'Halting W. Bank growth unreasonable'

In FADC, Netanyahu confirms 'Post' exclusive, outlines Israel's nat'l priorities, with Iran topping list.

Netanyahu FADC 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu FADC 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized on Monday as "unreasonable" US demands to freeze all building east of the Green Line, adding that he was "still unclear" as to what exactly the United States was demanding of Israel regarding construction in the settlements. The prime minister, briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on his recent trip to Washington, said, "it is likely that we are not going to reach an agreement with the Americans" regarding settlement building, but did his best to portray his meeting with US President Barack Obama in a positive light. Netanyahu said that "new important understandings were reached" in the course of the meeting, but added that in some fields there was no agreement, and did not elaborate on the "new understandings." Netanyahu broadly hinted that it was the US which was now changing understandings with Israel regarding settlement construction. "If they would come to us and say 'there were understandings, live up to them,' then that we could understand," he said. But, he added, if the US instead said, "'there were understandings, but we are abrogating them,' then that would be difficult." Israeli officials maintain that over the past five years there were tacit agreements with the US over where construction could continue in the settlements, and that the new administration was now essentially rolling back those understandings. Netanyahu said there was hope that an agreement with the US could be reached about the precise meaning of a settlement freeze. "The fate of the settlements will be determined in the final negotiations, not by unilateral actions from either side," he said. "You cannot freeze life," he added. Netanyahu told the committee that in Washington he and Obama focused on four issues: Iran, bilateral understandings, regional peace and peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu said Obama understood that a nuclear Iran constituted a threat to the United states as well as to Israel, and that it must be prevented. On the other hand, he said the Americans had not shared with him any timetable for the continuing dialogue with Teheran, and that Obama had told him "he is keeping all options open." Netanyahu also said he told Obama Israel "has a right to self-defense," and that the two agreed that among the risks presented by Iran's nuclear program were the acceleration of a nuclear arms race in the region and an increase in Iran's ability to endanger moderate Middle Eastern regimes. "There was a confirmation of our understandings on strategic matters. There was agreement over the danger of Iran going nuclear and on our right to self defense at all times," Netanyahu said. Netanyahu emphasized repeatedly - both during and after the Knesset meeting - that it was the Iranian nuclear race as an existential threat, and not the question of settlements or accords with the Palestinians that topped Israel's list of priorities. The lion's share of the apparent disagreements between the United Sates and Israel, according to Netanyahu's overview, arose during the discussion of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu said he had told Obama he was interested in negotiations both with Syria and the Palestinians, but that there was no agreement regarding the two-state solution. Israel, said Netanyahu, was concerned that the solution could lead to the emergence of a Hamas-run Palestinian state, and that Jerusalem would move slowly and cautiously on the subject so as to prevent the scenario of "Hamas tanks and artillery on our borders." "We are ready to renew negotiations immediately and without preconditions. We are willing to pursue also a diplomatic track, not just the economic-security track. We do not wish to rule over the Palestinians, but we won't allow them to build an army and forge an alliance with Iran," he said. "We will not build new settlements. Our intention is to dismantle illegal outposts. There are reasonable demands and there are unreasonable demands. The fate of the settlements will be determined in a final status agreement." Nevertheless, he said it was "the will of the public" that major settlement blocs be preserved, no matter what. When Netanyahu stressed he was the one responsible for the security of Israel, even if it would harm his popularity, he banged the table with his fist, a gesture that caused opposition leader Tzipi Livni to lash out at him. "The fact that you bang on the table and say you are willing to be unpopular doesn't make what you say less demagoguery than it is," she told him. "It is sad to see deterioration, a diplomatic collapse and the harm in Israel's relations with the world. I believe US-Israel relations, based on deep mutual interests, are more resilient than your government's problematic policy. "But I hope you will come to your senses before additional damage to Israel and its interests takes place. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a favor you are doing to the United States; it's an obvious interest of Israel. Dragging our feet will bring about the worst outcome for Israel. With the right conduct you can count on the US to help us with all important issues, including large settlement blocs."