Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Saudi peace initiative of 2002 is no longer relevant in the much-altered Middle East of 2014, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu indicated this week, in a Rosh Hashana interview with The Jerusalem Post that will appear in full in Wednesday’s paper.
“The question is not the Saudi peace initiative,” Netanyahu said, asked if he would accept the proposal now.
“If you read it carefully, you’ll see it was set up in another period, before the rise of Hamas; before Hamas took over Gaza; before ISIS [Islamic State] took over chunks of Syria and Iraq, effectively dismantling those countries; before Iran’s accelerated nuclear program,” he said.
Obviously referring to the Saudi proposal’s call for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, including returning the Golan Heights to Syria, Netanyahu noted that this plan was made “before the takeover of Syria by al-Qaida on the Golan Heights.”
Asked whether he thinks the initiative is now irrelevant, he replied, “What is relevant is the fact that there is a new recognition among major countries in the Middle East that Israel is not their mortal enemy, to say the least, but is a potential ally in addressing the common challenges.”
An upbeat Netanyahu showed no outward signs in his Jerusalem office of strain from either the just completed Gaza military operation or the percolating political crisis both within his party and the coalition. He said that whether this “new recognition” among some of Israel’s neighbors could be translated into a “realistic peace proposal” is something worth exploring.
As to whether that “exploration” is actually taking place at this time, Netanyahu said, “I think it is worth exploring, but I cannot tell you that we crossed the divide.”
Netanyahu’s tepid comments about the Saudi initiative stand in stark contrast to comments Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman made in his own interview with the Post last month.
“I think the Saudi initiative is much more relevant today than it was previously,” Liberman said at the time, explaining that this relevance stemmed from a much greater commonality of interests between Israel and the moderate Arab world than there was a decade ago.
Netanyahu also addressed the indirect talks with Hamas over a long-term agreement in Gaza scheduled to start on Tuesday in Cairo. The focus of the discussions, he said, will be to “ensure Israel’s vital security interests, and enable the reconstruction of Gaza and humanitarian assistance under our security requirements.”
As to whether Israel would be willing to give Gaza a seaport if Hamas does not re-arm and the Strip is demilitarized, Netanyahu said, “I’ve said more than once, that when Gaza is demilitarized and abandons the goal of destroying Israel, we are open to considering anything. But that presumes the pacification of Gaza and the espousal of peace.”
Regarding Iran, Islamic State, and the connection between the two, Netanyahu dismissed as “absurd” the idea that the West might somehow have to make concessions to Iran over its nuclear program in order to enlist it in fighting the brutal organization.
Iran, Netanyahu said, is fighting Islamic State because it is in its interest to do so, and because of “their own internal dispute over who will rule the Islamic world that they want to impose.”
“It is the same thing with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad and Hezbollah,” he said. “They fight ISIS for the same reason. Because it is in their own interest. Suppose Assad would say, ‘I’ll fight ISIS if you give me chemical weapons back.’ What would you say to that? It’s about as logical as the absurd claim that is now being made by Iran.”
Netanyahu said that Iran is going to fight Islamic State anyhow and should not be awarded with weapons of mass destruction for doing so.
“To arm a militant regime like Iran with nuclear weapons is folly in itself, but to do so in order for them to fight what they are going to fight anyway is a double folly,” the prime minister said.