Netanyahu says recognition of Jewish state is ‘minimal requirement for peace’

Speaking to Saban Forum, PM says negotiators must demand change in Iran’s ‘genocidal policy’ toward Israel.

December 8, 2013 18:56
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressing the Saban Forum [File].

Netanyahu addressing Saban Forum 2009 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool)


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The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not the source of the Middle East’s problems, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Saban Forum of the Brookings Institution via video link on Sunday.

Offering a laundry list of problems facing the region, Netanyahu suggested putting the conflict in perspective – but said that peace was vital nevertheless, primarily for Israelis and Palestinians themselves, referring to a final-status agreement as a “strategic goal” of his office.

The prime minister spoke after US President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry gave remarks to the forum on Saturday, both discussing the Middle East peace process and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu said the “minimal requirement for peace” with the Palestinians was their recognition of the state as home to the Jewish people with equal right to self-determination as themselves.

“It’s about one thing: the persistent refusal to accept the Jewish state, in any border,” Netanyahu said. “The question shouldn’t be, why does Israel make this demand. The question is, why do the Palestinians consistently refuse to accept it?” “I’m ready for a historic compromise that ends the conflict between us once and for all,” he added, calling peace a “two-way street.”

Netanyahu thanked Obama for what he called an “indispensable alliance” that has experienced unprecedented defense, security and intelligence cooperation between the two governments under their leadership.

As expected, the prime minister discussed his dissatisfaction with a deal cut in Geneva between world powers and Iran that effectively halts progress on its expansive nuclear program.

Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms would “literally change the course of history,” Netanyahu said, but he, like the US president, supports a negotiated end to the crisis over confrontation.

“A diplomatic solution is better than a military option, but a military option is required for diplomacy to succeed, as are sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

For Israel to accept a final deal, it has to ensure that Iran will never be a “threshold nuclear weapons state,” maintaining the capability of building warheads without necessarily ever obtaining them.

“I don’t think I can overstate, I don’t think anyone can overstate the Iranian danger,” he said. “Any final deal must end military nuclear capability.”

In his address, Netanyahu added an element he has not articulated before – that the negotiators in Geneva demand a change in Iran’s of “genocidal” policy toward Israel.

Not only must the negotiators demand a “shift and elimination” of Iran’s capability to produce nuclear weapons, Netanyahu said. It must also “demand a change to its genocidal policy, that is the minimum thing the international community must do when negotiating with Iran.”

Netanyahu also seemed to take issue with Obama’s comments the day earlier that additional sanctions would not have forced Iran to “cave,” saying, “We shouldn’t assume that better and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal. What seemed impossible today, could become possible tomorrow.”

Although the Saban Forum first billed Netanyahu’s address as a conversation with PBS’s Charlie Rose, the Prime Minister’s Office said that was never cleared with Jerusalem.

Haim Saban is the largest benefactor to the Brookings Institution and a major fund-raiser and donor to the Democratic Party, just weeks ago pledging a gift during a fund-raiser with the president in California. Saban himself moderated the question-andanswer session with Obama on Saturday.

According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu’s office would not put the prime minister in a position where he would undergo a critical interview with an American journalist after an address from Kerry without questions and an interview with Obama by a significant campaign contributor.

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