Netanyahu: Give peace, and my coalition, a chance
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu uses Knesset address on the Arab Peace Initiative to send one message to Palestinians and another to restive coalition partners.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a Knesset debate on the Arab Peace Initiative to allay fears in some quarters that his three-month-old coalition is on the rocks – and to urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume negotiations with Israel.
"I want to send a message to Abu Mazen [Abbas] in a language that both of us understand: Give peace a chance," he told lawmakers.
"Everyone keeps on saying the situation [in the Middle East] has changed. I say: Let's make sure we don't waste this opportunity. I invited Abu Mazen to talks in my speech in Washington, and I have done the same from this very podium on many occasions. I hope he will answer the call. Over the past few years, we have only engaged in dialogue for a few hours; that's no way to conduct negotiations. We need to make real peace. That's my goal. I hope that it's also the goal of our Palestinian partners."
The bulk of Netanyahu's speech, though, was dedicated to the issue he holds dearest: Iran.
"In order to deal with the complex security situation we are facing, we have to act on three fronts – the most important of which is recruiting the international community to the effort to thwart Iran's nuclear aspirations," the prime minister said. "Iran has stockpiled more than 180 kilograms of enriched uranium. They still haven't crossed the red line that I spelled out in my United Nations speech last year, but they are consistently creeping toward it. Just look at what happened in a different corner of the world, where a rogue state got its hands on a nuclear weapon. We cannot allow that to happen with Iran. Let's not fool ourselves: The presidential election Iran will change nothing. In addition to galloping toward nuclear capability, Iran is also arming Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and members of the global jihad."
Netanyahu then turned his attention to domestic issues. Various members of his large but disparate coalition have been at each other's throats in recent weeks over issues ranging from the austerity measures that Finance Minister Yair Lapid has pushed to the ongoing dispute over a law forcing ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces.
On Tuesday, it was also reported that Netanyahu was backtracking on his pre-election promise to give his Likud colleague Moshe Kahlon the chairmanship of the Israel Lands Administration. Kahlon, who earned a reputation as 'the people’s politician' for breaking Israel’s cellphone oligopoly last year as communication minister, was assured the position during the January general election as part of Netanyahu's effort to persuade voters he was committed to reforming the housing market.
But this week, Netanyahu informed Kahlon that, because the coalition agreement put the Israel Lands Administration under the purview of the Housing Ministry, the prime minister was no longer authorized to appoint the agency’s chairman.
“The election results didn’t make it possible to put into place all our plans,” he said.
"Every coalition has limitations," Netanyahu told lawmakers on Wednesday. "Every new government has teething pains. Just look at what this government has managed to achieve in less than six months. We have passed the 'Open Skies' reform; we have passed the budget, and we have introduced a new law that will help us get rid of the illegal migrants who came here looking for work. We have also come up with a framework for sharing the burden [of national service]."
Netanyahu also spoke about his inability to appoint Kahlon to the position he had been promised.
"I wanted to appoint him," he said. "Before the election, I really hoped I would be able to. That was the plan. So what happened? We got fewer seats, and we handed over the Housing and Construction Ministry to our coalition partners."