Netanyahu Says Stance on Security Requirements Has Become ‘Firmer’ — ‘We Don’t Just Hand Over Territory, Close Our Eyes and Hope for the Best’ (INTERVIEW)
by Dovid Efune
Following the summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared, in a wide-ranging interview with The Algemeiner, that his long held position that the Jewish state will not transfer any territory to the Palestinian Authority in the absence of extensive security arrangements has “only become firmer.”
He also asserted that the possibility that any peace agreement with the PA might unravel is justification for his strong stance on security.
I met Netanyahu last Wednesday evening at an upscale New York City hotel shortly after he reiterated support for “two states for two peoples” in a meeting with President Obama at the White House.
“We don’t just hand over territory, close our eyes and hope for the best,” the prime minister said, in response to my question about whether the creation of a Palestinian state would serve Israel’s interests, considering that a recent Anti-Defamation League poll found that anti-Semitic sentiment in the Palestinian territories is higher than anywhere else in the world.
My conversation with Netanyahu took place only a few hours after the PA submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for the body to demand an Israeli withdrawal from all territory situated beyond the “Green Line” by November 2016.
Additionally, the Obama Administration had just issued its harshest condemnation yet of Israeli citizens moving into properties in areas of Jerusalem with significant or majority Arab populations and of building plans for the Givat Hamatos neighborhood.
Netanyahu’s comments highlighted just how distant his understanding of what “peace” might look like is from that of President Obama. Prior statements from the president and the administration’s insistence on condemning any Israeli building activities beyond the Green Line indicate a general endorsement of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s claim to the entire West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. Netanyahu however, sees territory as crucial to security and views past withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza with immense skepticism.
The prime minister’s stance also strikes a chord with the Israeli public, 55 percent of whom rated as “good” or “very good” his defiant tone at the United Nations and his subsequent robust response to the criticism from the White House.
For Netanyahu, standing up to the US president clearly boosts his political fortunes at home.
Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama was the first since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge dominated international headlines throughout a summer during which the US was uncharacteristically among Israel’s harsh critics. In our interview, the prime minister addressed the extreme scrutiny faced by the Israel Defense Forces, saying that the Jewish state’s army is held to a unique standard, “because old traditions die hard, and anti-Semitism is a very old tradition.”
On the issue of global anti-Jewish sentiment, which skyrocketed during the 50-day war, Netanyahu asserted that “there is no future for the Jewish people without the Jewish state.” When I asked if he sometimes feels like the prime minister of the Jewish people as well as the state of Israel, he answered, “of course I feel that way.”
Before departing for the US, Netanyahu had promised to “tell the truth of the citizens of Israel to the whole world,” as a response to “the deceitful speech of the Iranian president and [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas’s inciteful words.” Two days before our interview, he delivered at the United Nations General Assembly a blistering speech on the dangers of militant Islam, highlighting the common beliefs that connect the Islamic State to Iran and Israel’s nearest enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah. In our talk he re-iterated some of the themes from the UN address.
Finding “a more sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians” was high on President Obama’s agenda on Wednesday. However, both in his UN talk and in dialogue with the president, Netanyahu seemed to be most concerned with efforts towards “preventing Iran from becoming a military nuclear power.”
The full Algemeiner interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu follows:
DOVID EFUNE: Recently, I interviewed a soldier who was wounded during Operation Protective Edge. He told me that in battle, he fought on behalf of all Jewish people. When you spoke at the United Nations you addressed global anti-Semitism. Do you sometimes feel like you are the prime minister of the Jewish people as well as Israel?
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, Israel is the state of the Jewish people. There is no future for the Jewish people without the Jewish state and that’s why we have to protect it and defend it, and sometimes at terrible cost. But, of course I feel that way.
It’s not only that our soldiers defend the Jewish state for the Jewish people on the battlefield. We also have to defend it in the battlefield of public opinion, in the great battle for truth. In fact, when I first came to the UN and spoke to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that’s what he told me. He said, ‘you’re going to a house of darkness.’ He said, ‘light a candle of truth and the light will be seen wide and far,’ and I’ve always tried to follow that, just to speak the truth, unvarnished, and I think that’s what I tried to do the other day at the UN as well.
EFUNE: So when you look around Europe, and it was something you addressed specifically, people shouting ‘Jews to the gas,’ a recent poll in England showing that 63 percent of Jews have considered leaving, similar patterns in France, do you believe that there is a future for Jews in Europe?
NETANYAHU: I think that the future of the Jewish people is intimately tied to the future of the Jewish state, and any Jew who feels that he wants to be in a place where he will be absolutely welcome, has the option and the privilege of going to Israel. This doesn’t mean that any one of us absolves the anti-Semities, and I appreciate in particular the fact that leaders of the European parliaments spoke out very strongly against this modern anti-Semitism, and I think that’s very important. But the Jews should always know they have a home in Israel.
EFUNE: Do you foresee a scenario where most of Europe’s Jews will end up in Israel?
NETANYAHU: I think that they can exercise a privilege that wasn’t available to, in some cases, their parents, in some cases their grandparents, and that is that there is a Jewish state that embraces them and calls them to make aliyah and come home.
EFUNE: Moving on to a different subject, why do you think it is that the IDF is the most scrutinized army in the world?
NETANYAHU: Well, there is a triple standard when it comes to Israel. There is a standard for dictatorships, there is a standard for democracies, and there is still a third standard for the democracy called Israel. Why is that the case? Because old traditions die hard, and anti-Semitism is a very old tradition. And just as the Jews were maligned, scrutinized, and vilified, and people attributed to us these horrible actions that had nothing to do with reality, the same is true now. What was true of the Jewish people is now true unfortunately of the Jewish state.
EFUNE: You have said ISIS is Hamas, Hamas is ISIS. They are branches of the same poisonous tree…
NETANYAHU: …That’s right…
EFUNE: After meeting today with President Obama, do you feel that he shares this view of the world and the challenges that you’re dealing with?
NETANYAHU: Well, I think he understands fully well that Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. The point I made at the UN was that Hamas and ISIS share fanatic methods. It’s true that ISIS beheads people, and Hamas executed dozens of Palestinians in the recent conflict by putting a bullet in their head but you know, for the victims and their families, the horrors are the same.
But they also share a fanatic ideology. Ever increasing enclaves, expanding enclaves of militant Islam, and their goal ultimately is not merely to dominate the Middle East but to dominate the world, and these people are very dangerous. I didn’t say that they’re twins, there are core differences, they’re brothers, or, as I said, branches of the same poisonous tree of militant Islam. I believe that anyone observing the facts understands this.
EFUNE: Today, you reiterated support for two states for two peoples. A recent poll on anti-Semitic attitudes around the world, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, found that the most anti-Semitic territories on the planet are the Palestinian controlled regions where 93 percent hold anti-Semitic views, not just anti-Israeli. How is a two state solution feasible in that kind of climate?
NETANYAHU: Well you have to have certain things accompanying it, otherwise it can’t come into being. The first thing is that they have to recognize the Jewish state. They can’t ask us to recognize the Palestinian state and not recognize the Jewish state, the nation state of the Jewish people.
EFUNE: That’s tied to the anti-Semitism?
NETANYAHU: First of all, there can’t be peace without it. Secondly, even if we had that — the Palestinian leadership actually gave up the right of return, recognized the right of the Jews to a state of their own — it still may take a long time to percolate, and we have to allow for the fact that it might not percolate. That’s why we need very robust security arrangements both to protect the peace and protect Israel if the peace unravels.
So these are some of the things that have to precede any two states, for two people solution and I’ve been very clear about that. Not only have I been clear, I think that I’ve been borne out by what has happened in Gaza. We don’t just hand over territory, close our eyes and hope for the best. We did that in Lebanon and we got thousands of rockets. We did that in Gaza, we got Hamas and 15,000 rockets. So we’re not gonna just replicate that. We want to see genuine recognition of the Jewish state and rock solid security arrangements on the ground. That’s the position I’ve held, and it’s only become firmer.