Abbas’ letter to Netanyahu/ Netanyahu on Iran, settlements and other issues
Apr 24, 2012
April 24, 2012
Number 04/12 #04
This Update features some analysis of the aftermath of the meeting between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian negotiators last week, where he was given a letter from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Also included is a long but informative interview in which Netanyahu discusses several recent controversies in a German newspaper.
First up is a backgrounder on the significance of the Abbas letter from the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). It notes that Abbas’ letter appears to be primarily a public relations move intended to shift the onus for the current lack of negotiations onto Israel and looks at the implications of some key phrases in it. The backgrounder also explores how Israel is likely to seek to use this opening to get additional engagement going. For all the key details on this most recent Israeli-Palestinian exchange, CLICK HERE.
Next up, Israeli academic expert Dr. Ehud Eilam explores where the Palestinian Authority leaders are likely to go from here and what Israel can do in response. He reviews briefly a total of eight possible Palestinian options – from renewed talks with Egyptian mediation, to more efforts at the UN, to limited armed conflict, to a dissolution of the PA – and the likelihood of each. He also discusses some international factors – such as the situation in Egypt, a possible strike on Iran, and the US election – and how these might affect the calculus of Abbas and other PA leaders. For Eilam’s assessment of the PA options in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, as noted, this Update features a long and wide-ranging interview Netanyahu did with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Particularly notable are Netanyahu’s remarks about the accusations of German novelist Gunter Grass, whom Netanyahu says created a ” a perfect moral inversion where the aggressor becomes the victim and the victim becomes the aggressor.” Also of special interest are Netanyahu’s explanations of why he compares the Iranian regime to Nazi Germany, and why he does not believe that Israel can rely on deterrence as protection against an Iranian nuclear capability. There’s a great deal more, of course, including comments on settlements and a two-state peace, and to read it all, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- A very good analysis of why Iran is unlikely to meet the minimum international demands for a nuclear deal from American expert Reuel Marc Gerecht. Plus, a more optimistic view of the negotiations from columnist David Ignatius.
- Revelations from the Middle East Media Research Institute and former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold that the much talked about fatwa against nuclear weapons by Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appears to be fictitious – or at least, no one has ever publicly claimed to have read the text of such a fatwa (the reported oral statements by Khamenei are not a fatwa – a detailed, documented, religious ruling). Furthermore, a new document shows that Khamenei favoured Iran getting nuclear weapons in the 1980s.
- Israel Knesset member Einat Wilf on the mistaken belief that Israel existence’s is the result of the Holocaust.
- PA President Mahmoud Abbas re-writes the history of how Middle Eastern Jews came to Israel.
- In an interview, a senior Hamas leader says not only is a peace treaty with Israel forever impossible, but Hamas will maintain this view even if a treaty gets approval in a referendum of all Palestinians, as Hamas has previously demanded for any peace agreement.
- A story on the poor knowledge of, and lack of education about, the Holocaust in the Middle East.
- An analysis of the Egyptian announcement yesterday to cancel its natural gas supply contract with Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- A post on the parallels between Australia’s Anzac Day and Israel’s Yom Ha-Zikaron, which both fall on the same day this year.
- A post on Israeli achievements to celebrate on the 64th Yom Hatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, which falls on Thursday April 26 this year.
- A post on the deteriorating and ugly situation in Sudan.
- A post on Iran’s bizarre way of celebrating Yom Hashoah, international Holocaust Memorial Day.
- A post on the frighteningly successful far-right Jobbik party in Hungary. And another post on how Greek racist extremist groups are now turning up in Australia.
- A post on pro-Palestinian activist groups who seem more interested in demonising Israel than in actually, you know, helping Palestinians.
- A Palestinian delegation delivered a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, blaming Israel for the impasse in the peace process, and reiterating Palestinian demands. The letter watered down planned threats to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
- Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad dropped out of the delegation at the last minute, apparently unenthusiastic about the initiative and fearing embarrassment as a result of his participation.
- No significant exchanges took place in the meeting, which appears to be largely a public relations exercise on the part of the Palestinians, who are resisting considerable international pressure to return to negotiations with Israel. The two sides issued a very brief statement expressing a shared hope for peace.
- Israel sees this as an opportunity reiterate its desire for a sustained process of direct negotiations without preconditions, and will send a return delegation with a letter from Netanyahu to Abbas.
What happened in the meeting?
- A Palestinian delegation delivered a letter to the Israeli government on Tuesday which outlines its positions on the impasse in the peace process.
- Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad was originally expected to lead the delegation along with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo.
- However, Fayyad dropped out at the last minute, apparently unsupportive of the initiative and reluctant to participate. Yasser Abed Rabbo also chose not to attend. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu joined by his chief negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, met instead with chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head of the Palestinian Authority military intelligence, General Majad Faraj.
- No significant exchanges took place in the meeting, which appears to be largely a public relations exercise on the part of the Palestinians, who are resisting considerable international pressure to return to negotiations with Israel. The two sides issued issued a very brief statement expressing a shared hope for peace.
- A follow-up meeting with Abbas in Ramallah has already been scheduled, where the prime minister’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, will bring a letter which outlines Israel’s positions on the questions of borders and security arrangements.
What is the purpose of the letter and what does it say?
- It is clear from the leaked content of the letter, and from the public way in which it is being delivered, that it is designed largely for international and domestic public opinion. The Palestinians have been under considerable international pressure to resume direct negotiations with Israel. They broke off a short lived round of talks in Amman in January 2012.
- The Palestinian letter is a continuation of Palestinian efforts to thrust the blame onto Israel for the stalls in the peace process, rather than an attempt to find new ways to circumvent them.
- In his letter, Abbas blames Israel for the impasse, and accuses Israel of not responding to the Palestinian peace offer submitted during the recent talks in Amman.
- It reiterates previous Palestinian demands, that Israel stop settlement construction, accept 1967 lines as the basis for a territorial agreement, and release prisoners. It also calls on Israel to ‘Revoke all decisions taken since 2000 which undermine agreements signed between Israel and the PLO.’
- Three phrases set the overall tone
1. “My political program which respects signed agreements, recognizes the State of Israel, and renounces violence.”
- The letter reiterates the PA’s commitment to the principles laid out by the international Quartet for recognition of Palestinian governments, and thereby distinguishes itself from the Hamas government which rules Gaza. The letter later describes the difficulties in finding a unity agreement with Hamas and blames Israel for being ‘diametrically opposed to Palestinian national reconciliation’, though neither Mahmoud Abbas, nor his Hamas counterpart Khaled Meshaal, have been able to gain acceptance for a unity agreement within their own parties.
- The letter restates the PA’s willingness to recognise the State of Israel, but does not answer Israeli demands to be recognised as the nation-state of the Jewish people, which Israel has said must form part of a final status agreement.
- The letter claims that the Palestinians have adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards violence, whilst contrasting this with continued Israeli settlement activity.
2. “We will seek the full and complete implementation of international law.”
- Unwilling to respond to Netanyahu’s call to enter final status negotiations, the Palestinians have been searching for alternative diplomatic strategies. Their bid for membership of the UN was blocked in 2011 by the Security Council. An application for the International Criminal Court to extend jurisdiction over Palestine as a state on the 1967 borders has also been rejected on the basis that Palestine is not yet a state. Despite this, the letter to Israel indicates that they have not abandoned the international route.
- The Palestinians still have the option to ask the General Assembly to make Palestine a “non-member observer state”, a status held by the Vatican and previously held by Switzerland. This may allow the Palestinians to reapply to the International Criminal Court to extend jurisdiction the Palestinian territories, thereby enabling the Palestinians to bring legal actions against Israel. The Palestinians may also apply for membership of other international bodies, as they successfully did with UNESCO last year.
- However, the Palestinians will be wary of possible negative responses from both Israel and the US if they resume unilateral efforts to gain recognition in international bodies. Israel temporarily suspended tax revenue transfers to the PA and the US suspended bilateral aid transfers in response to previous such Palestinian attempts.
3. “The Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority.”
- It appears that this part of the text has been watered down significantly ahead of today’s meeting. Previous drafts announced that the PA was to dissolve itself, but the Palestinians reportedly came under heavy international pressure not to make such a declaration. A phone call last month from US President Barack Obama reportedly played a significant role in softening the tone of the letter. It now threatens, if Israel does not meet its demands, to “seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” It adds that “the P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue.” The dissolution of the PA, and the consequent power vacuum, would be a major structural change in Israeli-Palestinian relations and a threat to the current calm.
- In an interview with Palestinian daily al-Ayyam yesterday, President Abbas rejected the idea of dissolving the PA. He also dismissed the idea of ending coordination between Palestinian and Israeli security forces, noting its positive contribution to Palestinian daily life, and again endorsed his support for a two-state solution
- Other Palestinian political figures are now downplaying the importance of the letter. PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told Palestinian news agency Ma’an, “this is just a letter, a step within a series of Palestinian diplomatic procedures in light of the current stalemate.” Ma’an also reported that the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO faction, dismissed the “cycle of letters and negotiations” as only prolonging the status quo.
- Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar has taken an even clearer position, declaring Hamas’ opposition to the letter. Interviewed in al-Quds, he asked, “what could possibly be said in the letter? The Palestinians in the West Bank only give concessions to the Israeli side.”
What is the Israeli response?
- Whilst scepticism is high on the Palestinian side about the initiative, Israel has cautiously welcomed it. Though expectations of meaningful progress are low, Israeli officials stress that every meeting between Israelis and Palestinians is important.
- Netanyahu has consistently called for a sustained top level negotiation process between the sides since coming into office in 2009. Israel apparently views this letter as an opportunity to create some manner of dialogue and exchange between the sides. It agreed to accept the Palestinian letter, on the condition that Israel could send its own return delegation with an Israeli letter to Abbas.
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Options Available to the Palestinian Authority
INSS Insight No. 328, April 22, 2012
The anticipated meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Salam Fayyad did not take place, and by all indications, the meeting with Saeb Erekat and the Palestinian intelligence chief did not produce any significant results. According to most estimates, there is no serious chance of a breakthrough in peace talks during 2012. It is widely believed that the letter from Mahmoud Abbas to Netanyahu was intended to create a political foundation for measures to be taken by the PA in response to what they refer to as a stalemate in the political process. The question is what options – more or less likely – are available to the Palestinians in the near future. This article reviews a number of alternatives available to Abbas and the Fatah leadership, and considers the prospects of their realization.
a. The PA may attempt to resume direct negotiations or to make initial contact towards an agreement or partial agreement with Israel while seeking help from Egypt, which has proven itself in this role during and following the Mubarak era. If Egypt was able to mediate between Hamas and the PA, and between Israel and Islamic Jihad in a flare up in mid March 2012, it can certainly mediate between Israel and the PA. For example, an agreement that leads to the release of prisoners would increase Fatah support among Palestinians, and would be of great importance if it precedes the struggle against Hamas in the PA elections – if indeed such elections take place.
b. The PA can turn to the UN General Assembly and request to upgrade its status from observer to non-member state. It probably will not be difficult to obtain a large majority for this proposal in the General Assembly. This step reflects the Palestinian leadership’s decision not to declare a Palestinian state unilaterally, because it considers that such a declaration would not be to its advantage.
c. The PA could turn to international institutions and file lawsuits against Israel. Implementing the second scenario would greatly facilitate such a move.
d. The PA may resort to more severe moves against Israel, for example, by instigating a popular struggle. Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian leader who might be the successor of Mahmoud Abbas, supports this approach.
e. The PA may also instigate a limited armed conflict. The PA has thousands of trained and equipped security personnel who have operational experience and are highly familiar with the area, assets in a conflict with Israel. However, it is very possible that the PA will not wish to expose its security forces to IDF retaliation, and will therefore, as in the past, project an ostensibly separation between its security forces and those undertaking acts of guerrilla warfare and terrorism. Still, such a policy may damage the PA image. The likelihood of this scenario materializing is low since the Palestinian leadership has adopted a policy that opposes the renewal of violence and supports only a popular struggle.
f. The PA may take action on the diplomatic and military level, which will push Israel to topple the PA and take control over most or all of PA territory. The PA would thereby aim to mobilize world and in particular Arab public opinion to support it and bring about an international initiative to resume negotiations while putting pressure on Israel, and at best, return to the center of attention, certainly among the Arab states and ideally on the international stage. This would be a gamble designed to upgrade the PA to statehood status even at the risk of destroying the PA and all its achievements.
g. The PA could dismantle itself and request international and Arab sponsorship and protection and/or again impose on Israel responsibility over the West Bank, even while calling for the establishment of a bi-national state in all of Israel. The PA could pressure Israel by abdicating its responsibilities and sowing anarchy, even at the price of harming the services provided to the Palestinian population. Naturally, in a situation like this the Palestinian security forces would crumble, thus enabling Hamas and other extreme organizations such as Islamic Jihad to carry out attacks against Israel, and not necessarily only in Judea and Samaria. Further, the former PA security units, if only out of frustration at losing their jobs, could turn their anger against Israel. This would be particularly serious in light of their skill and possession of arms.
The PA may wait before implementing any of these options until the appropriate time, depending on the events that are likely to occur by the end of the year.
The Regional and International Factor
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, despite its ties with Hamas and its need to deal with urgent economic problems, is likely to be responsive to the PA. Its ability to help the PA will increase after it gains strength in Egypt, for example, if it sets up a government under its control and/or a candidate of its choice is elected president in the upcoming elections.
Israel may attack Iran in the coming months, despite opposition in the West and the US. If the diplomatic, economic, and military consequences harm the West and the US, tension is likely to result, perhaps even a crisis that night weaken and isolate Israel. The PA is capable of exploiting this development.
In the US, Obama could lose the presidential election on November 6, 2012, which would leave him two months as President before his departure from the White House. Obama has expressed his support for a Palestinian state and his current reserved position on the issue stems from the Palestinian boycott of talks as well as timing – the upcoming presidential elections. If Obama is not re-elected, the frustration at having failed to fulfill policy goals such as regarding the Palestinian issue might be leveled to the Israeli government. He will also be disappointed in American Jews if they do not support him to the extent that he expected. Therefore, he might not oppose steps taken by the PA in the UN. This would have great importance in light of the weight of American support for Israel in the UN in general, and in the Security Council in particular.
All in all, the PA has a few options: direct or indirect talks with Israel; turning to international institutions; popular struggle; armed conflict (even though the likelihood of that scenario is low); and self-dismantlement. The PA can threaten or carry out, partially or fully, one option after another or several together. For example, a popular struggle could be a way to pressure Israel to make concessions during indirect negotiations via Egypt.
Another important aspect is the timing of a Palestinian move. Israel must be prepared on all levels for all possible options and try to thwart them, especially the worst of them, through diplomatic initiative that is coordinated with the West in general and the United States in particular.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to the nobel laureate’s criticism and outlines the real threat to world peace: “The marriage of a militant Islamic regime with nuclear weapons.”
Von Andrea Seibel, Clemens Wergin and Michael Borgstede
Welt am Sonntag, April 22, 2012
Welt am Sonntag: Mr. Prime Minister, you have just come from the Knesset where parliamentarians read the names of those murdered in the Holocaust. Which names did you read?
Benjamin Netanyahu: I read the names of my late father in law’s family. He left his hometown village of Bilgoraj in Poland, the same town from which Isaac Bashevis Singer came from, and left it at the age of 18 to go to the land of Israel. He was infused with the idea of Zionism and his father came to the railway station in Warsaw and pleaded with him not to go. ,Why do you go, stay here, life is tough there, stay here’.
And he brought him some cookies and said: ,Here, have these cookies, have them all the time. Don’t go’. And despite the very strong attachment he had to his father and his family he decided he had to go. They were all wiped out. He came here and built a life, had four children of which my wife is the youngest.
He never really recovered from this terrible blow although he was a great bible scholar, great writer, great poet. He had received a prize for Holocaust poetry and I read one of his poems about a dream that he had of his childhood when he was at the Jewish festival of Sukkot when they build a Sukka, a hut.
He remembers going back to his home and discovering that it had been taken. And that his brother who was with him was gone, everybody was gone. And he woke up drowned in tears. I read this poem and the names of the members of his family who were all murdered in the Holocaust.
Welt am Sonntag: And then you come back to your office and are giving three German journalists an interview – on Holocaust Memorial Day. Is this still strange for an Israeli or is this symbolic for how far German-Israeli relations have developed in the last 60 years?
Netanyahu: The relationship between Israel and Germany has always been tremendously powerful because of the greatest crime committed in history but also the greatest attempt to learn from the past and create a different future. I think this decision was made precisely on those grounds by Adenauer and Ben-Gurion almost 60 years ago.
We have a unique relationship, because of this horrible scar on the tissue of our nation and the consciousness of mankind. But it’s something that we have both recognized and both have seized on this newfound friendship to build a different future. There are states in Asia where you have long scars from that same half century that have not healed and leaders don’t visit each other.
But here, even though the magnitude of the catastrophe and of the killings was beyond compare relative to the size of our people -it was a third of our people-, but I think the fact that we’ve been able to create this bridge on these two foundations is something truly unique. I think it is unparalleled in the history of nations.
Welt am Sonntag: In a strange reversal of history Israelis today seem to be much less critical about Germany than Germans are towards Israel. Just take the issue of Günter Grass . His poem was rejected by most of the German media, but his words seem to have resonated more widely in the German public. How do you explain that?
Netanyahu: First of all I think what Grass says is an absolute outrage. That it comes from a German Nobel laureate and not from a teenager in a Neo-Nazi party makes it all the more outrageous. And it demands a very strong response. I think what Grass has said shows a collapse of moral clarity.
He has created a perfect moral inversion where the aggressor becomes the victim and the victim becomes the aggressor. Where those who try to defend themselves against the threat of annihilation become the threat to world peace. And where the firefighter and not the arsonist is the real danger.
Here is a simple fact that apparently has eluded Mister Grass: Israel doesn’t seek to destroy Iran, Iran seeks to destroy Israel and openly calls for it and works for it by building atomic bombs for that expressed purpose.
What do we do with such statements? In every society you have extreme statements. A society is not judged by those statements but by how the leadership responds to them. And I think the fact that there was a broad condemnation by the leaders of Germany is important and positive. I am concerned that there is an undercurrent of support for this, at best it reflects a great ignorance on the facts that I have just put forward.
Welt am Sonntag: Would you call that way of thinking Anti-Semitic, the way Grass put it in words?
Netanyahu: There is something very deep there, because it’s not the normal criticism of Israel. Of course Israel is subject to criticism. Let me say this as the prime minister of Israel: I’d like to see an hour pass by, how about a minute pass by, without some criticism being voiced against Israel, not only outside Israel but inside Israel.
This is an open society, criticism is our way of life. This is not the point. But this touches on the basic reversal of the truth. And coming from someone with Grass’ stature in Germany is very upsetting, very disconcerting. Now the question is: do people accept this or not?
People have to respond to this. A lot of Jews ask themselves: ,If I had been in the Holocaust, how would I have acted? What would I have done? Would I have responded? Would I have organized to save ourselves?’ Every Jew asks himself this question.
Welt am Sonntag: And every German asks himself the other question.
Netanyahu: And every German must ask himself the question: How would I have behaved? Would I have raised my voice in opposition, would I have acted silently in other ways to obstruct the Nazi machine or would I go along with it? And today the issue is not the attacks on the Jews but the violent attack on the Jewish State which is accompanied by the same vilification, the same slanders. Where you believe anything about Israel even though it is easily verifiable that it is false.
Today what has happened is that the most violent attacks on the Jews have been replaced by the most violent and absurd attacks on the Jewish state. And the real question that people have to ask themselves is: Would I have believed those vilifications and slanders about the Jewish people at the time because that vilification always precedes complicity.
And those now who agree with Günter Grass about the Jewish state should ask themselves if they wouldn’t have agreed with the slanders against the Jewish people in the time of the Holocaust. That’s the question the Germans must ask themselves. I am glad that Germany’s leadership has responded clearly. But it’s something I hope the German people will do as well.
Welt am Sonntag: Wouldn’t it have been better to invite Grass to a critical discussion in Israel instead of declaring him persona non grata?
Netanyahu: Sometimes things are so outrageous that they have to be responded to in a different way. He went too far towards untruths and towards slander. And I think that reaction expresses it. How would Germany feel if it was showered with rockets by people who call outright for Germany´s destruction? Which is what we have around us. Iran that supports Hezbollah and Hamas who are firing on the tiny state of Israel.
What would Germany do? How would the German people respond ? Well, here is how Israel responded. We don’t call for the annihilation of Iran and we don’t act for that purpose. We don’t call for the annihilation of the people of Lebanon or the people of Gaza, even though Israel is a very powerful country should it act in the way Grass ascribes to us. We don’t do that.
Against terrorists who use human shields and hide themselves in schools and homes and firing on us, committing a double war crime firing directly at civilians and hiding behind civilians, Israel goes to exceptional lengths to try to target and pinpoint the terrorists themselves. What other country is doing that?
Welt am Sonntag: Chancellor Angela Merkel once said Israel’s security is “non-negotiable” for her and her government. But how serious is this commitment in practice? Do you feel you can rely on Germany and other European countries?
Netanyahu: For us there are two separate issues here. One is: Do we rely on others for our security and our survival? The answer is no. Do we seek alliances? All countries seek alliances. Superpowers seek alliances. The United States seeks alliances and certainly a small country like Israel seeks alliances as well and we welcome our close relationship with Germany and with the United States of course and with others.
But do we rely on this? No. This is the central historical lesson that we draw from the Holocaust and actually from the two millennia that preceded the Holocaust when we were subjected to the whims of cruelty and savagery as no other people has been subjected to. The Holocaust was the last of a cascade of horrors that befell the Jewish people because of their homelessness and powerlessness. So we resolved to have the capacity to defend ourselves.
And we appreciate the help we receive from others to that end, including the help we receive from Germany. In this regard I have to say I value the assistance that Germany is giving Israel for defence, I value the fact that chancellor Merkel has acted in this regard. Just as I value her leadership in Europe.
I think as a prime minister and a former finance minister facing difficult odds I know how much leadership is required to do what she is doing. And also I am very grateful for the assistance that she and her government have given us with the negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit , our captured soldier.
One thing that I would stress is that the security relationship that we have with Germany is a two-way-street in ways that are probably not commonly known to the German public. Because we cooperate on matters such as intelligence and fighting terrorism over the years and including recent years in ways that have saved both not only the lives of our citizens but also the lives of many, many German citizens as well.
Welt am Sonntag: In your speech for the opening ceremony of Holocaust Memorial Day you seemed to speak almost more about Iran than about the Holocaust. And in the last few months you and other Israeli politicians and officials have with increasing frequency and urgency warned that time is running out on this issue. Has this become so urgent that it keeps you up at night?
Netanyahu: Well, it certainly keeps me busy and sometimes busy at night as well. Let me first tell you what the similarities are and what the dissimilarities are: The similarities are the calls for the destruction of the Jewish people. In the 1930s we were powerless to act, we were powerless to speak up against it. We had no representation among the councils of the nations. Well, today we do. This of course is where the similarities end.
Then there was a call of our destruction by some insane ideology of a master race and today there is a call for our destruction by an insane ideology of a master religion. But the difference is that today we have the capacity to defend ourselves. Defend ourselves also in the court of public opinion – which is what I’m doing right now. And defend ourselves physically – if the need arises. That’s my number one task and mission: To defend my people. So that the horrors of the past cannot be repeated.
Welt am Sonntag: From your speech one could get the impression that the moment Iran has acquired a nuclear bomb, you are certain they will attack Israel. Do you believe Iran is actually actively planning this?
Netanyahu: There is no question they are committed to our destruction. There is no question they will do everything in their power to do this. Look at what they’re doing without nuclear weapons: They’ve engulfed us with two poisonous tentacles: Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon. They’re supplying them with tens of thousands of rockets, thousands of which have already been fired on our cities, our homes.
They’re putting in more and more sophisticated weapons there and are developing more and more deadly weapons in Iran. And they’re quite open about their express purpose of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. They also say this is the first stop. We are the small Satan, America is the great Satan. And they attack us because we represent this liberal, to them hedonistic and free western civilization.
After all they stone women, they hang gays – this is a backward, dark medieval regime that imposes its tyranny on its own people. Shoots them on the sidewalk, goes into theirs homes, culls the internet, takes people away at night. This is the regime that Günter Grass has elevated to the victim in his so called poem. This is moral clarity? This is absurd! This is absurd!!! This should ring a bell.
The fact that people are responding to this should mean that people don’t know: They are either ignorant or they’re wilfully ignorant. But this is absurd!!! Now, is this something new that we´re looking at? No, I’ve been talking about this for 16 years. In fact, when I first became prime minister I was invited to a joint meeting of the US-Congress and in the speech I said that the greatest threat facing mankind was the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons.
Some people raised eyebrows there. Now, in the 16 years that have passed Iran has moved closer and closer and closer to achieving, to developing atomic bombs and hasn’t changed its ideology. The world will change harshly for Germany and for all of us if Iran has nuclear weapons, also because of the ability to choke the oil markets.
Not only because of the ability to attack us – which, I believe, is their propensity to do. That has already been proven. But also because they will embolden militant Islamists everywhere in the world to believe that history changed and this backward and apocalyptic creed that they have actually has a chance of materializing. So you´ll see terrorism on a much greater scale than before.
Welt am Sonntag: Iran might be a vile regime but it hasn’t proven to be a suicidal regime…
Netanyahu: This is not true!
Welt am Sonntag: German Dolfin submarines give Israel second strike capability. Why should Iran use an eventual bomb against Israel and risk getting destroyed in a counter attack?
Netanyahu: The great scholar of Islam, Bernard Lewis from Princeton, he has said in one of his writings that for Iran’s clerical radical leadership the possibility of mutually assured destruction is not deterrence but an inducement. They have a peculiar and bizarre belief that the hidden Imam, a religious leader who disappeared a thousand years ago, would come back just about now in a hail of fire where a catastrophic exchange is required for his reappearance. And I would not bet on the rationality of this regime.
Remember, this is a regime that was born by violating one of the ancient rules: You don’t attack embassies. They attacked the American Embassy, they murdered diplomats worldwide, they support terrorism worldwide, they give weapons of great destruction to their proxies, they threaten to block the straits of Hormuz. They’re in Yemen, in the Horn of Africa, in North Africa, in Afghanistan where they’re helping kill Nato soldiers. They’re in South America.
This is what they’re doing, before they have nuclear weapons, imagine what they’ll do with nuclear weapons. I wouldn’t rely on the notion that deterrence works with people of this militancy. Because there is a big difference between them and the communists, who were also committed to world domination. But the Soviets were very different: They always put their survival before their ideology. Always!
Militant Islam produces battalions of suicide bombers. They blow themselves up in busses, they smash themselves into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon. You cannot be sure in the case of Iran that they wouldn’t reverse the order and put their ideology before their lives. They perfected the technique of suicide bombers.
Is there such a thing as a suicidal regime? You can’t rule it out. I would say that the greatest threat, the greatest challenge right now to world peace is the marriage of a militant Islamic regime with nuclear weapons: Either that a militant Islamic regime will meet up with nuclear weapons or the nuclear weapons will meet up with a militant Islamic regime
The first danger is called Iran and the second danger is called a Taliban takeover of Pakistan. Either way, it will be a hinge of history: History will change, and for the worse.
Welt am Sonntag: You said you can’t rule out that Iran is going to use the bomb. Which is different from being certain they’ll use the bomb once they have it. Would you say there is a low probably and the low probability is still too risky or…
Netanyahu: Why put yourself in that position? Would Nazi-Germany have been deterred from using the bomb if they’d had it? You know the answer to that. You certainly didn’t want to get an answer to that question. We did everything everybody would in their power to make sure that such weapons don’t fall into the hands of a violent radical and messianic regime.
This is common sense. It’s to gamble with the peace of the world and the lives of millions to test that proposition. Who in their right minds would let this happen? When you already see what Iran is doing? They’re just engaging right know in delaying tactics of talks that are intended to run out the clock, that’s our clear impression.
Welt am Sonntag: So those talks are just fake?
Netanyahu: So far all the talks they’ve had have been fake. So, do I see any sign that Iran is serious about stopping its nuclear program: Unfortunately, so far not. For the last 16 years, including in the last few years, they’ve accelerated their program, they haven’t stopped one iota of their program. Despite 16 years of diplomacy, 16 years of pressure, 16 years of exhortations for them to stop and quite a few years of sanctions.
Welt am Sonntag: The sanctions do seem to work at least to some extent.
Netanyahu: They place hardships on Iran’s economy, there’s no question about that. Have they weakened the regime? So far not. Because Khamenei, who’s the true leader of Iran, has tightened his grip compared to where they were three years ago in the previous elections. It’s a very comfortable election for him because he’s despised of all opposing candidates. Some democracy! And he’s terrorized the people.
But they continue to develop their centrifuges hall, their underground bunkers and they now have low enriched uranium for about five atomic bombs and they’re working their way to higher enriched uranium for the first bomb.
Welt am Sonntag: It was Israel that has called for these harsh sanctions. Many European leaders believe you should give the sanctions time to work before thinking of a military strike.
Netanyahu: Now, if diplomacy works and sanctions work: All the better. I would be the most delighted person in the world. We’d like to see even tougher sanctions. But despite the tough sanctions Iran is racing towards the bomb. It hasn’t stopped, we should recognize that. And if the sanctions don’t work I think the important policy principle is one I’ve heard expressed from the US and a number of European countries: Iran must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
Welt am Sonntag: What’s the time frame?
Netanyahu: I’ve said a while ago it’s not days or weeks but it’s not years and I have no reason to change that statement.
Welt am Sonntag: Barack Obama has said repeatedly that the US is not going to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Isn’t that enough assurance for Israel?
Netanyahu: I think the critical question for us is not whether others will pledge to stop Iran but whether the Jewish state with 6 million Jewish citizens can forfeit the capacity to defend itself. For us the crucial question is to have the capacity to defend ourselves. Obviously if the threat is removed by other means, diplomatic, economic sanctions, other pressures, by others, we welcome that.
Welt am Sonntag: There are frequent rumours about your difficult relationship with Barack Obama.
Netanyahu: The relationship between Israel and the US is very, very strong. And it is strong because it is based on the allegiances of the peoples. We can have our disagreements – all Prime Ministers and Presidents have had their disagreements on occasion. But the relationship is strong because the American people see Israel basically as a society based on common values.
Respect for individual rights, pluralism, free expression, free creativity, an open economy – democracy. That’s a very strong bond and I think it’s a bond that also binds us to European civilizations. Because essentially, and this is a big myopic misconception by many in Europe: The Islamist radicals don’t hate the West because of Israel, they hat Israel because of the West. Because they see us as a forward position for this free, pluralistic society that they despise and want to eradicate.
They eradicated this freedom and pluralism in their own domain and they want to expand their tyranny to the rest of the world. And by the way, they openly say that. It shows that they have disrespect for Europeans when they actually divulge these things and don’t see a strong European revulsion against this. They think they can get away with it. And I think it’s the responsibility of decent people in Germany and Europe and elsewhere to prove them wrong.
Welt am Sonntag: You have said several times now that the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran is the biggest threat to Israel’s security. Yet at a time when Israel should gather all international support to confront that threat your government alienated even staunch friends and allies with what is widely seen as an obsession with the settlement issue. Why is that so important for your government that it seems to override other important strategic considerations?
Netanyahu: It doesn’t. I think here too there is a misconception. The settlements first of all are not the root of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. We had 50 years of Arab attacks against Jews. Why were we being attacked? There were no settlements? There was no single Israeli soldier in Gaza or Judea and Samaria. We were being attacked because there was an opposition to our basic presence here in any form. The attacks against us in 1967 produced our presence in the territories. What has happened is that the anti Israel propaganda has turned the aggression of Israel’s enemies into its cause. They say now that the territories or that the settlements are the reason for the conflict.
Welt am Sonntag: I’m not saying that. I’m saying that the settlements make a pragmatic solution to the conflict much more difficult.
Netanyahu: I disagree. I disagree because I think it’s eminently possible to resolve this issue, agreeing on the territorial lines. Even though it’s hard and difficult. I’ve endorsed a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian State which recognizes the Jewish State of Israel and this will require compromise on our side. But it will also require compromise on the Palestinian side. They’ll have to recognize that there is a Jewish State, just like they want us to recognize a Palestinian State.
But for some reason they will not recognize that the Jewish people deserve a nation state of their own with defensible borders. I contest the idea that the settlements are the main issue – even though it has to be treated. And I’ve proposed a way to deal with it, a territorial solution is definitely possible.
The question you have to ask the Palestinians is simple: If you want a resolution to the problem, if you want a resolution to the problem of the settlements why don’t you respond to my proposition to sit down around a table and negotiate peace. Why the persistent refusal to negotiate?
I think they are making a bad mistake. I think that the people of Israel would trust me to arrive with them to a peace agreement that would give us security and both our peoples peace. The Palestinians must make their peace with the existence of the Jewish State of Israel. So far they haven’t. If they will, they´ll have a partner in me.
Welt am Sonntag: The Arab world around you is dramatically changing. You were very sceptical about these revolutions from the beginning. What’s your view now, more than a year later?
Netanyahu: Let me ask you this question: What´s your view?
Welt am Sonntag: Well, you are the Prime Minister.
Netanyahu: I would’ve been delighted if the Google kids had won out. A year ago there were articles written in the international and even in the Israeli press that we have arrived at the end of days..
Ron Dermer (advisor): You could say you are not more skeptical today than your were then…
Netanyahu (laughs): I’m not more sceptical today than I was. That’s an understatement. But I had hoped, like all of you had, I harboured secret hopes that the democrats would win out. But what we see is this Islamist reign sweeping though the region. And imposition of Sharia law and it may be that the first election is the last real election which is exactly what happened in Iran. And the disconcerting part is of course that given a popular vote this first election actually reflects the will of the people.
I think there are only two places in the Middle East where the general public has a strong affinity for western style democracy and that is clearly Israel and the other is Iran. How do we know that: Well, because when they had a relatively free election three years ago, they booted these people out, and Ahmadinedjad and Khamenei forged millions of votes and tyrannized their people.
The reason Iran is different because they tried the Islamist rule for the last 30 years and they know its dark misery, its brutality, its savagery and they want nothing of it. If they were given a free choice they’d throw them out.
The tragedy is the Arab peoples will have to go through this route. They went from pan Arab rule to secular dictatorship and without batting an eyelash to Islamist rule. So it may be that this way will have to pass until they try a more liberal government which I think is essential if they want to get out of the economic morass and want to lead their people truly into the 21st century.
Welt am Sonntag: Your father as a historian wrote a lot about the history of Jewish persecution throughout the ages. When you drive around in today’s Israel and look at what has been achieved since then: What is going through your mind?
Netanyahu: Well, in a certain sense we defied the laws of history. We are an old people. We are almost 4000 years old. There is a seal ring right here, let me show you (Netanyahu stands up from his desk and goes to a cabinet next to the window of his office, were historic artefacts are exhibited).
This was found next to the present Western Wall, the rampart of the second temple build by King Herod, it predates it by about seven hundred years, it goes back to roughly 2700 years ago.
It’s the seal of a Jewish official of King Hezekiah. And here is the name of the official: Netanyahu ben Joash. Now that’s my last name, my first name goes back a thousand years earlier. Benjamin the son of Jacob roamed the same hills with his brothers.
So we have been around a long time as you can see. The reason I mentioned this is: Most of the peoples who lived in antiquity and certainly the ones as old as we are disappeared. There is certainly no record of a people that was exiled that would do what we did. Usually one of two things happen. Either they disappeared or they blended in…
Welt am Sonntag: They assimilated…
Netanyahu: They assimilated into the local peoples were they lived. The Jewish people is the only case where people refused to fully assimilate and refused to disappear. We wanted to come back for thousands of years and we established an independent life in our ancestral homeland. Even though there was a continuous Jewish presence here throughout the generations, that required really an act of tremendous will in the 19 century led by Theodor Herzl to actually get the Jewish people coming back and rebuilding a Jewish state. And we’ve succeeded against impossible odds.
We’ve built a tremendously progressive country, one of the most advanced technological economies of the world. We have entrepreneurship, we have scientists, writers and playwrights and we ingathered the exiles just as the biblical prophecy said. It doesn’t mean that our future is guaranteed, because that depends really on our abilities.
But when I go around Israel and I see the tremendous progress that has been made and that is being made in this modern, progressive, democratic state I think that in many ways this is almost a miracle of history. But I also know that history doesn’t give miracles wholesale, doesn’t give it freely. There is a limited number of miracles that a people can perform. And we have to make sure that we have sufficient strength to protect this miracle against those who want to wipe us away.
But ultimately we know that the reason we are here is because we found the reservoirs of will and faith to overcome the fate that history has seemed to dictate to us. I just read a slim volume by the great American historian Will Durant. He wrote eleven volumes about the story of civilization beginning with China, the oriental heritage going right up to Napoleon. He died about 40 years ago. And before his death in 1968 he published 100 pages that summarized what he learned during his life and his studies. The book was called “The Lessons of History”. It’s worth rereading today.
And he says, that’s what I gleaned from it, the bad news is that numbers count and big numbers count more than small numbers. Because big states have bigger GDPs and bigger economies give you the ability to feed armies and all ultimately translates into national power.
Now the good news. 20 years after the founding of Israel, Durant cites the young state of Israel as an exception of the rule. He calls it a people propelled forward by culture and faith. And I think that’s a very apt summation that applies now, close to half a century later.
We have travelled a great distance. We have great challenges before us, but none of them are insurmountable. And I think we’ve proven that.