(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advised patience and the need for “quiet diplomacy” on Tuesday to North American Jews angry and frustrated over the government’s failure to implement a decision to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall.
Speaking via video hook-up to the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America meeting in Washington, Netanyahu blamed Israel’s coalition system of government for the failure to implement the decision agreed upon by the cabinet in January.
“Now I’m going to tell you a secret about Israel’s government. It doesn’t quite work the way that the American government works,” he said, explaining that coalition politics often derails important governmental decisions.
As an example of this, he pointed to the “flagship decision” he made regarding the natural gas discoveries made in the Mediterranean.
Nothing could be more important, he said, than extracting the gas from the sea and providing billions upon billions of dollars of revenue for the Israeli economy.
“I passed a resolution in the government. We couldn’t pass it. We had to work further to achieve compromise, to achieve other arrangements between the various parties involved, and finally we passed it,” he said.
“In a way, that is what is happening here as well,” Netanyahu said of the Kotel deal, which was stymied by fierce opposition from the two haredi parties in the coalition. “We have passed a resolution, we’re working with the parties, we stand ready to work a little more. It’s not so simple. In fact, it’s complicated.”
Netanyahu advised counting not to 10 in waiting for this deal, but “ to 15.”
“Take your time. Think about it. Talk to the parties. See if you can come to an equitable solution,” he said, adding that building “ramparts” and “barricades” is not going to work on this issue.
“I found,” he said, “that sometimes you need quiet diplomacy, a lot of times you need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Arabs. This is one instance where I think we need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Jews. That’s a lot more likely to get the result we all seek.”
Regarding Israel’s position in the world, Netanyahu announced that he would soon be traveling to Fiji, on the tail end of a scheduled visit in February to Singapore and Australia. This will be the first visit ever by an Israeli prime minister to any of those countries.
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama met with Netanyahu earlier this month in Jerusalem.
“Why am I going to Fiji?” Netanyahu asked. “Because 15 countries, 15 islands that each one has a vote in the UN, are coming to that meeting.”
Fiji generally abstains, though it sometimes votes for Israel, on Mideast issues that come before international forums. For instance, it was one of 41 countries that abstained four years ago when the Palestinians sought, and won, non-member observer status at the UN. Four other Pacific island states voted with Israel and against that resolution.
Netanyahu also told the GA that he will be traveling in December to two Muslim countries – Azerbaijan, which has a majority Shi’a population, and majority-Sunni Kazakhstan.