PARIS – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he is not hoping for the downfall of the Palestinian Authority because the alternative was liable to be worse.
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“I do not wish for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters after a day of meetings at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. He added that Israel is trying to implement measures that would prevent such a development, but refused to elaborate. “The fact that there’s now a bad alternative [the PA], doesn’t mean that we won’t get a worse alternative,” he said. “But there has to be a change in the PA leadership’s behavior.”
Last week the security cabinet discussed the possibility of the PA’s collapse. Netanyahu refused to comment on those discussions, but the position he expressed yesterday differs from that articulated by several ministers, who argued during the debate last week that the PA’s collapse would serve Israeli interests and therefore nothing should be done to prevent it.
During the group photo of the state leaders who had come to the climate conference, Netanyahu was placed in the same row as PA President Mahmoud Abbas, with only New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key between them. After the photo shoot, Netanyahu and Abbas shook hands and exchanged a few polite remarks. It was the first time the two had met and shaken hands since September 2010.
Netanyahu said, however, that shaking Abbas’ hand was in keeping with diplomatic protocol and did not signify any change in their relationship. “There’s a diplomatic protocol and I behave as is customary,” he said. “It’s important that the world see that we are prepared to speak to the Palestinians, but I have no illusions about Abu Mazen [Abbas].”
The handshake apparently didn’t change anything for Abbas, either. In his meeting with French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the conference, Abbas asked that France renew its efforts to promote a UN Security Council resolution establishing principles for the ending of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his speech to the conference, Abbas attacked Israel and called on the world to pressure Israel to end the occupation.
Netanyahu said that during a 10-minute conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, the two spoke about the Palestinian issue.
“I said to Obama, look at how Abu Mazen is continuing his incitement,” Netanyahu recalled. “I told the president that the first step toward peace is to stop the incitement and the terror. I’m pressing this point and I want to see results in this area. Abu Mazen has to stop his incitement and his spreading of lies. Obama told me that he plans to speak with Abu Mazen about this and that he agrees with me that it has to stop.”
Behind the scenes of the conference, between the speeches and the luncheon, Netanyahu met more than 10 foreign leaders. Aside from Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Netanyahu also had short conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other leaders.
Netanyahu told reporters that he had also met several Arab leaders on their initiative, but refused to name them. “Arab leaders approached me before the eyes of the whole world and shook my hand,” said Netanyahu, referring to encounters that took place during the luncheon for the world leaders. “I’m not talking only of those with whom we have relations, there were others, too. One of them expressed appreciation for my speech in the United Nations. Something different is happening here.”
One of Netanyahu’s informal encounters was with Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs. The two spoke for a few minutes and Mogherini asked for clarifications about Netanyahu’s decision to suspend contacts with the union on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy in response to the decision to label settlement products in European stores.
After the short conversation, the EU spokesman said relations with both Israel and the Palestinians were good and would continue to be so. The statement also said that the European Union would continue to work with Israelis and Palestinians on the peace process through the Quartet (United States, Russia, United Nations and European Union). The spokesman added that all 28 EU member states had asked for guidance from the European Commission regarding the labeling of settlement products, and that there was unanimity among them on this issue.
Netanyahu said that nothing in the short conversation with Mogherini altered his criticism of the labeling decision. “We have an argument with the EU and I’m not hiding it,” he stressed. “Mogherini isn’t interested [in a confrontation] and they understand there’s a serious problem here from our perspective.”
Although France, Sweden, Spain and other EU countries had pressed Mogherini to proceed with the labeling of settlement products, Netanyahu argued that Israel’s problem was primarily with the EU institutions in Brussels, not with the member countries. He said Israel’s problem stems from EU institutions having more power than the member states.
“The individual picture with the leading European countries is good,” said Netanyahu. “They accord great importance to Israel in fields that interest them, and Israel’s standing in the world and in Europe is not as reflected in the media discourse in Israel.
“Israel is not isolated; the opposite is true,” he said. “I met with many leaders; Israel’s standing is strong. People are looking to be close to us, and know that Israel is a big regional and world power, and they can use us to help in the war against radical Islam and terror, our innovation, our cyber and water [technologies]. This characterization and caricature of us as loathsome does not reflect Israel’s true position.”