PM in TV interview blitz: Kotel isn’t occupied

Netanyahu rejects charges that approval of building plans is related to election campaign.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Western Wall is not occupied territory, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said over the weekend as he promised to continue to buck the international community to defend Israel’s right to build in Jerusalem, including over the Green Line.
Interviews he gave to the three main Israeli television stations – channels 1, 2 and 10 – were aired in full on Saturday night, amid international furor over Israel’s approval of thousands of new homes in east Jerusalem and the advancement of plans for 3,500 homes just outside the city, on a West Bank plot of land known as E1.
“I am saying this in the clearest way possible: The Western Wall is not occupied territory, and I do not care what the United Nations says [on this matter],” Netanyahu told Channel 2.
He said he had just stood near the Tower of David in the Old City with foreign ambassadors.
“I said to them, would you accept it if you could not build in your capitals?” Netanyahu recalled. “My fundamental position is that we live in a Jewish nation; Jerusalem became that nation’s capital over 3,000 years ago. We will build in Jerusalem because it’s our right,” he said.
Had the Jewish people bowed to international pressure, the State of Israel would not have been created, the Six Day War would not have been fought, the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak would not have been bombed and Petah Tikva and Kfar Saba would never have been built, Netanyahu told Channel 1.
He rejected charges that he approved the new homes, including 1,048 in West Bank settlements, to curry favor with right-wing voters.
But, he said, massive electoral support for his Likud Party would help him defend Israel both diplomatically and militarily.
“On Election Day Israeli citizens will send a message, not only domestically but also to the international community,” he said.
Do you know who will be paying attention to the election results?” Netanyahu asked. “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah [and Hamas chief Khaled] Mashaal, they’ll wait for polls to close and for results to be publicized. And they’ll want to know if the prime minister was strengthened or weakened.”
Still, he told Channel 2, when it asked him why he suddenly began building, “What happened is not the elections. What happened is that the Palestinians appealed to the UN – they just ripped apart all their agreements with us. If they act unilaterally, we will not sit idly by.”
Netanyahu said he supported a two-state solution, but that it had to be brought about in such a way that would not place Iran in the West Bank.
The prime minister said he did not know if he could make peace with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“When Abu Mazen [Abbas] embraces Hamas and calls for reconciliation with Hamas, allows for Hamas demonstrations [in the West Bank] that call for Israel’s destruction, I ask myself: ‘Is he a partner for peace?’ “You have to ask a simple question, why does Abu Mazen serially refuse, for four years, to enter negotiations? Why does he place preconditions on the start of those talks?” Netanyahu asked. “I have conditions for concluding the talks, but not for starting them.”
Despite Netanyahu’s words, the international community has leveled the brunt of its public criticism on Israel, saying that building in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem is harming any possibility of renewed talks.
On Friday, the EU and Russia denounced Israeli actions.
“The European Union and the Russian Federation are deeply dismayed by and strongly oppose Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank and in particular plans to develop the E1 area,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
“The EU and the Russian Federation underline the urgency of renewed, structured and substantial peace efforts in 2013,” said the joint statement after an EURussia summit in Brussels.
The EU and Russia, which together with the US and UN make up the Quartet of Middle East mediators, said the settlements were illegal under international law and were an obstacle to peace.
“The EU and the Russian Federation will not recognize any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties,” they said. It was time to take “bold and concrete steps towards peace between Palestinians and Israelis,” they said, calling for “direct and substantial negotiations without preconditions.”
The EU and Russia also called for the unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip, and urged Israel to avoid any step that would undermine the financial situation of the PA.
They urged the Palestinian leadership to use the Palestinians’ new UN status constructively and avoid steps that would deepen the lack of trust and lead further away from a negotiated solution.
Jerusalem Post staff and Reuters contributed to this report.