and the far-left - were challenging Israel's legitimacy as part of a campaign against Western values.
"There are still people who say, 'look, if Israel gets up and leaves Judea and Samaria, returns to the 1967 lines, that the world will be on our side'," Dermer said, referring to the West Bank, territory captured in a 1967 war.
"But I can say that I think that my six-year-old's belief in the tooth fairy is more grounded in fact than that view," the US born advisor told the Jerusalem Conference, an annual forum that discusses Israel's national priorities.
West Bank an issue
Palestinians hope to establish a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, now controlled by Hamas Islamists, in 2005, but has long ruled out, citing security concerns and historical links, a complete withdrawal from the West Bank.
Echoing previous Israeli prime ministers, Netanyahu has said Israel intends to keep major settlement blocs in any future peace deal with the Palestinians, possibly trading land in Israel for the enclaves.
Palestinians fear settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, could deny them a viable and contiguous state.
In his speech, Dermer said Israel must persuade the left that Islamic fundamentalism poses the greatest danger and try to draw more world attention to human rights abuse in Iran and elsewhere in the region.
"I believe we can put this issue on the agenda and that slowly but surely those forces working against us will shrink and shrink some more and Israel will have built a strong coalition for the defence of the Jewish state," he said.