Netanyahu vows never to let Israelis be tried for war crimes
PM blasts Goldstone conclusions as 'distorted report' that 'undermines Israel's right to defend itself.'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would never allow any of the Israel's leaders or soldiers to be put on trial for war crimes.
Netanyahu opened his fiery speech at the inauguration of the Knesset's winter session by blasting the Goldstone Commission's report sponsored by the United Nations, that accused Israel of committing war crimes during its war against militants in the Gaza Strip last year.
Israel has the right to defend itself, Netanyahu declared, and would not acquiesce to a situation where wartime leaders or troops who participated in the operation stand trial.
"This distorted report, written by this distorted committee, undermines Israel's right to defend itself. This report encourages terrorism and threatens peace," Netanyahu said. "Israel will not take risks for peace if it can't defend itself."
Israeli officials across the board have condemned the report, saying the operation came in response to years of Hamas rocket attacks. They also blame Hamas for civilian casualties, saying the Islamic militant group took cover in residential areas during the fighting.
Netanyahu angrily noted the report's portrayal of Israeli leaders as war criminals during his address on Monday. "The truth is exactly the opposite," he said. "Israel's leaders and its army are those who defended the citizens of Israel from war criminals."
"We will not allow Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, who sent our sons to war, to arrive at the international court in the Hague," he added.
When details of the investigation's conclusions first emerged in September, Netanyahu blasted the commission as nothing but a "kangaroo court."
"The Goldstone report is a kangaroo court against Israel, whose consequences harm the struggle of democratic countries against terror," said Netanyahu during closed meetings.
He was referring to the report's author, Richard Goldstone, a South African war crimes prosecutor.
The 575-page report also accused Hamas of actions amounting to war crimes by firing rockets at civilians in southern Israel. The Palestinian Authority, Hamas' rival in the West Bank, initially retracted its proposal for an immediate vote on the probe.
Following weeks of criticism, President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday retracted the deferral and ordered his envoy to the United Nations to resubmit the report.
Appealing to the Palestinian leadership during his address on Monday, Netanyahu called on them to agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying this was, and remains, the key to peace.
"For 62 years, the Palestinians have been saying 'No' to the Jewish state. I am once again calling upon our Palestinian neighbors; say 'Yes' to the Jewish state." he said. "Without recognition of Israel as the state of the Jews we shall not be able to attain peace."
Such recognition "is a step which requires courage," Netanyahu said, adding that the Palestinian leadership "shouid tell its people the truth - that without this recognition, there can be no peace."
"There is no alternative to Palestinian leaders showing courage by recognizing the Jewish state," he said. "This has been and remains the true key to peace."
Netanyahu has raised the demand for Palestinian acceptance of Israel as Jewish state before. For him, it is a way of ensuring recognition of Israel's right to exist - as opposed to merely recognizing Israel - which he and many other Israelis see as the real core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Turning to the subject of Iran and its nuclear ambitions, he called on all responsible states in the world to ensure that Tehran did not get atomic weapons.
The head of the opposition and chairwoman of Kadima, Tzipi Livni spoke after Netanyahu. She harshly attacked his cabinet and its actions.
"Your achievement is survival, and your second achievement is that you have managed not to do anything," she said, accusing the coalition minister of buying votes in the Knesset at the public's expense.
"You have turned the state into a state that is losing its international support," she said.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin removed two Likud MKs, Miri Regev and Ofir Akunis, from the session after they disturbed Livni's speech.