PM: My policies haven't led to isolation

Amid reports of Obama peace plan, gov't officials continue to back direct talks.

Netanyahu points the way 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu points the way 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu deflected criticism Wednesday that his policies had led to Israel’s international isolation, saying Israel was being criticized for the policies of every government over the last 42 years.
At a press conference where Netanyahu rolled out a report compiled by his office on the government’s achievements during its first year in office, Netanyahu said that while his government had “worked toward peace,” the Palestinians, “supported by others,” had refused to enter the process.
“If as a result of this, Israel is being criticized for things it has done for 42 years, under all Israeli governments, that is not my policy, but the policy of all Israeli governments,” he said in a reference to continued construction in all parts of Jerusalem.
“There is a change in the world, and it is flowing from the progress of extreme Islam in our region – not only in our region – and it has not been stopped until now,” he said.
In an oblique reference to the Obama administration, which has been arguing that a continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides a rallying cry and recruits for radical Islam, Netanyahu said that “there are those who want to put the responsibility on Israel, but anyone who looks at the matters fully will see that is not the case, and it is not connected to specific steps of this government.”
Netanyahu bewailed the fact that until now the international community has failed to come up with a response to Islamic extremism and its armament, saying the world must decide whether to get used to this phenomenon, or fight it.
“This has ramifications for our region and the peace process,” he said. “What we saw over the last year, from the first day, before this government took even one step, was that the Palestinians simply climbed up the tree and said, ‘We’re not going into negotiations, we have all kinds of conditions.’”
Netanyahu disputed the characterization that the whole world was against Israel. He said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had begun lambasting Israel immediately after Operation Cast Lead and before he had come into office, and added that “there are many countries in the world who perhaps criticize us, but are interested in relations with us and ties in the fields of technology, agriculture, water and security.”
Netanyahu also played down the widely reported tension with the US, saying that the discussions with the US were continuing, “and do not exactly correspond to what is reported. That doesn’t mean there are no disagreements. There are things that we agree on, that we don’t agree on, and where we are bridging the gaps. But it is much different from part of the things that I read in the press.”
The prime minister was unwilling to give any information about the demands the US administration had made, or on whether US President Barack Obama had called for an end to construction in east Jerusalem. Netanyahu said the lack of leaks about the conversation with the administration testified to the seriousness of the discussions. He said much of what was being written regarding the US demands was merely speculation.
Asked whether he stood by his pre-election promise not to dismantle settlements, Netanyahu responded, “What has changed?”
In a related development, government officials reacted to a report in Wednesday’s Washington Post that Obama was “seriously considering” proposing an American peace plan, by saying Israel felt direct negotiations with the Palestinians remained the best path for coming up with a peace plan that would work.
A plan to which both sides agree among themselves, rather than one imposed by an outside party, has a better chance of success, the official said.
Israeli officials have been saying for months that the Palestinians are staying out of the talks in the hope that this will spur the US, or the Europeans, into imposing a plan.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius wrote a column in the paper’s op-ed section Wednesday quoting a top administration official as saying that an American plan, if launched, “would build upon past progress on such issues as borders, the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.”
He quoted another top administration official as saying that “‘90 percent of the map would look the same’ as what has been agreed in previous bargaining.”
According to the column, the peace plan would be linked with confronting Iran.
“We want to get the debate away from settlements and east Jerusalem and take it to a 30,000-feet level [sic] that can involve Jordan, Syria and other countries in the region,” Ignatius quoted one of the officials as saying.
Ignatius wrote that Obama was considering an in-depth interagencyreview on the issue, similar to the one that produced his strategy forPakistan and Afghanistan.
The idea of launching a peace plan wasapparently shared, Ignatius wrote, by six former national securityadvisers who met every few month at the behest of current NationalSecurity Adviser Jim Jones. The forum consists of Brent Scowcroft,Zbigniew Brzezinski, Colin Powell, Sandy Berger, Frank Carlucci andRobert McFarlane.
This plan, according to the report, wouldreverse the administrations’ current strategy, championed by US MiddleEast envoy George Mitchell, of coaxing concessions from Israel and thePalestinians and then stepping in and offering “bridging proposals”down the line.