Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday called on the Palestinian leadership to “just get on with it,” stop quibbling over preconditions and sit down with Israel at the negotiating table already.
Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with the Washington Post, Netanyahu said “we should enter immediately into negotiations without preconditions,” arguing that it has been his position to do so for the past four years in office.
Netanyahu went so far as to say that “If [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between [Jerusalem] and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent. And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”
Kerry is engaged in an intense effort to coax the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Since taking the post earlier this year, Kerry has traveled to the region four times to cajole the two sides into talks, but the Palestinians have refused to engage in peace talks with Israel unless it halts construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Kerry is set to arrive for a fifth time in the coming weeks to renew his efforts.
Israel has declined to meet any preconditions and has expressed its readiness to discuss all issues in the framework of direct talks.
The PM reiterated his stance that previous Israeli withdrawals were unsuccessful at advancing peace, that Israel is now targeted by batteries of rockets in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and that any negotiated settlement with the Palestinians will “have to have an arrangement that assures our security.”
“I don’t place any of our conditions and our demands in advance of the negotiations, and I hope the Palestinians don’t either,” he said. Netanyahu said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s insistence that Israel halt settlement construction and release Palestinian security detainees in Israeli prisons as a precondition for talks “undermines peace.”
“It’s time to grapple head-on with the issues and negotiate. You can’t end negotiations unless you begin them,” he said.
The prime minister also posited that the “real reason” behind the conflict is the “persistent refusal [by the Palestinians] to recognize a sovereign Jewish state in any boundary.”
“Once this is overcome, I think there is a chance for peace,” he posited.
Netanyahu also spoke at length about the Iranian nuclear program and Hasan Rowhani’s win in the Iranian presidential elections last week.
“What Iran is seeking is not one or two bombs, but 200 bombs,” warned Netanyahu, adding that Iran was “building ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] parallel to developing their nuclear weapons program” and that these were meant for the US, not for Israel.
“Within six to eight years, they intend to be able to reach the continental United States,” cautioned Netanyahu.
The prime minister also reiterated previous assertions that the new Iranian president would have no impact on Iran’s nuclear policy as the program is “controlled and guided” by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“We can’t let the Iranian regime play this game. They play for time…This is a regime that must not be allowed to have the weapons to control the oil markets of the Middle East and to ignite a nuclear arms race. This is a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate the 6 million Jews of Israel. The world should be very clear about making sure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, period,” warned Netanyahu.