Netanyahu speech 311 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Wednesday that Israel’s best defense against regional uncertainty was to maintain internal strength. Opposition parties forced Netanyahu to address the Knesset by submitting a petition with the signatures of 40 opposition MKs, effectively providing a platform for the premier to offer MKs his analysis of regional conditions.
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“We are in a period of transition, with instability that could continue for many more years. We hope that the Arab world – and Iran – will transition to real democracy, but we need to prepare ourselves for every possible outcome,” warned the prime minister.
Netanyahu added that “we do not know what will happen to our west, and we do not know what will happen to our east. And who will determine for us that the Palestinian state that is being discussed will last?”
The prime minister emphasized that alliances in the Middle East were historically unstable, but called for existing peace agreements to be maintained, even in light of regional upheaval. “Just as the relationships of de facto peace that we had with one state, Iran, evaporated in an instant; just as more officially based relationships that included even joint military exercises and 400,000 tourists dissolved over night when the Turkish prime minister attacked our President [Shimon] Peres in Davos – we want to be certain today that the peace agreements with Egypt and with Jordan will remain and will be stable,” he explained.
Netanyahu also ridiculed those who accused him of fear-mongering when, in the debates in advance of Israel’s 2005 pull-out from the Gaza Strip, he warned that Iran would strengthen Hamas, that Hamas would take over, and that rockets would be fired on Israel’s southern cities. “You must recognize reality. This reality requires us to recognize that this region is very unstable, and the only thing that stands behind us is our strength, our unity and our determination to defend ourselves.”
In a response to Netanyahu that largely focused on domestic topics, including Israel’s earthquake preparedness and the appointment processes of senior government officials that were marked by uncertainty and backtracking, Opposition Chairwoman Tzipi Livni also attacked the government’s response to recent events in the Middle East.
“When the world changes, a responsible prime minister should have worked with the free world, to analyze together the events that are underway here,” said Livni. “But our prime minister works against the world.”
“When Iranian ships reach the Mediterranean, this is the time when a responsible prime minister who is accepted by the world, who is listened to, who is believed, could have worked with the free world instead of concentrating on an American veto. Instead of sitting with us and thinking about how we confront the Iranian threat, Britain, France and Germany are dealing with the settlements.”
Speaking before Netanyahu, Hadash Chairman Mohamed Barakeh anticipated Netanyahu’s comments, accused the prime minister of “sending open and hinted threats regarding the revolutions in the Arab world and regarding the Palestinian Authority and Iran.”
“This man,” he continued, “is a dangerous pyromaniac who must be stopped from within Israeli politics and in the international arena.”
The real fireworks, however, occurred before Netanyahu took the podium, when Ophir Akunis (Likud) defended the coalition by calling Kadima a “corrupt party”. In response, Roni Bar-On (Kadima) stormed toward the speaker’s podium and refused to return to his seat, even when told to do so by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
Both Bar-On and Yoel Hasson (Kadima) were ejected from the plenum by ushers, although Bar-On was permitted to return later in the hearing, where he returned fire by accusing Likud of backing a “rapist president”.
Kadima enjoyed the last laugh, however, when, according to Knesset protocol, a formal vote was held on the prime minister’s comments. According to opposition members, the prime minister pushed a button to vote against his own statement, which was still approved by a vote of 46-33.