Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday with good wishes for Id al-Adha, even as he bemoaned the PA leader’s absence as a peace partner.
“The other side is also needed,” Netanyahu said during a spontaneous speech he delivered at a ceremony in the Knesset marking the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War.
During the prepared address that opened the ceremony, Netanyahu mentioned briefly that Israel was working hard to come to an agreement with the Palestinians.
But he took the podium again at the end of the ceremony to respond to charges by Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz that he was to blame for the absence of a peace deal.
“I’ve been told, “It is all up to you, because you promised peace,’” Netanyahu said. “But we also need a partner.”
As examples of such partnerships, he cited former prime minister Menachem Begin and former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, as well as former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and former Jordanian king Hussein.
“I am not under the illusion that this will be easy. I am determined to do my best to succeed. But this is not just dependent on the Israeli side, just as it was not only up to the five prime ministers who preceded me since the start of the Oslo process.... The other side is also needed,” he said.
Although the two leaders traditionally exchange holiday greetings over the telephone, Netanyahu and Abbas have not met face-to-face since 2010.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting regularly since the end of July as part of a nine-month negotiation process toward a final-status agreement. Since entering office in March 2009, Netanyahu has repeatedly called for a meeting, but Abbas has refused.
In the last week, there have been reports that the Palestinian leader was now willing to meet with Netanyahu, but there has been no formal confirmation of such a meeting.
On Monday, in his speech opening the Knesset winter session, Netanyahu said that concluding any final-status agreement would require that Israel’s security needs be taken into account and that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
In the Knesset on Tuesday, Netanyahu said such an agreement could only properly prosper without external regional threats from Iran and its proxies Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas.
He took issue with the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would bring peace to the region.
“You can’t say, if only I and [Abbas], with whom I spoke today, had come to an agreement,” Netanyahu said, asserting that Iran and its proxies would destroy any arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s existing peace agreements with its neighbors.
The reality in the Middle East has changed since the Yom Kippur War, particularly with the establishment of an Islamic Republic in Iran, which has infiltrated every part of the Middle East, the prime minister said. He noted that the Iranian regime essentially controlled Syria and Lebanon, as well as half of the Palestinian people through Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are in charge in Gaza.
“They are not interested in a compromise or an agreement. They have the power to take over territory from which we withdraw – if we do not protect it – with the intention of getting rid of us,” he continued. “To chase us away from here, that is their declared objective.
They also act overtly on this.”
When Israel left Gaza and Lebanon, Iranian proxies seized control, he said. “They are a dominant force, and they are not interested in peace. You cannot ignore this.”
It is important to ensure that any agreement has the proper ingredients to succeed, he went on, and one of those ingredients is to neutralize the radical forces in the region so that peace will have the best opportunity to flourish.
“No one understands this better than our Arab neighbors. They want us to make peace with Abbas and the Palestinians, but they are not under any illusion that ending the conflict would bring peace to the Middle East.
Until these threats are dealt with, there certainly cannot be peace,” he said.
Asking, “Who among us doesn’t want peace?” he declared that “we want real, sustainable peace, not fake, not temporary. I want peace that will last. It might not be warm or rosy; it might even be cold. But it should hold. That’s why I demand the things necessary for a changing reality.”
One way or another, he vowed, “I will not miss this opportunity. I am trying to create it.
I pray, especially on this day, that I will succeed.”
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and several other MKs spoke at the Knesset meeting as well.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Knesset dedicated an exhibit of personal photos from the Yom Kippur War and hosted discussion groups between visitors and former and current MKs who are veterans of the conflict.
“Even today, the feelings of shock and uncertainty and fear that the State of Israel is facing destruction accompany [me],” Ya’alon said. “The war taught me important lessons about the IDF’s abilities, even when the opening factors are not in our favor, but more than anything else, it taught me that the real enemy is complacency. We cannot underestimate our enemies; we must encourage a variety of opinions and be aware of changes and ask what is new each morning in a region where we cannot know what is born every day.”
The defense minister warned that today Israel was facing those who wanted to destroy it, with threats changing constantly.
“Israel is growing, strong and safe, but even with its power, it cannot turn away from a balanced, responsible policy,” he said. “This war was the victory of the fighting man.
Forty years later, we return and remember that we were sent to represent a public that trusts us. With our power, we will do all we can to keep war away from our land.”
Like Netanyahu, Edelstein took the opportunity to discuss peace talks. He began his speech saying that after 40 years, Israel could forgive itself for the mistakes of the Yom Kippur War. Sometimes attempts to make up for too much pride before the war had led to overdoing concessions, he explained.
“A mistaken worldview could lead us to believe we can do everything on our own and that even unilateral steps will be appreciated by the other side,” Edelstein said. “I’m talking about Israel’s policies in recent decades, like the Oslo Accords, which were signed 20 years ago, [or] the Gaza disengagement, which was eight years ago. Even if they received a majority in the Knesset, as accepted in a democracy, they turned out to be major mistakes.”
The Agranat Commission, which investigated failings in the IDF ahead of the Yom Kippur War, determined that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee could have asked more and deeper questions, Edelstein said.
“I think that since then, there were positive changes in the committee’s work, but its functionality depends on the will and willingness of MKs to supervise the government.
If there’s one conclusion the Knesset must draw... it is that MKs must hold a public discourse, reveal failures, challenge the executive branch, criticize it and improve it,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee discussed its job in supervising the defense establishment during the war and today.
Committee chairman Avigdor Liberman warned that the panel “does not have effective tools to supervise the defense system, and many of the reports that reach us are voluntary.”
Liberman called for a law to be passed giving the committee those tools, so military officials would be required to give MKs information and not just do them favors.