Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu performed damage control on Monday evening – a
day after Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the Palestinian Authority
government “illegitimate” – saying in a rare television interview that if the
conditions were right, he would pursue a historic peace agreement regardless of
Netanyahu said that if the Palestinians would
recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state and give up on the right of
return, and if security arrangements were agreed upon to his satisfaction, “no
coalition consideration will stop me.”
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Coalition considerations would
hinder neither the conducting of negotiations nor the possibility of reaching an
agreement if the Palestinians proved they were partners, he said.
until now they are just trying to run away from negotiations,” he said. “If they
enter [talks], and accept those two basic conditions to reaching an agreement, I
will not hesitate.”
Since taking office nearly two years ago, Netanyahu
has given only a handful of interviews to the Israeli media. But following
Lieberman’s speech on Sunday, where the foreign minister also went on the
offensive against Turkey and said that country’s prime minister and foreign
minister were lying, Netanyahu apparently felt the need to show he was in charge
and publicly distance himself from these remarks.
Netanyahu – asked about Lieberman’s comments – said he had learned years ago
that it was always better to deal with the issues rather than engage in personal
attacks. Netanyahu said that while Turkey wanted an apology for the Mavi
raid, “we – of course – don’t want to apologize.”
He said Israel
was willing to express regret for the loss of life, as it had already
done. But Israel wanted to protect its soldiers and officers, who have
been accused of war crimes and could be arrested around the world. For that
reason, he said, it sought Turkish recognition that Israel had not acted out of
malice, and that the naval commandos had acted in self-defense.
said there was a wide gap between those two positions and that the bridging
formula had not yet been found, though “we are continuing to
Regarding the Palestinians, Netanyahu did not rule out a long-term
interim agreement, as Lieberman had suggested, but he said this would be the
result of negotiations that hit a dead end, rather than the starting point for
the whole process.
“If we get into the discussions, it could be that we
will hit a wall – on [the issue] of Jerusalem, on refugees. It is possible,
then, that as a result there will be an interim agreement. I don’t rule out that
possibility,” he said.
Netanyahu added, however, that stating that an
interim agreement was the final goal would make it difficult to bring the
Palestinians to the table.
“This can be the result of a diplomatic
process, but not its first aim,” he said.
The prime minister said that
Lieberman was not “humiliating” him by making statements that ran contrary to
his own positions.
“He is expressing his opinion,” Netanyahu said. “In
Israel’s system of government, ministers always express their opinions. In this
case, Lieberman, [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, [Interior Minister Eli] Yishai,
[Science and Technology Minister Daniel] Herschkowitz – they have different
opinions. The opinion that counts is the one decided upon by the government, or
the one expressed by the prime minister. That is the way it has always been in
previous governments, and that is the way it is now.”
Netanyahu said the
security situation in the country was “incomparably” better than it had
been two and three years ago, “because our enemies know not to mess with
me. They are, at least, more cautious. And if they shoot something, they
get it back on the spot. That is a policy I set, and we implement
Regarding the recent escalation of tensions in the South, Netanyahu
said that it would be a “fatal mistake” for Hamas to act aggressively. He did
During the interview, Netanyahu again reiterated that any
agreement with the Palestinians would necessitate an Israeli presence on the
Jordan River, and that he was opposed to a division of Jerusalem agreed upon by
former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whereby the Arab neighborhoods would be
turned over to a Palestinian state.
Lieberman, meanwhile, is expected to
present an alternative plan for the diplomatic process in the near future – what
he referred to Sunday as “Plan B.”
Foreign Ministry sources said he had
worked on the plan, which is expected to be details of a long-term interim
agreement with an emphasis on economic and security dimensions, with senior
officials in the ministry.