PM stays on message in one interview after another

New York: Netanyahu won’t get drawn into US politics, says he disagrees with Bill Clinton over peace process blame.

September 26, 2011 03:14
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

If people around the world were too busy Friday to tune in live to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech and missed his articulation of what he said was Israel’s “truth,” then all they had to do was tune in to any number of television interview shows over the weekend – from ABC, CNN, NBC, Fox News and even BBC’s Arabic service – and get a concise summation.

“The truth,” Netanyahu said at the UN, addressing the world’s leaders “is that Israel wants peace... The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace.”

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That line – that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but that the Palestinians want a state without peace – recurred frequently, with slight variations.

To ABC’s David Muir, Netanyahu said, “I think that peace will require two states, a Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. They’re willing to accept their Palestinian state, but they don’t want to recognize the Jewish state. They want a state without peace.”

To Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren, he said, “We want peace. We’re prepared to have peace with the Palestinian state. The Palestinians want, basically, a Palestinian state without peace.”

To NBC’s David Gregory on Meet the Press, it went like this: “The Palestinians want a state, but they have to give peace in return. What they’re trying to do in the United Nations is to get a state without giving Israel peace or giving Israel peace and security. And I think that’s wrong. That should not succeed.”

He would have probably said the same thing to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, if Blitzer had let up for a second asking him about another settlement freeze, or what he really thinks about US President Barack Obama, and whether Israelis should be mixing in US politics.

Each interviewer attacked the question about US politics from a different angle, but it was the same question: How much of a friend is Obama; is he better or worse than former US president George W. Bush; and what does Netanyahu think about Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney slamming Obama for his positions on Israel? Netanyahu’s diplomatic reply when this came up in each interview was that he was not going to get drawn into American politics.

“I’m just not going to walk into the minefield of American politics. I’ve got enough politics back at home,” he told ABC.

To Fox News he said, “As far as American politics, I – you know, I just have enough politics of my own in Israel.”

Meet the Press’s Gregory was told, “God, I’m not going... to start ranking [presidents].”

To Blitzer he said, “Well, I’m just not going to get into internal American politics.”

But Blitzer pushed hard, and said, “A member of your party, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, a member of Likud [Danny Danon], came and stood next to Rick Perry on the eve of President Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly and effectively endorsed, got involved in domestic American politics.” Blitzer then interrogated Netanyahu on whether he knew about this beforehand, and approved of it.

Had he known, Netanyahu said, “I would have told him [to] stay out of American politics.”

The prime minister was also asked repeatedly about former president Bill Clinton’s recent criticism that Netanyahu is to blame for the failure of a Middle East peace process because his government won’t accept the terms for peace offered by Ehud Barak in 2000.

And in each of the interviews, Netanyahu’s response was the same. As he told Gregory, “I regretfully, regretfully and respectfully disagree with the former president Clinton.”

None of the interviews provided much news, though there were a few interesting tidbits, such as his saying on CNN – after being repeatedly pressed on the issue – that he would “be willing to talk about” another settlement freeze.

Netanyahu also raised an idea in that interview that has not been heard often in the past: That had he wanted to, he, like Abbas, could place conditions on a return to the talks.

One precondition, he said, could be to “dismantle some of the refugee camps – just one – to know that you’re serious about peace, because you know that there won’t be peace if they don’t rehabilitate the refugees.”

Netanyahu said he didn’t do this because he doesn’t believe in preconditions.

Netanyahu also gave an indication of who he thought were Israel’s strong supporters in Europe. Asked on Meet the Press about Israel’s isolation – with Gregory saying “Israel is arguably as isolated as it’s ever been in the midst of Arab Spring” – Netanyahu said he took issue with that assumption.

“Well, we’re not isolated in this country, which happens to be the strongest country on earth,” Netanyahu said. “Number two, you should come with me. You should come with me to Greece or to Bulgaria or to Poland. Or you should see the talks we have with the Dutch, with the Cypriots, and with others.”

The prime minister also interjected some humor into the interviews. In the Meet the Press interview he responded to Abbas’s cleansing the Holy Land of any Jewish connection – though acknowledging a Christian and Muslim link – by saying, “Hello! You know, we’ve been around there. Two thousand years. I mean, Jesus came from a certain place, you know...”

And regarding Iran, Netanyahu actually produced a laugh-out-loud moment out of a particularly un-funny situation when discussing Iran’s continuing nuclear march.

“Of course [the Iranians] say that they’re enriching uranium for medical isotopes,” he said. “That’s why they’re developing ICBMs that could potentially reach this country, to put medical isotopes on it. That’s a pretty expensive way to deliver isotopes to patients.”


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