Netanyahu: For the first time, Arabs realize Israel is not the enemy
Premier tells lawmakers international sanctions against Iran are working and mustn't be eased; calls peace with Egypt 'anchor of stability.'
The 19th Knesset opened its winter session on Monday, with blustery issues such as peace talks and prisoner release, the governability law and draft reform expected to dominate debates, alongside tensions within the coalition.
President Shimon Peres welcomed the members of Knesset at the start of the session. He was followed on the podium by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opened his address by wishing Arab citizens a happy Id Al-Adha and sending condolences over the death of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
He quickly moved on to the issue of Iran's nuclear program, declaring that Israel was "crystallizing an international front" to combat that threat.
"Thanks to U.S. and others, harsh economic sanctions against Iran have been applied," Netanyahu said. "Iran's economy is reaching breaking point. But Iran has still not abandoned its program. But it has changed its tactics as to how to get it."
"Iran can quickly enrich uranium at 3.5% to 90% - which is necessary for a nuclear weapon. Iran is currently willing to give up on 20% - which is no longer important, in exchange for serious easing of sanctions. Iran is willing to give a little to get a lot, if not everything," he added. "It would be a historical mistake to lift the sanctions, just before they are really effective. International pressure is what brought the Iranians to a level of concessions."
Netanyahu then addressed Syria's chemical weapons and the international efforts to halt President Bashar Assad's regime. "Damascus has used chemical weapons and under pressure from US, agreed to a step that is meant to destroy it," Netanyahu said. "This is important and positive and essential on condition it is fully implemented. What would be the international reaction if Syria only agreed to dismantle 20 percent of its capacity? This is exactly Iran's suggestion."
Moving on to Egypt and the storm of revolution over the last few years, the prime minister said Israel considers peace with its southern neighbor to be "an anchor of stability" in the Middle East.
"Peace is based on security arrangements and international understandings," he said. "Recent events in our area prove that Islamic radicalism is not unstoppable or unpreventable. The Arab Spring brought euphoria two years ago - I was not a party to it. But on the other hand, there was concern that radical Islam's victory was unavoidable. It is not."
"Many nations in the area have a strong desire to get rid of Iran's and Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaida's impact," he added. "This is an important development - even historic."
"For the first time in Israel's existence, there is an understanding in the Arab world, that Israel is not the enemy of the Arabs," Netanyahu said. "On many issues, we are united. This may open new possibilities and I hope it will help the peace process with the Palestinians."
"We want a real peace and not an agreement that will disappear after signing," Netanyahu said. "Peace must be based on security and mutual recognition."
A future agreement must focus on "no right of return [for Palestinians] and ending any national demands on the territory and sovereignty of Israel. This is essential for real peace," he said.
"Israeli citizens know to appreciate the fact that amid the regional instability, our security has improved, and against a world economic crisis, our economy continues to grow," he added, pointing to the recent sale of Israeli start-ups Waze to Google and Onavo to Facebook and the relatively stable employment rate.
He continued to laud Israel's advancement in technology, telling MKs: "We are in the top 5 cyber powers in the world."
The prime minister also adressed the flow of illegal migrants into Israel, a topic which he told Likud MKs at a faction meeting earlier in the day should top the agenda of this session.
"We have stopped the infiltration problem completely," Netanyahu told the plenum. "Israel is the only western country that has overcome illegal infiltration, which would have hurt Israel's Jewish and Democratic character."
"I am aware of the suffering of south Tel Aviv and in southern Israel," he said. "I promise, we will make sure to get those that have already infiltrated out of the country."
Netanyahu closed his address by telling MKs: "Israel continues to be a success story - more than ever."
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