Israel does not subscribe to the “better the devil you know” philosophy regarding Syrian President Bashar Assad and the developments in Syria, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear in an Al Arabiya interview that will air Thursday.

“We don’t intervene in what happens in Syria, but we obviously would like to have peaceful relations with Syria,” Netanyahu said in the first interview he has given to a pan- Arab network since coming into office in 2009.

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“We can only hope for a good future for the people of Syria. They deserve a good future, one of peace and one of freedom.” Excerpts from the interview on the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based network were broadcast on its website Wednesday.

Asked whether it was not correct that Assad, and his father, Hafez, had been indispensable to Israel because they had kept the Golan border quiet for 40 years, Netanyahu replied that this was not correct.

“I hear people saying it – but in point of fact, we are not there to choose the next regime, the next government of Syria. I think it is for the people of Syria to choose.”

Netanyahu said Israel had never had a state of peace with Syria, only a state of “no peace, no war. Even though several people tried, including myself in secret negotiations, to move toward a formal peace.”

The prime minister said that anything he said about the developments in Syria would be used against “the process of genuine reform people would like to see in Syria.”

He added, however, that this did not mean Israel was not concerned about the developments there.

Netanyahu said Israel's interests in Syria were for the peace and quiet on the border to be maintained, for a formal peace treaty to be reached between the two countries, and for the “young people of Syria” to have a better future.

He said any attempt by Syria, Iran or Hezbollah to distract attention from the domestic situation in Syria by heating up the border with Israel would be “bad for the people of Lebanon, bad for the people of Syria, bad for Israel, bad for peace. I hope it doesn’t happen.”

Regarding the diplomatic process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu reiterated what he has said numerous times in the past: that he was willing to sit down immediately and negotiate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, be it in Jerusalem, Ramallah, or elsewhere.

He said that when negotiations start, everything – including Jerusalem and refugees – would be on the table.

“But we have to get to the table,” he said.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Abbas’s spokesman, was quoted by Israel Radio as having responded by saying that the Palestinians would meet Netanyahu anywhere as well, as long as he first froze settlement construction and accepted that the negotiations had to begin on the basis of the 1967 lines.

One government official said Rudaineh’s comment illustrated that the “fundamental reason” for the current impasse was the decision by the PA to refuse to negotiate by placing preconditions that were never there in the past.

“No government,” the official said, “has ever agreed to negotiate based on the 1967 lines.”

In the Al Arabiyeh interview, Netanyahu also defended the naval blockade of Gaza, saying that one ship to Gaza could bring as many missiles into the Hamas-controlled region as were fired at Israel during the entire Second Lebanon War.

Israel won’t open the sea lines into Gaza until there is a regime there that “makes peace with Israel and doesn’t fire rockets into Israel,” he said.

“We have no argument or battle with the people of Gaza; we are concerned with Hamas, a terrorist organization that fires rockets into Israel. That is what we are concerned with, and that is the only reason for our naval action.”

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