Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he would work with an Islamic president of Egypt as long as the peace treaty was still respected.
“I am willing to work with anyone who will maintain peace, there is no question,” Netanyahu said, speaking to Army Radio on the eve of Memorial Day and two days before Independence Day. Normal relations between Israel and Egypt can certainly be maintained, he said, even if an Islamist leader wins next month’s presidential elections.
Similarly, where the Palestinians are concerned, he said, he hoped to reach an agreement with “our neighbors” sooner rather than later.
Regarding the Iranian issue, he was unequivocal in stating that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and that this is the worldwide consensus. “If the international community succeeds in stopping Iran through severe economic sanctions, so much the better,” he said. But “Israel must keep the ability to defend itself against any threat.” He said the Iran nuclear problem would not be solved “in days, but also not in years.”
Responding to a question about instability in his coalition due to the planned evacuation of Ulpana Hill, an extension of the West Bank settlement Beit El partially built on Palestinian owned-land, the prime minster expressed confidence that the issue will be resolved and the coalition be maintained.
He said the government would ask the High Court to delay the evacuation of the neighborhood beyond the current deadline, at the end of the month, so that a ministerial team could find a solution. “We have a few ideas,” he said, “but it’s not a simple issue, that’s for sure.”
“Our actions clearly must be within a legal framework… We have national needs and a deep connection to this area,” Netanyahu said, adding that there were international considerations involved.
“I am not afraid of elections,” said Netanyahu, “But I am reluctant to have them. If we are forced to go to the polls I believe we will succeed. For the moment the coalition is stable and I don’t believe there will be an election in early August.”
Early elections are a fact of political life in Israel, as most ruling coalitions break apart before the full four-year period elapses between regularly scheduled voting. The next Knesset elections are scheduled for fall 2013.
Netanyahu asserted that his coalition has been effective because it has been stable for three years, an “unusual” occurrence, saying that “the economy has been responsibly managed and we have created nearly 240,000 jobs. We responded to the social protests [of last summer] by providing free education from the age of three… We lowered the cost of fuel four times. If the coalition should break apart, it could jeopardize these achievements.”
Netanyahu said the government was “constantly” trying to free Israelis held internationally, including Jonathan Pollard and Odeh Tarabin, an Israeli Bedouin jailed in Egypt for 11 years on spying charges. He stressed the high cost for such releases, citing the deals he oversaw to release Ilan Grapel from Egypt and Gilad Shalit from Gaza, and said he was not willing to pay any price.
Netanyahu expressed support for Defense Minister Ehud Barak, rejecting claims by some Likud ministers and MKs that Barak has been using his office to advance an agenda that conflicts with government policy. “[He] faithfully carries out government decisions, there is no private policy. We work together on very important security issues… His actions are certainly acceptable, and we have succeeded in working together very well.”
“The country is not perfect,” Netanyahu conceded at the end of the interview, after reiterating his willingness to suspend the current soccer season over escalating player and fan violence if necessary. “There are problems and failures. The question is whether we have a state that is open to finding solutions — and the answer is yes.”