While stopping short of fully endorsing the Arab Peace Initiative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he welcomed the general idea behind it — a regional agreement between Israel and the moderate Arab states.
The Arab Peace Initiative, originally proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, has many problematic aspects to it, the prime minister said, such as its call for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and the return of Palestinians refuges to Israel. “There are positive aspects and negative aspects to it,” he told Israeli diplomatic correspondents at a rare on-record briefing. “This initiative is 13 years old, and the situation in the Middle East has changed since it was first proposed. But the general idea — to try and reach understandings with leading Arab countries — is a good idea.”
In the framework proposed by the initiative, all Arab and Islamic states would establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel after the successful conclusion of the peace process with the Palestinians.
The Israeli government has never fully endorsed the plan. But Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that given Iran’s nuclear and regional aspirations, the moderate Arab states and Israel have a common enemy and grounds for increased cooperation.
Speaking at the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv on Thursday, the prime minister also sought to explain the apparent disparity between his pre- and post-elections statements regarding Palestinian statehood.
“Before the elections, I was asked in an interview [about the possibility of a Palestinian state coming into being on my watch], and I replied that I don’t estimate it will happen. I don’t think it will happen,” he said. “After the elections, they jumped on it, so I explained my position.”
At no time did he rescind his agreement in principle to the creation of a Palestinian state, as long as it was demilitarized and recognized Israel as the Jewish homeland, Netanyahu asserted. “I did not renounce the idea, but I explained what’s the problem with it,” he said. “If the Palestinians change their positions, that it’s a different situation.”
(In an interview with the NRG news site a day before the March 17 elections, Netanyahu was asked whether there would be no Palestinian state on his watch, to which he replied, “Indeed.”)
Netanyahu on Thursday said there are several core problems that stand in the way of a peace treaty with the Palestinians, such as Jerusalem, which he said “will not be resolved – we’ll set this aside.”
However, the most important question was security, he said. “One of the key questions will be who guarantees the security of the territories that Israel is ready to vacate?”
Under every scenario in which Israel withdraws from parts of the West Bank, only the IDF will be able to guarantee Israel’s safety, the prime minister said. Israeli troops will have to stay in the West Bank “for an extended period of time,” he said.
Asked by The Times of Israel about Friday’s scheduled vote on expelling Israel from FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, Netanyahu said that any effort to harm Israel would eventually hurt the organization. “This would be FIFA’s downfall,” he said.
FIFA is currently in the midst of a massive corruption scandal, which has thrown world soccer into chaos.
If FIFA were to kick out Israel, he added, other countries would soon follow, and the politicization of the sport would eventually destroy the organization. Netanyahu vowed to fight the motion to expel Israel if it passed.
He also spoke about his opposition to the nuclear deal that six world powers are currently negotiating with Iran. “We will fight this agreement. I really think it’s dangerous,” he said.
Israel rejects the prospective agreement for three reasons: For one thing, even if Iran honors the agreement, when it elapses after a decade Tehran will be in a position to build as many uranium enrichment centrifuges as it pleases, which “is dangerous to the security of Israel and the entire Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
Second, the deal, which the world powers are trying to finalize before a June 30 deadline, would lift sanctions, filling Iran’s coffers with billions of dollars that it would then use to augment its belligerent policies in the region and its support for terrorism worldwide, the prime minister argued.
Finally, Netanyahu lamented the deal’s verification mechanism, which in his eyes is sorely insufficient. It will be very difficult to detect if Iran violates the agreement and seeks to break out toward nuclear weapons capability, he said.