Netanyahu: I Won't Leave Any Israeli Undefended Under Peace Deal

In first interviews to Israeli media in more than a year, PM reiterates demand for Israel to be recognized as Jewish state. On seizure of Gaza-bound ship: It shows the true face of Iran.

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After more than a year of silence on Israeli media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has granted interviews to two Israeli TV channels, which will be broadcast Saturday. In previews aired Friday, Netanyahu reiterated his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, emphasized that Jerusalem will not be divided, and said he would not leave any Israeli undefended under a future deal.

In an interview to Channel 10, the prime minister said he was ready to end the conflict with the Palestinians, if mutual concessions are made. Secretary of State John Kerry is aiming to win agreement by late April between Israel and the Palestinians on a framework for a peace deal, although he has said a final accord could take another nine months or more.

"I am ready to reach the end of the conflict," Netanyahu told Channel 10, "but this must be the end of the conflict. We will not enable the establishment of a Palestinian state in order for the conflict to continue, so (a Palestinian state) must recognize Israel as a Jewish state, just as they ask us to recognize a Palestinian state."

Earlier Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated that he would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said to Channel 2 that while some Jewish settlements won't be part of a framework agreement, he would make sure the number left out "will be as low as possible."

"I will not leave any Israeli without Israeli defense," he said.

In January, Netanyahu said after meeting with Kerry in Davos, Switzerland, "I have no intention of evacuating any settlement or to remove any Israeli." A few days later, the Prime Minister's Office told foreign journalists that Netanyahu believed settlers who want to remain in their homes inside a new Palestinian state should be able to do so. This declaration led to tensions with Netanyahu's coalition partner Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party.

Regarding Wednesday's seizure of the Gaza-bound vessel carrying Iranian missiles, the prime minister told Channel 10 the announcement wasn't timed to impress Americans while he was on his visit to the U.S. this week.

"I ordered the operation beforehand, we don't coordinate with Iran. The operational requirements prevail. My instructions were total silence until we catch the ship, and from the moment that we had control of the ship, to go out and immediately tell the truth, because there is a battle over the truth."

Asked whether the incident says anything about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, Netanyahu said it shows "the true face of Iran."

"What do the Iranians say? They send (Iranian President) Rohani and (Foreign Minister) Zarif, and talk calmly and in good English, or at least better, and smile and say 'we are a new world' - and here you see this country breaking all the international rules."

The prime minister also discussed the housing crisis in Israel, said he would "deal personally" with the high cost of living for the average Israeli, and addressed criticism of his high personal expenses.

Commenting on the high price of housing in Israel Netanyahu told Channel 2 "I think we have work to do, because it is clear we didn't solve the problem. We are taking measures and these should be continued until a result is reached. The government monopoly needs to be opened to competition and the land needs to be freed up. We did this with the 'open skies' policy and we did this in the cable and satellite industry." To a follow up question on this subject Netanyahu answered "I will have to get personally involved in the matter because without stronger directions, it is not likely to be resolved."

Responding to question regarding his expenses and the reports that a former employee of his was going to release details regarding his expenses, Netanyahu said "A man is in your house and he records you? What kind of norm is that? Not that there is anything to hide, but a prime minister deserves privacy too. They want to know what toilet paper the prime minister uses and whether a tender was held. There is no end to this."

When asked what makes former employees raise allegations against him in the press, Netanyahu responded saying that "some media outlets are quick to give these people a stage and encourage them. Criticism and exposing is fine, but there is a yardstick here. A line was crossed in this case and I think that the Israeli public understands this."

Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Moti Milrod

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