Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday declared that there could be no peace agreement with the Palestinians until they recognize Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people.
In a bitter passage of a lengthy address at the opening of the 19th Knesset’s winter session, Netanyahu said Israel did not need that recognition from the Palestinians. Rather, he said, the Palestinians had to come to terms with Israel’s Jewish legitimacy and abandon their “nationalistic demands” on Israel.
Specifically, he said, the Palestinians would have to “abandon the demand for what is called ‘the right of return’” for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel, otherwise there could be no “end of conflict” accord. Without this shift, and without the abandoning of “other nationalistic demands on the land and sovereignty of Israel,” he said, there simply could be no genuine peace.
Netanyahu said official Palestinian media routinely described Palestine as extending from Metulla (at the northern tip of Israel) to Eilat (Israel’s southern Red Sea town), and that PA media also repeatedly asserted that Palestinian statehood could be achieved without recognizing Jewish Israel. “It will not,” he said.
Still, he insisted he was making “a genuine effort” to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians in the current negotiations.
On Iran, Netanyahu repeated his contention that Iran was fooling the world with its ostensible readiness to bring its rogue nuclear program into international legitimacy, and said he was convinced Iran seeks Israel’s destruction. For that reason, he said, “Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear weapons.”
The Monday afternoon session ended the Knesset’s fall recess and holiday period.
After opening remarks by Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, President Shimon Peres took the plenum and began his speech by noting the recent passing of former chief Sephardi rabbi and political heavyweight, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Peres noted that Israel “has changed beyond recognition” in its 65 years of existence, in which time “the population has multiplied by 12 and the economy has grown 40-fold.” Despite some difficulties, there is still “great hope” in Israel for a better future.
Peres called on the Knesset to act as “representatives of the people” and join in “a collective effort” to enact change in Israeli society to safeguard economic and technological growth, to reduce economic and social divisions in society, and to safeguard Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
Iran, Peres said, “is a threat to world peace, it destabilizes the region and threatens Israel. The world must judge Iran by deeds and not words, even if the words sound sweet to ears used to hearing [former president] Ahmadinejad.”
The Iranian regime “supports Hezbollah, Hamas and the blood-soaked regime in Syria. The regime of the ayatollahs is a threat to Israel but a danger to the entire world,” Peres said, adding that Iran is building missiles which can “carry nuclear warheads into the heart of Europe and even the East Coast of the United States.”
Netanyahu spent much of his speech on the Iranian issue, urging the international community — ahead of new diplomatic talks in Geneva on Tuesday — not to be fooled by new President Hassan Rouhani into easing sanctions.
Iran, Netanyahu said, is attempting “to give a little” — by agreeing to a reduction of enriched uranium that would still enable it to quickly build nuclear weapons if it chose to do so — and in return wants “to get a lot” in terms of eased sanctions by the West.
The sanctions, the prime minister said, have “forced Iran to the negotiating table.” It would be an “historic mistake to ease pressure now, just when the sanctions are achieving results,” he added.
In Syria, “the army used chemical weapons against its own population in Damascus,” Netanyahu said, and noted that Israel has “for many years” monitored and warned against the dangers posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The international effort to remove the Assad regime’s chemical weapons must succeed, he said, adding that Israel will continue to act to prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of Bashar Assad’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
Netanyahu noted the change of government in Egypt, and said Israel is “making a great effort” to keep the peace agreement with Egypt intact. Israeli-Egyptian peace is based on security considerations and international agreements, and Israel “will do everything to protect it,” he said.
The Arab Spring and subsequent events, Netanyahu noted, have led to “an understanding in the Arab world” that Israel is not necessarily the enemy, and this recognition could open “many opportunities,” he said. “Many nations,” he said, have a great desire to be free of the extremist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and Iranian influence, which is “extremely important.” It was “not inevitable” that Islamic extremism would prevail in the region, he noted.
“We are making real efforts to reach an end to the conflict with the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said when he turned to the peace process, but, he added, the question is, “Why do the Palestinians insist on not recognizing Israel?”
“What’s so difficult about recognizing this basic historic fact [that Israel is the Jewish state]?” he asked.
Peres, too, addressed the current round of peace talks with the Palestinians, and noted that they “are taking place away from the spotlight, and this allows for serious negotiations to bring the two state solution to fruition.”
“As Jews we are obligated to seek peace and not wait for miracles to bring it about,” Peres said, adding that achieving peace with Israel’s neighbors is “not only a strategic, security and economic interest, but also a moral call enshrined in our heritage. ”
Netanyahu noted that the government has succeeded in reducing the flow of African migrants into Israel to “zero” and said that Israel is the only Western country that has succeeded in “controlling illegal breaches of its borders,” which, in Israel’s case, is important to secure “Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic country.”
He also hailed Israel’s progress in the world of cyberspace, saying it was one of the world’s four leading countries in this field.
While he was stressing the economic gains that Israel has made in recent years, Netanyahu was interrupted several times by Arab MKs Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) and Ahmad Tibi (Raam-Ta’al), who were repeatedly asked to refrain from commenting by Speaker Edelstein.