Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an onstage interview with David Bloomberg at the Economic Club in Washington D.C, March 2018.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
WASHINGTON – A relaxed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joked about his legal woes at an event in front of some 500 US business leaders here on Wednesday, saying the ongoing investigations do not impact on his ability to do his job.
“I can’t say that I like it,” Netanyahu said of the investigations. “I can say it doesn’t detract, because I work my 16 hour days and just do it,” he said.
Netanyahu, being interviewed by David Rubenstein at an event sponsored by the Economic Club of Washington, said his “hands are full,” that he is “very satisfied,” and that apparently – judging from the polls – so is the public.
Rubenstein, the president of the Economic Club and a philanthropist who has an interview show on Bloomberg television, asked the prime minister if he still finds his job exciting, and what was pleasurable about it.
“Oh, the investigations,” Netanyahu deadpanned, without missing a beat, to laughter and scattered applause.
He returned to the issue when Rubenstein noted his red tie, and said it was similar to those US President Donald Trump wears.
“Is that something he gave you as a gift?” Rubenstein asked.
Netanyahu, picking up the tie and looking at it, joked: “That could be investigated, too [as a possible bribe], so I won’t answer.”
He said that he had good personal relationships with all three of the US presidents he has worked with as prime minister – Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Trump – and that he had agreements and disagreements with them.
“I’d say with President Trump I had fewer disagreements,” he said. “In fact I haven’t found any and don’t expect there to be.”
Regarding the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said that he does not want the Palestinians as citizens or as subjects of Israel.
“I want a solution when they have all the powers they need to govern themselves, but none of the powers that would threaten us,” he said What that means in real terms, he added, is that regardless of the solution agreed upon in the end, the overriding security responsibility west of the Jordan River must remain in Israel’s hands.
Netanyahu said that most Israelis would agree to two states “if they thought that the Palestinians wanted a state next to Israel. But they’re convinced more and more that they want a state instead of Israel. And that’s not a real peace. People would go for a real peace, not a fake one.”
He repeated his position that while in the past the accepted paradigm was that to make peace with the Arab world, first there had to be peace with the Palestinians, but that now – because of the common interests of Israel and the Arab states in fighting Iran and Islamic State – “I think it actually may work the other way around. We normalize our relations with the Arab world to help change the perception of the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu, during the interview, which also touched on his personal biography, said that one thing he learned from his experience is “the places where you can do the greatest change, is in a crisis. When you have a crisis, don’t waste it, and I didn’t.”
He said that he took advantage of the country’s economic crisis in the early 2000s when he served as finance minister to advance fundamental economic reforms, and that he used the crisis over Iran’s nuclear march to mobilize international opinion against Tehran.
Asked why Israel, which Rubenstein said was full of “smart people,” cannot come up with a more efficient system of government, Netanyahu, to laughter, said the presidential system has its own problems as well.
All systems have their deficiencies, and what is important is to “do your best,” he said. Then he imparted a piece of wisdom gained from his years in power: “If you want reforms, do them right after you are elected. That is rule number one, and that is what I did. I was elected four times – so that is a lot of reform.”