Netanyahu to ‘Post’: I won’t uproot masses of Jews

PM concedes that he and Obama "have our differences" on how to achieve peace with Palestinians, says settlement blocs will remain part of Israel in any deal "and that’s where most construction is taking place."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
As he sought to stop voters leaving Likud Beytenu for Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party on his right, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post this week that a “real and fair” accord with the Palestinians cannot include driving masses of Jews from their homes in settlement blocs beyond the Green Line.
“I think that there is recognition that ultimately there has to be a real and fair solution, and that certainly doesn’t include driving out hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in the suburbs of Jerusalem, and in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, in the Ariel bloc,” Netanyahu said in an interview in his Jerusalem office.
“I think that is unrealistic.”
Asked whether immediately after the elections he would put a diplomatic initiative on the table, and what he knew of any initiative by the Europeans to present a new peace plan, Netanyahu talked more about explaining Israel’s position to the world than presenting any proposal of his own.
There would surely be “many initiatives,” and “we’ll have an important task in trying to tell the truth to the world,” he said.
That truth, he explained, was that the settlement issue was not the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, nor was the Palestinian issue the core of instability in the Middle East.
“The core of the conflict is the persistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary,” he declared.
Asked whether Israel could withstand the intense international pressure against building in east Jerusalem and the settlements, Netanyahu said, “I think that many recognize that while there are differences inside Israel, there is a common acceptance that the so-called settlement blocs will remain part of Israel in any settlement, and that’s where the majority of construction is taking place.”
The prime minister responded to sharp criticism attributed to President Barack Obama this week by US columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, telling the Post that he and Obama “have our differences, especially on the best way to achieve and advance a defensible peace with the Palestinians.
“By the way, these differences between American presidents and Israeli prime ministers are not new,” he said. “They go back to the founding of the state.”
Netanyahu then checked off a healthy list of major disagreements between Israeli prime ministers and US administrations – beginning with prime minister David Ben-Gurion and US secretary of state George Marshall all the way through Ariel Sharon and George W. Bush – saying that despite the differences, the American-Israeli alliance has steadily grown stronger.
“I am confident that President Obama understands that only a sovereign Israeli government can determine what Israel’s interests are,” he said, referring to the quotation attributed to Obama that Israel under Netanyahu doesn’t know what its own best interests are.
Asked if he felt Obama was trying to interfere in the elections, Netanyahu replied, “I think that everybody understands that the people of Israel determine who will lead the state, and that only the citizens of Israel can determine what their vital interests are, and who will protect those interests.”
During the interview, Netanyahu distanced his party from one of its own members, far-right activist Moshe Feiglin.
When asked how Likud Beytenu, with Feiglin No. 23 on its candidates list, could throw the “extremist” epithet at Bayit Yehudi, he said: “I think everybody knows what the Likud list consists of. And to be honest, I think Feiglin is an exception. All our people support military service, reject military disobedience, and oppose vehemently separation of women.”
Netanyahu – who knows Bennett well from when the Bayit Yehudi leader served as his chief of staff from 2006- 2008 – dodged a direct answer when asked whether he thinks Bennett is “extreme.”
“I’m not rating anyone, and I am not disqualifying anyone,” the prime minister said. “But I think it’s important for people to realize that the only way we can lead the country is to have a very strong ruling party.”
Netanyahu declined to say who his “dream coalition” would be, and discounted as partisan “spin” speculation that he favored a coalition with Tzipi Livni over Bennett, or a coalition with the haredim over one with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.
Looking rested and unruffled during a 40-minute pre-election interview, Netanyahu also said there was no leader better than he to lead Israel in the coming years.
“I think the people of Israel know that they can rely on me to stand on our vital national interests, even when it’s hard – and it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “I don’t think there is anyone better to stand on these issues and to navigate the shoals of the great international river that is flowing around us.”
Full 'Post' interview with Netanyahu to be published on Friday.