Netanyahu: No peace until Palestinians accept Israel as Jewish state
PM says Israel won't accept 1967 borders; also vows not to freeze 'life' in West Bank settlements.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Haaretz on Wednesday that he would not agree to a Palestinian demand that Israel accept the 1967 borders as a condition for renewing peace negotiations.
Netanyahu also gave a condition of his own, saying Thursday that he would never drop his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
"I told Abu Mazen [Abbas] I believe peace hinges first on his readiness to stand before his people and say, 'We...are committed to recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people'," Netanyahu said.
"I will not drop this subject and other important issues under any final peace agreement," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said that U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday was "positive" because "he also said something we had been seeking for six months, that we have to meet and begin the diplomatic process without preconditions."
Obama had spoken "clearly about Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people," said Netanyahu. "I believe that disagreement about this is the root of the conflict."
Netanyahu also pointed out that Obama had made reference to Israeli efforts to improve the Palestinian economy by lifting roadblocks.
Obama speech on Wednesday was one of many from world leaders, and the American president focused a portion of his talk on efforts toward Middle East Peace.
"The goal is clear," Obama told the General Assembly, "two states living side by side in peace and security - a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people."
Referring to Obama's statement Netanyahu said, "The things he said about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the road map and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders.
"This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new. These disagreements should not prevent the beginning of the process which, among other things if it is successful, will also decide this issue."
Netanyahu said Obama, like other American presidents, reflected the deep basic friendship between the American and the Israeli people, and that "he stood in Cairo before the whole Muslim world and said this relationship would never be severed." Netanyahu added he believed the obligation of the United States to Israel's security was total.
When asked about claims that Tuesday's three-way summit with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Obama would become an excuse for foot-dragging, Netanyahu responded, "not on our part."
Netanyahu told Channel 2 that Obama's speech to the the UN regarding negotiations without preconditions and the two state solution was "an important blessing."
"The president said let's come and resume the peace process without preconditions. As you know I have been saying that for nearly six months. I was happy," Netanyahu said.
However, Israelis and Palestinians said Wednesday that their envoys would meet with U.S. officials but not with each other, cementing the impression that the summit had produced little results.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there would be no follow-up session with the Israelis because the two sides hadn't bridged the divides that have prevented them from resuming talks.
"It's not happening because we agreed to continue dealing with the Americans until we reach the agreement that will enable us to relaunch the negotiations," Erekat said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would dispatch envoys to meet with U.S. officials in Washington, but there were no plans now to meet again with the Palestinians.
He said, however, that it was Israel's "sincere hope that we will see the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks."
The Palestinians refuse to restart talks until Israel freezes settlement construction. They also want talks to restart where they left off before breaking down earlier this year, something Netanyahu has refused.
'Obama assured commitment to stopping Iran nukes
Netanyahu told several U.S. network television stations late Wednesday that Obama had also assured him he was committed to stopping Iran's nuclear program.
In those interviews, Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel was unwilling to freeze "life" in West Bank settlements.
Answering to whether he knew how long it was before Iran could produce a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu told ABC interviewer Charlie Gibson that he didn't "want to discuss whether we need another week or another month."
"The crucial question is, what's the goal? And the president assured me time and again that the goal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. And I think that's the right goal," the premier said.
The prime minister added that he saw Iran as "the major sponsor of world terrorism. Now, imagine what terrorism could be if the terrorists had a patron that gave them a nuclear umbrella, or worse, if that patron actually gave them nuclear weapons. "
"That's a nightmare scenario, and we all have to ensure that it doesn't happen," Netanyahu told ABC.
Netanyahu also reiterated comments he made recently about what he considered as the instability of the current regime in Tehran, saying he thought "this regime is a lot weaker than people think, and I think the civilized countries are a lot stronger than they tend to think about themselves."
"This regime tyrannizes its own people, guns them down when they peacefully protest for freedom," the prime minister added.
"There are so many reasons, endless reasons why this should not be allowed to happen. And it's time the international community acted in unison to make sure that it doesn't happen," Netanyahu said.
In an interview to Fox News, Netanyahu commented on the possibility of unilateral action against Iran, saying "any country has and reserves the right for self defense and Israel is no exception but I think the specter of Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons and possibly giving it to terrorists or giving them [is] sufficiently troublesome for the international community to get its act together and act to stop this from happening."
Answering to the question whether he was convinced Iran wanted a nuclear weapon, the premier asserted: "Yes I am."
Netanyahu: Won't freeze 'life' in settlements
On the subject of renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu asserted to NBC interview Matt Lauer that he was "willing to make gestures to help the peace process."
When asked how big a gesture Israel intends to make, the premier said: "We'll get there very soon, I suppose."
"But I'll tell you one thing I'm not willing to do. I can't freeze life," Netanyahu added, referring to a possible West Bank settlement freeze, insisted on by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"There are a quarter of a million people there, in these communities which are called 'settlements', although really most of them are bedroom suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem".
Echoing the same sentiment, the prime minister said he was looking "to reconcile two things. One is to start the peace process again, something that I'm glad - I hope that we started today."
"And, second, to enable normal life to continue. There are a quarter of a million people living in these communities. You know, they need kindergartens. They need schools. They need health clinics." Netanyahu said
"They're living. I'm committed not to build new settlements. I am committed not to expropriate additional land for existing settlements. But people have to live. You can't freeze life."
Stressing what he felt as the shared Palestinian responsibility for stalled peace talks, Netanyahu told ABC that "Anytime Israel met an Arab leader who has genuinely committed to peace, such as Anwar Sadat, we made peace," adding that the government who achieved peace with Egypt "was a Likud government under Menachem Begin.
"When Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor prime minister, met the late King Hussein, who wanted peace, we made peace," the premier said, adding that peace could be made "if the Palestinian leadership says we want peace, we recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people, just as we're asked to recognize the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people."
The prime minister concluded by saying that Israel wanted "a real peace. You know, we don't want a peace where we hand over territory which becomes a base for Iran's proxy so they can fire thousands of rockets on us," adding that Israel was "one of the tiniest countries in the world."
"Now, if you're the size of Monaco or the size of Luxembourg, that by itself doesn't pose a security problem. But if your neighbors also say, 'We're going to destroy you or throw you into the sea and fire thousands of rockets at you,' that does pose a security problem. So, Israel wants both recognition and security from its neighbors, and this will be the task of the negotiations in the coming months," Netanyahu added.