WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night reiterated his call on the Palestinian leadership to resume peace talks with Israel. We have no time to waste, he told the 2009 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
His speech was disrupted shortly after it began as a protestor in the audience called for an end to the blockade on Gaza. The woman raised a sign and shouted, "Peace to Israel, peace to Palestine." She was removed from the auditorium shortly afterwards. Netanyahu responded to the incident by saying that he was treated better at the UN General Assembly.
The prime minister dedicated the first part of his speech to the entire Jewish people's connection to Israel, ways to strengthen the State and the Jewish identity outside Israel.
In order to achieve peace we must launch negotiations and stop talking about negotiations, he said, adding that there was no time to waste. He called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to advance the peace talks.
"I believe there is no time to waste; we need to move toward peace with a sense of urgency and with a sense of purpose," he said.
"I want to make this clear: My goal is not to have endless negotiations. My goal is not negotiations for the sake of negotiations. My goal is to achieve a permanent peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians," he added, noting that preconditions must not be set for the talks.
The prime minister said his government should be credited with taking extraordinary steps to limit Jewish settlement activity in the West Bank.
"No Israeli government has been so willing to restrain settlement activities as part of an effort to relaunch peace talks," he said. Addressing by name the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, Netanyahu added: "Let us seize the moment to reach an historic agreement. Let us begin talks immediately."
'Let us begin talks immediately' (Photo: Reuters)
He said the Jewish state needed a Palestinian partner who was willing to take risks for the sake of peace. He said he believed peace could turn into a reality with good will, brave leadership on both sides and US support.
Earlier, sources in Netanyahu's entourage referred to the added as "the second Bar-Ilan speech." And indeed, the prime minister reiterated his explanations on the necessary demilitarization of the Palestinian state he envisions.
'Won't compromise on Israel's security'
The prime minister mentioned the capture of an Iranian arms ship which was leading weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas' successful test of an improved rocket which could reach Tel Aviv. He said he was willing to make great concessions for peace, "but there's something that I will never compromise on, and that's Israel's security."
Netanyahu said that Israel must ensure that no weapons reach the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, which overlooks Tel Aviv and surrounds Jerusalem. We cannot allow another Gaza and southern Lebanon in the heart of our country, he said.
Netanyahu mentioned the moves carried out by Israel in order to ease the daily life of the Palestinian population in the West Bank. He said Israel has removed roadblocks and lifted bureaucratic obstacles on the Palestinian economy. He said he believed prosperity could help achieve peace.
The prime minister said there has been an "unmatched boom" of economic activity in the West Bank, "and this has made life better for ordinary Palestinians. For the first time in years, businesses, banks, industry is sprouting - restaurants, theaters, shopping malls are overflowing. Thousands and thousands of Palestinian jobs are being created. I think we can do a lot more and I intend to do a lot more."
Part of the prime minister's speech was dedicated to Israel's PR war against the Goldstone Report, which accuses Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza. He said the report must be rejected firmly.
We are proud of our defense army, he said, and proud of our sons and daughters who are defending our countries every day. He added that the Israel Defense Forces was the most ethical army in the world and thanked US President Barack Obama for actions against the report's endorsement. He also praised the US Congress for rejecting the report.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was scheduled to speak at the GA later Monday. During meetings with American officials in Washington, he said that it was crucial "to recruit President Obama and the United States to the efforts (of peace) and launch negotiations."
Since landing in the American capital, Netanyahu has already consulted with Barak, who is staying in the same hotel. Before arriving at the White House for his meeting with the American president, the prime minister is expected to meet with some 25 senators, including Democratic majority leader Harry Reid, Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, heads of Senate committees and Jewish senators.
Netanyahu's media advisor, Nir Hefetz, told Ynet on Monday morning that "saying that there was a near-crisis brewing simply isn’t true." He was referring to the attempts to organize a meeting between the prime minister and US president over the past few days.
The atmosphere ahead of the meeting, he stressed, "Is relaxed. We're gearing for a long political day, which will culminate with a meeting in the Oval Office."
The Associated Press contributed to this report