Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella that Israel was “gravely disappointed” by Italy’s abstention in a UNESCO vote last month that ignored Jewish and Christian links to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but was heartened to hear a subsequent pledge from Italy’s prime minister that it would oppose such resolutions in the future.
He also told his guest that the conflict with the Palestinians was never about their desire for their own state, but rather about their wish to destroy the Jewish state, and he insisted that it was wrong to see West Bank settlements as the root of the problem. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he asserted, won’t recognize a Jewish state “in any borders.”
“This conflict is not and never was about a Palestinian state, which successive Israeli governments, including this prime minister, have been willing to arrange — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said, speaking at the start of a meeting with Mattarella at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “It was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve.”
Noting that his guest had just met with the Abbas, Netanyahu charged that the PA leader “continues to refuse to accept a Jewish state in any boundaries, and this remains the core of the conflict — this persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state in any configuration.”
The prime minister declared that criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, land that the Palestinians want for a future state, is misguided. “I think the focus that people (place) on settlements is wrong. (The conflict) preceded the settlements by half a century. And when we left Gaza and all the settlements (in 2005), they continued to fire rockets at us,” he said.
Netanyahu said he had approached both “Hamas and President Abbas,” and asked if they would recognize the Jewish state if the settlement issue is resolved. “And they won’t, because the real settlement issue is the settlements of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko; the persistent refusal is to recognize a Jewish state in any borders,” he said.
Netanyahu recalled having seen the Arch of Titus in Rome which depicts the spoils of war looted by the Roman army from Jerusalem after it destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD.
“I raise this because we’ve just had an absurd decision of UNESCO that said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount. Well, the Arch of Titus was built by Titus’s brother, the Emperor Domitian. He wasn’t a Zionist propagandist. And he obviously was depicting that long, thousands-year connection to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem and to this country of the Jewish people.”
Although Israel was disappointed by Italy’s abstention from voting on the resolution, Netanyahu said he was encouraged by Italian Prime Minister Renzi’s statement since then, vowing that Italy would change its voting position on future resolutions.
“UNESCO’s attempt to erase Jewish history is an attempt to say that Jews really don’t have any connection to our land. It’s not only false, blatantly false, it also makes the achievement of peace harder,” he said. “Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state. This is the bad news.”
“Now, the good news. The good news, the incredible news, one that fills me with great hope, is that there is a dramatic change taking place in the Arab world, and that change is that many of the Arab countries see Israel no longer as their enemy, but as their ally, even their vital ally, in fighting against Islamist terrorism, militant Islam, either led by Iran or led by Da’esh,” Netanyahu said, using the Hebrew acronym for the Islamic State group.