Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned to the Arabic media Thursday in an attempt to lure the Palestinians back to peace talks.
The Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu's interview with Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV reflected the significance he attributes to Arab public opinion and the sincerity of his peace overtures; but analysts have also hedged that it somewhat reflects Israel's jitters ahead of the Palestinian Authority's unilateral bid for statehood in the UN, this fall.
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Netanyahu stressed that since taking office, he has repeatedly sought to reignite the stalled peace process, as well as ordered a series of mitigations and gestures towards the Palestinian, most notably the West Bank settlement freeze, which "Believe me, was not an easy thing for a Likud leader to do.
"(…) I'm willing to sit down with (Palestinian) President Abbas right now and negotiate without pre-conditions… on the basis of the desire of both of our peoples to have peace. I think we both agreed that we need to have the idea of two states for two peoples. I think it's unnecessary to try to conclude the negotiations before we start them. We'll never get anywhere. We just wasted two years," he said.
"I think the right thing to do is to sit down and negotiate… and I believe this peace will give Israel the security it requires. I think I can deliver this peace, and I think it's a big mistake not to use this opportunity."
- For the full interview click here
Peace, he added, "Can be achieved if we start right away. I don’t know how long the negotiations will take, but I know that the sooner we begin, the faster they'll end. And I think the people of Israel and the Palestinian people… what they really expect is the leaders to get on with the job of giving a future of peace for us and for you."
Talks can be resumed immediately? (Photo: GPO)
When confronted with the notion that for many in the Arab world, the assertion of Israel as the Jewish homeland spells "the transfer of the Israeli Arabs," Netanyahu vehemently dispersed it, saying "never. Never. I'm absolutely against that."
The Israeli government, he continued, would never allow anti-Arab legislation: "Non-Jews, in this case Arabs, live (in Israel) and they're entitled to all the rights in Israel."
Israel, he said, does not "nullify people based on their religious belief, but we do expect them to, in their world view, to have a place for the State of Israel. If people say the State of Israel shouldn't exist, it should be wiped off the face of the earth, the way Iran or Hezbollah or Hamas say, there's not much place to go.
"If people have different views, we'll listen to those views… I'm willing to negotiate peace with anyone that's willing to accept the right of my people and my country to live."
'We don’t want to strike Iran'
Netanyahu further dismissed recent reports suggesting Israel was planning to strike Iran in the fall as "preposterous," adding that there was "nothing to deny and nothing to confirm. It's not a real issue. The point is we don’t want to attack anyone and we don’t threaten anyone.
"Iran threatens to annihilate us, Iran sends terrorists and rockets into our cities… Yes, I said that a military option has to be joined to the economic sanctions if the sanctions are to work.
"There's a paradox. If you don’t have a military option, the sanctions will probably fail, and you'll probably have to use the military option; whereas if you have it together, I think that that will work on Iran," he said.
Netanyahu also warned of Iran's vying for influence in Arab countries which are attempting reforms, saying that "Iran is trying to meddle in many, many countries. It doesn't want peace and it doesn't want democracy. It doesn't want reform and it doesn't want change. If it did, you'd see a different Iran."
True outcome of Arab spring still pending
In the interview, Netanyahu also addressed the regional unrest in Syria and Egypt.
When asked is he was worried about the current developments in Syria, Netanyahu said that the Syrian people were "showing enormous courage in the face of very strong brutality. We don't intervene in what happens in Syria, but we obviously would like to have peaceful relations with Syria, and we can only hope for a good future for the people of Syria – they deserve a good future, one of peace and one of freedom."
As for the Arab spring's possible effects on the Middle East peace process, Netanyahu said that "there is a big question (of) where does the Arab Spring go. If it goes towards democracy, towards reform, maybe a controlled reform process, towards modernity and towards greater freedom, which I think the Arab people deserve… Then I think it's good for Israel.
"If it goes towards an Iranian style dictatorship, as it did, unfortunately in Iran and in Lebanon, then it's bad. It's bad for the peoples there, but it's also bad for peace."
Netanyahu further expressed hope that some day. Israel will "not be the only democracy in the Middle East, (but) one of many Arab democracies… this would be a wonderful thing."
Commenting about the revolution in Egypt, as specifically about the impeachment of President Mubarak. Netanyahu said that he " respected President Mubarak. He held peace between Israel and Egypt for over 30 years, and that's a great achievement.
"(…) I see that the current government, which is a transition government, is committed to the peace. They've said so openly. And in practice this is also taking place."
Netanyahu's interview with al-Arabiya marked the first time he has sat down with an Arabic media outlet since he took office in 2009.
Ofir Gendelman, Netanyahu's spokesman for the Arab media, said the Saudi-owned TV station was chosen as a conduit for Netanyahu's outreach because it is a professional station that reaches 40 million Arabs.
AP contributed to this report
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