Netanyahu to Reform Jews: The Western Wall belongs to all Jews

PM warns if Iran gets atomic weapons, other states in region will go nuclear; says ready for "historic agreement with Palestinians".

Netanyahu at Cabinet meeting Dec 15 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu at Cabinet meeting Dec 15 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Western Wall belongs to the entire Jewish people, and all Jews should feel at home at Judaism’s holiest site, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday via video hook-up to the Union for Reform Judaism’s biennial conference in San Diego.
“The Western Wall is in Israel, but it belongs to all of you, it belongs to you and to me, to all of us,” said Netanyahu, the first sitting prime minister to address this conference.
The issue of women’s prayer at the Wall is a key one for the Reform movement, and Netanyahu said that Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky, cabinet secretary Avihai Mandelblit and Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs were working on a solution.
“You know the nature of compromise,” he said. “No compromise is ever perfect, but I am confident that because of the work we are doing together, we will ensure that the Kotel [Western Wall] is a source of unity, not division; a place where all Jews feel at home.”
Netanyahu said questions surrounding prayer arrangements at the Western Wall were not only about finding a modus vivendi at Judaism’s most sacred site, but also about what Israel has “always stood for, and what it must always stand for: Israel is and must continue to be the homeland of the entire Jewish people. That is the place where all Jews, including Reform Jews, experience nothing less than audacious hospitality.”
The issue of the Western Wall was the third point on his agenda in his message to the Reform gathering: The first two were Iran and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “for the sake of the diplomatic solution we all hope to reach, we must keep the pressure on Iran.”
He said that was an important message that “should be shared across the board for everyone’s sake, because if Iran goes nuclear, then other states here will go nuclear, we will be in jeopardy, but so will the rest of the world.”
Netanyahu said Tehran was unquestionably pursing a nuclear weapons capability, has invested “[$]40 billion directly in its nuclear program and been willing to absorb another $100 billion indirectly in lost revenue from the sanctions.”
Altogether, Netanyahu said, the Iranians have been willing to invest “about $140 billion, some say as much as $170 billion” in their military nuclear program.
As to the negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said “achieving peace is a strategic goal of the State of Israel and of my government.”
The prime minister said he was ready for “a historic agreement with the Palestinians” that would entail a Jewish state, or a nation state of the Jewish people, next to a Palestinian state.
This two-state peace “can end the conflict once and for all,” he said.
He described this as a peace in which a “secure and safe Israel lives next to a demilitarized Palestinian state. And it is important for me to stress that in this end of conflict the Palestinians would have no more claims against the one and only Jewish state.”
Netanyahu said this means that the Palestinians “get a state, and don’t continue the conflict from the state that they get – they don’t say that they want to flood Israel with refugees, or have irredentist claims in areas of the Galilee, the Negev or Jaffa. “It means an end to all claims, an end to all Palestinian national claims on the Jewish State of Israel.”
Netanyahu said that he was willing to take “difficult decisions” to make peace, “but the Palestinians also must be ready to make hard decisions as well, because peace is not a one-way street, it is a two way street.”
Furthermore, he said, any agreement must address Israel’s legitimate security concerns, “since in the Middle East the only peace that will endure is one that Israel can defend.”
First of all, he said, one never knows whether the peace will percolate down to the masses, and secondly Israel can not be sure the peace will hold.
“We must be able to protect the peace, and ensure the security, otherwise it may unravel,” he said. “And we also must protect our security in case it doesn’t hold. Both for the peace to hold and to protect ourselves if it unravels, we need very, very strong security arrangements.”
While diplomatic issues were the focus of Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday, they did not come up at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, even though he held talks on Friday with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The diplomatic issues were overshadowed by the weekend’s storm and its aftermath.
One issue that was discussed, however, was whether the country should buy an airplane – an Israeli Air Force One – to be at the service of the prime minister and the president.
Over the opposition of Finance Minister Year Lapid and the three other Yesh Atid ministers, and with Hatnua’s Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz abstaining, the cabinet approved the establishment of a government committee on the issue, which will also evaluate the possibility of building a structure that would serve as the prime minister’s official residence and office.
According to a statement issued after the cabinet meeting, “if the committee decides on the construction of a single structure, it is anticipated that it will only be ready in a number of years.”
The committee, to be chaired by retired Supreme Court justice and state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg and include former air force chief Maj.-Gen. (res.) Ido Nehushtan and accountant Iris Stark, will submit its recommendations to the full cabinet.
The decision to set up this committee comes after continual questions regarding Netanyahu’s travel – such as why he had a bed installed on a plane at an exorbitant price, in April, when he flew to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, and why he did not travel last week to Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, despite the Israeli delegation trip’s NIS 7 million price tag.
In addition, the discussion about building a new residence comes amid criticism of the money the state spent last year on his official residence, as well as his private residence in Caesarea.
Lapid opposed the plan to buy a plane on grounds that the NIS 800 million price tag was excessive, especially in tough economic times.
“On a moral level, we believe that in these times of belt-tightening and tax increases, when the gaps between rich and poor are among the highest in the world, the government should ensure modesty, and not take steps that will cause the public to feel that its leadership is cut off from the difficulties of everyday life,” he said.
The costs of purchasing and maintaining the plane made it unjustifiable economically, he argued.
Niv Elis contributed to this report.