Netanyahu: If Israel withdraws, Iran will move in

Prime minister says Abbas not a peace partner as long as he ’embraces Hamas’; predicts large deficit won’t necessitate tax hikes

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks down on Israel's north during a helicopter ride, January 13, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks down on Israel's north during a helicopter ride, January 13, 2013 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Without closing the door on the possibility of future negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his oft-stated stance that, under the current circumstances, Israel could not make peace with the Palestinians. In a pre-election interview with Channel 2 News, Netanyahu said that if Israel were to pull out of the West Bank, it would fall into the hands of the country’s enemies.

“In the Middle East, the real Middle East, any territory that we evacuate will be captured by Iran,” the prime minister said. “The stronger we are, the more we will be able to guarantee our future and make peace with our neighbors.”

In a reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he added: “I’ll make peace if my interlocutor is someone who doesn’t embrace Hamas and doesn’t greet with plaudits the people who rained rockets on the country.”

The PA president last week met with the political leader of Hamas in the latest attempt at reconciliation with the rival Islamist faction.

Still, Netanyahu said, “if Abbas is willing to negotiate without preconditions, he’ll find me at the other end of the table.”

Asked about Iran, and specifically about whether there was any daylight between the respective strategies of Israel and the US vis-à-vis the specter of an atomic bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs, Netanyahu said: “I sincerely hope that internationally imposed sanctions, which are a large part of the deterrence, will continue. President Obama has said that Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself.”

The prime minister reiterated previous evocations of World War II, and especially the Holocaust, as a historical precedent that should figure in international policy on Iran.

“I don’t want to be in the same situation that the Jewish people were in 70 years ago,” he said. “Then, we had to beg for protection. We will have the ability to defend ourselves from any threat, and that’s why I’m proud of the manner in which we’ve bolstered our [military] might.”

Netanyahu dismissed suggestions that Israel’s 2012 budget deficit, which was recently revealed to have been twice as large as the goal, would force the next government to levy heavier taxes on the population after the January 22 elections. Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu list is widely touted as a shoo-in for largest party and coalition-maker.

“It doesn’t seem to me that we’ll have to do that, because we took it all into account,” he said, and went on to speculate regarding possible sources of increased government revenue that could obviate the need to raise the tax burden. “Maybe the markets will recover and there’ll be an increase in exports. The deficit, percentage-wise, was larger in 2009, so we cut down on many expenses. That didn’t keep us from instating free education from age 3, free dental care, and a rise in the minimum wage.”

In fact, Netanyahu pledged, 2013 would see an increase in government expenditure.

“We have to think about what we raise more and what we raise to a lesser extent,” he said. “In order to build up our economy, we created jobs, so that the unemployment rate in Israel is now among the lowest in the West. I don’t want to raise taxes; it goes against my natural inclination, and I’ll do whatever I can to avoid it.”

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