WASHINGTON — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas must recognize Israel as a Jewish state to show he is serious about ending the conflict, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told some 14,000 activists at AIPAC’s annual policy conference Tuesday.
Delivering the confab’s keynote address, Netanyahu called on Abbas to quit making excuses over the key Israeli demand. During the speech, he also rejected the idea of international peacekeepers in the Jordan Valley, and made a case for upping pressure on Iran, saying any Iranian nuclear capability would be a threat to the whole world.
“It’s time for the Palestinians stop denying history,” he said. “Just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state.”
Such a recognition would send a message to Palestinians, he said, “to abandon the possibility of flooding Israel with refugees or amputating parts of the Negev or Galilee.”
“Recognize the Jewish state. No excuses, no delays. It’s time,” he urged, directly addressing Abbas.
The comments came a day after US President Barack Obama told Netanyahu that the time for tough decisions had come. Netanyahu said he sought a deal, but questioned the seriousness of the Palestinians’ engagement.
Netanyahu talked up the benefits of peace for regional economic ties, focusing – not unlike Secretary of State John Kerry in his Monday evening speech before AIPAC – on the benefits of establishing formal ties with Gulf states. “The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship will catapult the region forward,” he explained.
“I am prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a peace that will end a century of conflict and bloodshed,” Netanyahu said to a round of applause. “Peace would be good for us and peace will be good for the Palestinians.”
Thanking Kerry, who he characterized as “the secretary of state who never sleeps,” Netanyahu assured the audience that a peace deal would have to be “anchored in security arrangements and mutual recognition of two nation states.”
The prime minister also made clear that he opposes any placement of long-term international peacekeeping forces who, he said, “keep the peace only when there is peace, but when they’re subjected to repeated attacks, those forces eventually go home.”
He cited international forces in the Sinai, southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights, characterizing them as ineffective.
Netanyahu devoted a large chunk of his speech to Iran’s nuclear program, saying letting Tehran keep any enrichment capability would endanger the world.
A final agreement with Iran must require Tehran to fully dismantle its nuclear capability, he said, warning the audience that Iran’s current missile development had its sights on America’s eastern seaboard.
Netanyahu dismissed arguments that Iran wants a peaceful nuclear program, questioning why heavy water reactors, secret nuclear sites closed to international inspections, and the development of inter-continental ballistic missiles are necessary to a peaceful program.
The prime minister warned that Americans should understand that such ICBM technology is meant to target far-flung regions, like America’s East Coast, and not Israel – which can be reached by weapons that Iran already possesses. “Those ICBMs aren’t intended for us. When you see Iran building ICBMs, just remember America, that Scud’s for you,” he quipped, referencing a beer ad campaign.
The end game of negotiations, Netanyahu reiterated, was “not just to prevent them from having that weapon, but from having the capacity to make the weapon.” The distinction between acquiring a weapon and possessing the capacity to build such a weapon has emerged as a gaping divide between the Obama administration’s position and that of the Israeli government.
In order to achieve that, he said, a negotiated solution must include dismantling – not just restricting construction of — Iran’s heavy water reactor and underground enrichment facility, and strip Iran both of its centrifuges that allow for the enrichment of uranium as well as its standing stockpile of enriched uranium. Leaving Iran with enrichment capacity, he warned, will allow it to remain as a “threshold” nuclear power, “able to develop rapidly nuclear weapons at a time when attention is focused elsewhere.”
Iran, he said, was negotiating under bad faith. He described Iran “wheeling out its smiling president and its smooth-talking foreign minister,” but noted that at the same time “Iran’s leaders say they won’t dismantle a single centrifuge and won’t stop their missile program.”
For the first part of his address, Netanyahu contrasted Israel as a force for regional stability and humanitarian relief, in comparison with Tehran as a destabilizing and immoral force. He described visiting an IDF field hospital in the Golan Heights, set up to receive some of the nearly 1,000 wounded Syrians who have come to Israel seeking medical assistance.
Netanyahu described a man and his gravely wounded son, saying “I heard from them what all the Syrians who come to be treated in Israel are saying. They say ‘all these years Assad lied to us. He told us Iran is our friend and Israel is our enemy. But Iran is killing us and Israel is saving us.”
The Syrians, Netanyahu said, “discovered what you’ve always known to be true. In a Middle East bludgeoned by barbarism and butchery, Israel is humane, Israel is compassionate, Israel is a force for good.”
Netanyahu characterized the Israeli-Syrian border as “the dividing line between decency and depravity, between compassion and cruelty. On the one side stands Israel, animated by the values we cherish, while on the other side of that moral divide, steeped in blood and savagery, stand the forces of terror.”
Netanyahu devoted the last third of his speech to an assault on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which he re-designated “Bigotry, Dishonesty and Shame” and re-characterized as “simply the latest chapter in the long, dark history of anti-Semitism.”
“Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite and bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.”