Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The citizens of Israel want security and peace, and we are not the side that is avoiding negotiations, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a special Knesset session on the Arab League peace initiative on Wednesday.
The prime minister, who was required to participate in the session after 40 MKs signed a petition asking him to do so, devoted most of his speech to other issues, including the Syrian chemical weapons, Iran and internal affairs.
He devoted a small section at the end of his speech to the Arab League Peace Initiative, that calls for a two-state solution within the pre-1967 borders, with minor land swaps between the two sides.
"We are in favor of immediate negotiations without preconditions. I call on [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to put preconditions aside and talk," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said he is willing to make hard choices for peace, but not those which would endanger Israel. "I'm not afraid to start talks," he said.
"Don't waste another four years," the prime minister said, urging Abbas in English to "Give Peace a Chance," in reference to a well-known song by The Beatles.
MK reactions to Netanyahu's remarks were a mixed bag, with some Knesset members supporting opening peace talks, others starkly against, and some who doubted Netanyahu's sincerity.
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich said, "we can move forward without an immediate solution to all of our problems with the Palestinians."
"Even though they are calling for pre-conditions, and even though they are not entirely ready in their hearts to move forward, we are ready," she said, "why should we be captive in their hands?"
Likud MK Ofir Akunis spoke against the Arab Peace Initiative, saying that what happened in Syria will happen in Tiberias if Israel accepted the Arab Peace Initiative.
Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked said that most Israelis are not willing to discuss the Arab League initiative which includes giving up all land "liberated" in 1967 including the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley.
Senior Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer spoke in favor of the Arab peace initiative. "You say the PA doesn't want peace? Let the world learn it for themselves; get up and say you want peace."
Ben-Eliezer also expressed concern that the Americans are "on the verge of despair when it comes to helping us make peace."
Shas leader Arye Deri referred to Shas's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef's ruling that ceding land for peace is consistent with Jewish law because it saves lives.
"The balance between keeping the laws of the Torah and concern for the security of our citizens is your job as prime minister," Deri told Netanyahu.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On questioned Netanyahu's commitment to peace with the Palestinians.
"Mr. Prime Minister, we have arrived at a critical point. There is a window of opportunity, but your government is dragging its feet and is putting sticks in the wheels of the negotiations," Gal-On said.
"The diplomacy of your government is like a tank in a china shop. You are broadcasting to the world that Israel does not want peace." Lahav Harkov and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.