PM vows to keep ‘open mind’ on US peace plan, won’t voice support for 2 states

Netanyahu tells CNN he prefers ‘substance’ over ‘labels’; would like to see Palestinians ‘have all the power to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten us’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  in an interview with CNN, September 28, 2018 (CNN screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an interview with CNN, September 28, 2018 (CNN screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would consider Washington’s upcoming peace initiative with an “open mind” but would not voice explicit support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an interview with CNN aired Friday night.

“I’m certainly going to look at it and look at it… with a keen and open mind, because I know there’s great friendship to Israel,” the Israeli leader said of the Trump administration’s long-gestating peace plan.

“The question of what happens, you know, precisely, when he puts it out depends on — I’ll look at it,” Netanyahu said. “I always said that I’m willing to look at peace proposals put forward by the United States.”

US President Donald Trump made headlines earlier in the week when he declared for the first time his support for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Trump told reporters that he believes that two states “works best.” He has previously been vague on the topic, suggesting that he would support whatever the parties might agree to, including possibly a one-state resolution, which might see the Palestinian territories become part of Israel.

US President Donald Trump (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2018, at UN Headquarters (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Asked whether he too preferred such a resolution, Netanyahu dodged.

“I’ve discovered that, if you use labels, you’re not going to get very far because different people mean different things when they say ‘states.’ So rather than talk about labels, I’d like to talk about substance.”

He said he would like to see Palestinians “have all the power to govern themselves but none of the powers to threaten us.”

Israel, he said, “has to have the overriding security. Not the UN, not Canadian Mounties, not — I don’t know — Austrian or Australian forces — Israeli forces have to have the security control, otherwise, that place will be taken over by Islamist terrorists, either [Islamic State] or Hamas or Iran, all of the above,” the premier said.

“And that’s my condition. People say, ‘Was that commensurate with a state?’ I don’t know, you decide… I want the Palestinians to govern themselves, but not to be able to threaten us.”

Israeli ministers on Thursday accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of rejecting peace and embracing terror in his speech to the United Nations, saying it showed he is only interested in revenge and cannot be entrusted with a Palestinian state.

Though the address at the General Assembly in New York was far milder than the angry broadside many had expected, Abbas drew fire for rebuffing the US as a possible peace mediator and hailing terror convicts in Israeli prisons.

During his speech Abbas had declared that “Jerusalem is not for sale” and rejected anything short of all of East Jerusalem, including the Old City with all its holy places, as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu also praised the Trump administration’s decision to quit the nuclear accord with Iran and renew painful sanctions against the regime.

“You put growing pressure on Iran to cease its aggression in the region and its secret efforts to achieve a bypass for the nuclear program. I think that very wise,” he said. “Where you’ll end up is a different matter, but the idea is to get Iran back in the box.”

Europe and Iran have pledged their continued commitment to the agreement, which had lifted earlier imposed sanctions in return for curbs in Tehran’s nuclear program. But the promise of renewed sanctions has caused heavy economic damage to Iran, with international companies pulling out and the local currency plunging, leading to civil unrest.

As for whether he hoped the renewed pressure could bring about regime change in the Islamic Republic, Netanyahu said: “I don’t think anyone would shed a tear if it happens, but I think the first thing we want to see is the cessation of this tremendous campaign of terror throughout the world.

In this Sunday, August 12, 2018 photo, people visit a gold market at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“I think that the whole Middle East, Israel, the Arab states — virtually all of them — and the people of Iran are now very happy that the policy of accommodating Iran is over, and the policy of squeezing Iran is very much present and will get stronger.”

On Tuesday, during an unabashedly “America First” speech at the UN, Trump said Iranian leaders “sow chaos, death, and destruction” and “spread mayhem across the Middle East and far beyond.” His national security adviser, John Bolton, later warned that there would be “hell to pay” if Tehran crossed the US, its allies or their partners.

US National National Security Adviser John Bolton promised this week to keep exerting “maximum pressure” on Iran and said new sanctions were in the pipeline while insisting that the US was not seeking the overthrow of Tehran’s clerical regime.

But the European Union said Monday its members would set up a payment system to allow oil companies and businesses to continue trading with Iran in a bid to evade sanctions. The countries said in a statement that they were determined “to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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