Netanyahu: Decision to Release Terrorists “Toughest of All”

“The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:18)

Netanyahu Rouhani

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered up some harsh words for Palestinian leadership, calling into question their true intentions during US-brokered peace negotiations.

Speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, Netanyahu blamed the collapse of peace talks on the actions and decisions of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu made no point in hiding the fact that Abbas is unable and unwilling to deal with the core issues surrounding the peace process.

“We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. How do you get that if you can’t get it through negotiations?” the prime minister asked.

The prime minister hinted during the interview that he is beginning to weigh suggestions brought forth by many Israelis to take unilateral steps to disengage from heavily populated Palestinian sections of Judea and Samaria.

“It’s true that the idea of taking unilateral steps is gaining ground, from the center-left to the center- right. Many Israeli are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense,” he said.

Netanyahu was clear that while some Jewish settlements may have to be uprooted, the prime minister is not looking for a repeat of what happened in 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza. “Unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn’t improve the situation or advance peace – it created Hamastan, from which thousands of rockets have been fired at our cities,” he said.

During the interview, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel must remain a Jewish-majority democratic nation. “We don’t want a binational state, and we don’t want a Palestinian-Iranian state next door,” he explained. “There is an emerging consensus that we don’t have a partner who can challenge constituencies, do something unpopular, do something that is difficult. Abbas has not done anything to challenge the prevailing Palestinian consensus.”

Responding to his critics that Netanyahu has not done enough to encourage the peace process and has taken steps to sabotage it, the prime minister rejected the criticism. Netanyahu referenced a speech he gave five years ago “recognizing the two-state solution.”

At one point during negotiations, Israel issued a 10 month freeze on settlement construction. During that time, “Abbas did nothing.” When asked whether Israel should indefinitely freeze construction to place the onus back on Abbas, Netanyahu stated, “I don’t think it would work. Having tried once, I saw that it doesn’t work.”

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When asked about the US placing the blame on Israel for the collapse of peace talks due to “rampant settlement activity,” the prime minister said, “No new settlement have been built since the time I was first prime minister, which was 1996.”

“Most of the settlement population, between 80 and 90 percent, is clustered in three urban blocs, in suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that everyone knows will stay in a final peace settlement. Effectively, the territory that is involved has not increased. It’s marginal. It’s been marginal for the last 20 years,” he said.

Lastly, Netanyahu spoke about the hardest decision he made as prime minister to gain traction in the peace process. “Then I did something that was toughest of all,” he said. “I released terrorist prisoners, killers of innocent people. That was the hardest decision.”

Prisoner Release
Palestinian relatives and friends of Rami Barbakh, a released Palestinian prisoner, celebrate upon his arriving at his home in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 31, 2013. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash90)

In return for all of Israel’s concession, Abbas has given nothing in return. “He’s [Abbas] refused to entertain Kerry’s efforts and try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict. He went to the UN organizations in express violation of Oslo and all the interim agreement. And now he’s embracing Hamas,” Netanyahu explained.

During the interview, Netanyahu stated that the greatest threat to the peace deal is not settlement activity but rather two larger threats taking over the Middle East. “The threat is militant Islam in its Shia variety or Sunni variety. The threat is what happens when radicals get a state,” he said.

Netanyahu said that the world needs to look to Iran, which is “seeking nuclear weapons and which threatens everyone in the region” to understand the real danger. The prime minister criticized the nuclear agreement taking place between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1, saying the deal leaves Iran “with a breakout capability” of up to a year.

“Intelligence isn’t perfect – far from it. Intelligence did not prevent enrichment sites from being built without anyone knowing for years,” he said. “Everybody in the region – everybody – shares my assessment that what you have to do is dismantle Iran’s enrichment capability. If you leave them with enrichment capability, then everybody will scramble to get their own capability.”

Iran’s latest actions have shown that they are committed to doing the opposite of what they have told the west. “Look at what Iran does without nuclear weapons. They’re in Syria; they’re in Gaza, sending ships with weapons. They’re in Yemen, in Bahrain, Iraq, everywhere.” Netanyahu stated. “So if [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s Iran becomes a threshold nuclear power, what do you think will happen?”