Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday called for international pressure on the Palestinians to stop incitement and halt stipend payments to the families of terrorists, in what he called “the first test of peace.”
Speaking to Fox News’s Sean Hannity ahead of US President Donald Trump’s meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington on May 3, Netanyahu said that while Israeli leaders are “held accountable for every word… in the case of Abbas it’s like he lives in a different universe. He can say ‘I want peace’ to Western leaders, ‘I want peace, I’m willing to recognize Israel,’ but then to his own people he says the very opposite.”
Netanyahu called for greater pressure on the Palestinian leadership to make steps for peace.
Netanyahu said “the first test of peace is to say to them ‘Hey, you want peace? Prove it. Confront terrorism, stop rewarding terrorism, stop paying terrorists. And don’t finagle the books.’ What they do is [say], ‘Okay, we won’t pay directly, we’ll pay it to somebody else and they’ll pay it to the terrorists’ in a sort of circular fashion. No. Come clean on this.”
In an apparent message to Trump ahead of the May meeting, Netanyahu said, “I think the only chance that this will change is if there’s pressure brought to them to make this real change.” If such a demand were put forward, he added, “that could make for a turning point.”
The PA provides salaries and other benefits to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, including those convicted by Israeli civil courts of murder and terrorism, as well as to their families if they are killed while carrying out their attacks. It is believed that the PA pays hundreds of millions of dollars in such stipends every year.
“They pay terrorists on a sliding scale… the more you kill, the more you get. And it accumulates to vast sums. Some of it contributed by Americans, by European governments,” Netanyahu said.
After Hannity played a clip of a Palestinian toddler saying she wanted to stab Israelis, Netanyahu said, “This is what they hear in the Palestinian schools… This is what they are taught, this is what they’re inculcated with. And unless you change that you don’t get to the root of what has been preventing peace.”
The Israeli leader demanded that the world “hold the Palestinian leadership accountable. Don’t let them get away with double talk.
“The true test of their real intention is not what they say to foreign leaders, what they whisper in diplomatic corridors, the real test is what they say to their own people… To his own people he says ‘We don’t want a state next to Israel, we want a state instead of Israel.'”
If the PA changed its tune, he said, “I would be happy. Prove me wrong. But prove me wrong not by nice words that are said in Washington DC in front of the cameras.”
Changing tack to Iran’s growing presence in the Middle East, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Tehran, but added that the threat posed by the Islamic republic “has brought a lot of the countries in the region to a different thinking about Israel.”
The détente with formerly hostile neighbors such as Saudi Arabia is “potent with possibilities, ultimately for peace but certainly for our common security.”
Netanyahu on Friday told US Secretary of Defense James Mattis that Israel welcomed the “strategic change of American leadership and American policy.”
Hosting Mattis in Jerusalem, Netanyahu — whose relationship with former US president Barack Obama was frequently frosty — hailed the Pentagon chief’s “strong and forthright words” on Iran, and Trump’s “very forthright deeds” in launching a strike on a Syrian airbase following a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.
“We sense a great change in the direction of American policy,” Netanyahu told Mattis at a joint press conference in Jerusalem.
“This has been appreciated around the world and in our region. I think this is a welcome change, a strategic change of American leadership and American policy,” Netanyahu said.
Testy relations between Obama and Netanyahu reached a low point over a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, led by Washington. Obama pushed hard for the agreement, but Netanyahu fiercely opposed it, arguing it will not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and that the lifting of sanctions would allow it to support proxy terror groups.
Trump also harshly criticized the deal, and on Thursday said Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement, adding that the United States would set out its position on it soon. Earlier on Friday, Mattis said the Iran deal “still stands.”
On Tuesday, Trump ordered a review of the deal to be led by his National Security Council, although the State Department admits Iran has so far stuck to its side of the bargain.