Netanyahu at Knesset Winter Session Opening: Israel Wants Peace but Abbas Makes It Impossible

Netanyahu said that obstacles to peace lie with the Palestinians and not Israel, adding that Israel continues to act against Iran in Syria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the Knesset's winter session, Jerusalem, October 15, 2018.
David Bachar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel wants peace but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas makes it impossible.

Speaking at the Knesset winter session opening, Netanyahu said that the obstacles to peace lie with the Palestinians and not Israel. Netanyahu criticized Abbas, "who demands a Palestinian state clean of Jews," for attacking Israel's nation-state law.

He added that Israel continues to act against Iran in Syria "these very days."

In defending his record in the face of his critics, Netanyahu noted in part the close relationship between Israel and the current U.S. administration. "Trump has brought cooperation between us to new heights," the prime minister declared, and relations with the United States were better than ever. "We have never had cooperation like that with the greatest power on earth."

Netanyahu's speech was punctuated by interruptions from the ranks of the opposition parties. Meretz party chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi were ejected for their catcalls.

The prime minister's speech was followed by one by Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union, who said: "I hope this is the last Knesset [session] in which Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister."

"It's not a personal matter. It's a national matter." Making reference to pending criminal investigations against the prime minister, Livni said: "Instead of waiting for criminal rulings, today I am submitting a public indictment." She accused the current government of "deliberately wrecking all of the institutions that protect democracy, showing preference for extremist rabbis, legitimizing corruption and leading us to annexation and a country with a Muslim majority, a government that will rip the Declaration of Independence to pieces."

President Reuven Rivlin, who spoke before Netanyahu, issued a warning on where Israel is headed. Everyone wants to shape Israel, he said, "but the feeling is that each side is pulling the rope – and the flag is in danger of being torn apart."

"We all care," Rivlin said. "But we all miss the bitter lesson: Victory in a war between brothers means losing the war of existence. More than the nuclear threat, more than terrorism, more than our enemies wishing to exterminate us – the threat of internal war will always be the gravest threat."

The Knesset winter session that opens Monday may quickly turn out be a lost and pointless legislative season. If early elections are called, the Knesset will be dissolved.

Several dramatic bills are on the Knesset’s agenda, some of them entirely new and others that were carried over from the summer session.

The main task of the governing coalition will be to pass the military conscription bill, considered a major threat to the stability of Netanyahu’s government. The challenge is to bridge the positions of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his partner in promoting the bill, Yesh Atid Chairman MK Yair Lapid, and the positions of the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Netanyahu must also meet two promises he made before the Knesset’s summer recess: Passing a law to “rectify” some of the damage caused by the nation-state law, by upgrading the status of the Druze and Bedouin communities. At the same time, the prime minister will have to contend with his public statements in which he supported a law allowing surrogacy for members of the LGBT community.

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation postponed by two months a vote on a parallel proposal by MK Yael German of the opposition party Yesh Atid. German’s proposal will be submitted to a Knesset vote Wednesday. It is expected to embarrass Netanyahu, who will not support it despite his earlier proclamations.