Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.
“Since he doesn’t speak Hebrew, and my Arabic isn’t great, I will turn to him in a language we both understand,” Netanyahu said at a special Knesset session dedicated to the Israeli-Arab conflict. “I say: Give peace a chance,” he said, alluding to the title of John Lennon’s 1969 classic.
According to Knesset regulations, Israeli politicians are not allowed to speak any language other than Hebrew or Arabic from the podium.
Appearing in the plenum because 40 MKs had signed a petition forcing him to address the topic of the Arab Peace Initiative, the prime minister said that he was ready to resume negotiations with the Palestinians at any time and was ready to make sacrifices to arrive at an agreement.
“In my three terms as prime minister I took many difficult decisions: in the areas of the economy and foreign policy, and first and foremost in the realm of security. And now, too, I’m ready to make difficult decisions in order to advance peace, but not if this in any way hurts the security of Israel’s citizens. But we’re not the only ones who have to take tough decisions, the Palestinians too have to do this,” the prime minister said in his native tongue.
“Don’t miss this opportunity,” he added, lamenting that during the last four years, he and Abbas had only spoken for a total of “a few hours.”
Netanyahu reiterated that a successful outcome to peace talks would be possible if Israel’s security was guaranteed and if the Palestinians recognized Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Wednesday’s special Knesset session was supposed to deal with the Arab League’s new stance regarding its 2002 peace initiative, after more than 40 lawmakers requested that the prime minister address the issue. Originally, the Arab Peace Initiative offered Israel normalization with the entire Arab and Muslim world in exchange for withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a “just” solution to the refugee problem. Last month, an Arab League delegation indicated that it was ready to accept minor territorial swaps to permit Israel to hold on to some of the major settlement blocs.
Yet in his remarks, Netanyahu hardly referred to the Arab Peace Initiative.
“By the way, we’re listening to any initiative, including the Arab initiative,” he said. “We’re listening to all initiatives and we’re ready to discuss initiatives that are proposals and not dictates. We are in favor of conducting negotiations without preconditions — immediately.”
The prime minister also spoke in broader terms of security and the threats facing Israel, saying that the country today was “stronger than ever.”
“There are a number of serious threats around us,” warned Netanyahu. “Why do I say that Israel is the world’s most threatened nation? Because that is the truth. Tens of thousands of missiles and rockets are directed at Israeli cities and we must address this issue with a defensive response.”
Netanyahu addressed the dangers emanating from Iran’s nuclear program and said Israel would do everything in its power to ensure that Tehran did not obtain weapons of mass destruction.
“We must do all we can,” he said, “mobilize the international community and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. All of our other problems will be dwarfed if Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons.
“Iran has accumulated 180 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent,” Netanyahu continued. “A little over half a year ago, it had 110 kilos… It has not yet crossed the red line I set for it the UN, but it is getting closer.”
Addressing the upcoming elections in Iran, Netanyahu assessed that Tehran’s attitude toward Israel would remain unchanged no matter the result.
“I ask that no one delude himself: The Iranian election results will not change a thing, and aside from its continuous race toward the bomb, Iran is still arming Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the global jihad.”
The prime minister concluded by reassuring his listeners that Israel would not allow any breach of its security, while alluding to recent reported attacks against targets in Syria.
“Israel will make, will continue to make, every effort to prevent advanced weapons leaking to Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist organizations,” he said.