Nearly a week after 14 nations, including four permanent members of the UN Security Council, voted in favor of a resolution demanding Israel stop settlement activity in territory claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Thursday that the Palestinian issue was relatively “marginal.”
Speaking at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots in the Hatzerim air force base a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Israel’s settlement enterprise was killing any chance of peace, Netanyahu said that “with all due respect to those who talk about the heart of the conflict in the Middle East,” the greatest and most genuine catastrophe affecting the region was “the scope of the destruction of [neighboring] states and cities, the mass slaughter of innocents, the endless flow of refugees to other continents” — a reference to the raging civil war in Syria — and not “our conflict with the Palestinians, which is a relatively marginal issue.”
The real issue, Netanyahu argued, is “the collapse of whole nations, of whole states in civil wars, and in the wars of radical Islam over the future of the Arab and Muslim world.”
“In just a few months in Syria, in Yemen and in [South] Sudan, more people were killed than in a hundred years of conflict [with] the Palestinians…[and these killings] have nothing to do with us,” he said, adding that “our hearts are with the innocent civilians suffering the evils of war.”
Without the State of Israel, Netanyahu said, developments in the Arab world over the past several years — revolutions and coups and violence — would have “swept through this land” too, and the Palestinians would have been affected.
“Israel is not a source of instability in the region,” the prime minister charged. “Israel is an anchor of stability and security in the region, it is a force preventing a further avalanche, and many in the world — and of course in the United States — understand this.”
In the same speech, Netanyahu also adopted a softer tone vis-a-vis the United States, however, touting the “strong” relationship between Israel and the US despite their differences of opinion. This came after nearly a week of lashing out daily at the Obama administration in the wake of its abstention on Friday’s anti-settlements resolution at the Security Council.
“I am grateful to the American people, to Congress and to the American government for defense aid to Israel, including the two F-35s we received,” he said.
“The alliance between our countries is strong, even when there are disagreements between us. I look forward to working with the new administration to further strengthen the security of the two nations,” Netanyahu said.
His comments also came a day after he lambasted Kerry for what he called a “skewed” speech on the Middle East peace process, laying out principles for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.