Netanyahu to Haaretz: 'I Quashed Bribery Offer Early on as Finance Minister'

An attempt was made to bribe Benjamin Netanyahu early in his tenure as finance minister, the Likud leader said in his first post-election interview that will appear in tomorrow's Haaretz Magazine.

Netanyahu declined to name the individual who offered the bribe. Asked why he had not filed a police complaint, he explained: "It was done very cleverly and very cautiously. I rejected it out of hand and it stopped. I did not allow it to develop."

Netanyahu addressed the issue of political corruption in Israel: "They talk about the connection between the central committee member and the politician who gets him a job in order to win his support. But that is a relatively minor phenomenon." He said the real danger lies in prominent politicians or officials distributing assets to magnates in return for big money. "Bribes in envelopes. Bribery in the transfer of millions to bank accounts in Vaduz or the Cayman Islands."

Netanyahu said that corruption "has become a cancer" that is blocking growth, and "is liable to develop to Argentine dimensions." He cited the energy sector and government companies as problematic areas, but ventured that the greatest corruption involves real estate: "In return for land improvement of hundreds of millions or billions, a politician or official might get millions." He added that when he took up his treasury post, Ariel Sharon's people headed by attorney Dov Weissglas kept him from dealing with the Israel Lands Administration and the energy market, "and not by chance."

In the interview, the Likud leader recognized for the first time the idea of a two-state solution. "We are not talking about an idea. We are talking about reality on the ground, and I recognize reality," he said. "I'm not in favor of dividing the land," he emphasized, but acknowledged that "we will not set the clock back."

Asked about the Gaza pullout, he replied that it was over and done with. "I don't expect that we will reconquer Gaza in order to reestablish settlements there. That will not happen. I will certainly not lead such a move. But now we have to think about what we are doing next."