April 27th, 2014

Netanyahu: Abbas doing damage control

Today on CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, spoke to CNN about the Middle East peace process and said that Israel won’t participate in peace talks that include Hamas.
For more information, check out the following blog posts:
CNN Political Ticker
Israeli PM Netanyahu: No peace talks if Abbas is backed by Hamas
Russia, Syria, Middle East: Is the U.S. losing its ability to sway allies?
A transcript of the interview is available after the jump.

CROWLEY:  Joining me now is Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  

Mr. Prime Minister, as always, we thank you for being here.

I want to start with the fact that Israel is involved in its annual commemoration this day of the Holocaust.  And in advance of that, Palestinian President Abbas issued a statement calling the Holocaust — and I quote here — “the most heinous crime in the modern era.”  He expressed sympathies for the victims of the Holocaust.  

What do you make of that?  

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  Well, I try to reconcile that with the fact that he embraced just a few days ago the Hamas terrorist organization that denies the Holocaust and openly calls for a new extermination of the six million Jews in Israel.  

So, President Abbas can’t have it both ways.  He can’t say the Holocaust was terrible, but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people.  

I think probably what he’s trying to do is damage control.  I think what President Abbas is trying to do is to placate Western public opinion that understands that he delivered a terrible blow to the peace process by embracing these Hamas terrorists.  And I think he’s trying to wiggle his way out of it.  

CROWLEY:  He is also quoted in today’s “Jerusalem Post” as talking about this new unity government with Hamas, and saying: “The government reports to me and follows my policies.  I recognize Israeli, and so will the government.  I renounce violence and terrorism, and I recognize international legitimacy, and so will the government.”

So, essentially, he’s saying:  This is still going to be my government.  It still is going to follow what I have observed and what I have said.  

What do you make of that, and do you believe him?  And, if you do, is it enough to bring you back to the table?  
NETANYAHU:  Look, I will not, as the prime minister of Israel, negotiate with a government that is backed by the Hamas terror organization committed to our destruction.  

Neither would you.  You designate Hamas, the U.S., as a terrorist organization.  It sends thousands of rockets into Israel.  It sends scores of suicide bombers.  It praised the murder of a father of five the other week on the way to a Passover dinner, praised it.  They praised bin Laden when he was alive as a holy warrior and condemned the United States when you killed bin Laden.  

This is one of the most preeminent terrorist organizations of our time.  And, obviously, the U.S. abhors it, as we do.  And nobody expects us to negotiate with a government that is backed by it.  

Now, the statement that, well, I will put forward, even though I’m — I’m in national unity with Hamas, I’m putting forward in the front office more respectable people, we know that gambit.  It’s the back office/front office gambit.  In the back office, the mafia sits.  In the front office, you have respectable lawyers.  

We’re not going to buy that trick.  We will not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, unless Hamas had changed its position or unless Hamas said, oh, I’m willing to recognize Israel.  

But Hamas, including after this pact with Abbas, is saying the very opposite.  It’s saying, Israel is going to be destroyed; we will continue the terror campaign against Israel.

This is the partner that President Abbas has now joined.  And I call on President Abbas, tear up your pact with Hamas.  Recognize the Jewish state.  Come back to a real peace process.  

CROWLEY:  One of the criticisms, Mr. Prime Minister, has been that, prior to this, when you were dealing with Abbas, you had said, look, I don’t know who I’m supposed to negotiate with.  There’s Hamas and then there’s Abbas and Fatah.  

So, now there’s a unity government, and you still don’t want to talk to them.  So, there’s criticism here that this was an excuse for you to walk away.

NETANYAHU:  Sorry, Candy.  Whoa.  

CROWLEY:  Go ahead.  

NETANYAHU:  No, Candy.  No, no.  I’m sorry.  

I heard that.  I hear people write that up, but, in fact, it’s the very opposite.  I said right from the start, I said, look, I could wait until President Abbas recognizes — represents the entire Palestinian people.  But, in this case, we will wait until eternity, and we won’t have peace.  

So, I chose deliberately, openly, specifically, and explicitly to negotiate with that part of the Palestinian people that said it was willing to make peace with Israel.  I said, we’re not going to try to include the other part that seeks our extermination.  And that’s what I did.  

I have been very consistent on this.  Now that he’s joined them, I say this.  Look, unity for peace is good.  Unity with Hamas that seeks to exterminate Israel, the opposite of peace, is bad.  I have always been consistent on this.  

I negotiate with those who are willing to make peace with my country.  I will not negotiate with those who seek to exterminate peace with my country, whether they sit in the front office or the back office.  That’s not where I’m going to go.  

CROWLEY:  So, as I understand you, what you’re saying is:  First, for me to come back to the table in any way, shape or form, Hamas or a representative — a top representative of Hamas would have to renounce violence and recognize Israel, or Abbas will have to not have a unity government.  

Is that how I read you?  

NETANYAHU:  I think that’s a fair — that’s a fair summation.  

Either Hamas disavows the destruction of Israel and embraces peace and denounces terror, or President Abbas renounces Hamas.  If one of those things happens, then we can get back to the peace negotiations.  I hope that he renounces Hamas.  I hope that he gets back to the peace table, as I have just said.  

CROWLEY:  Do you need the United States…

NETANYAHU:  The ball is in his court.  It’s his decision.  

CROWLEY:  Do you need the United States to broker an ultimate deal?  

NETANYAHU:  I think the United States has been indispensable in all the peace negotiations that we have had up to now.  

It doesn’t obviate the need for genuine, direct contact between the parties, but it can help a lot and I appreciate Secretary Kerry’s unbelievable efforts.  They don’t always succeed.  And, unfortunately, President Abbas made sure of that by embracing Hamas.  

But I have to credit John Kerry for his efforts.  I still hope that we will find a way to peace.  You know, if we can’t get it through a negotiated agreement because of the composition of the Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.  

I’m not going to — I’m not going to accept a stalemate.  I won’t accept a Palestinian state that is another Iranian offshoot of Iran firing missiles into our cities.  This is what has happened with Hamas and Gaza.  But I do seek a two-state-for-two-peoples solution.  If I can’t have it right away with a Palestinian — this Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.  

I’m — I called on my cabinet ministers today, and I said, we’re going to take time out now for reassessment and try and figure out alternative paths to peace.  But the simplest way to get back to the peace process is have President Abbas renounce the pact with Hamas and come back to negotiations.  

CROWLEY:  Mr. Prime Minister, finally, in September of 2012, you told me that you thought Iran was probably six to nine months away from being able to have full nuclear weapon capability.  Where is it now?  

NETANYAHU:  I didn’t say weapon capability.  I said nuclear-enriched material.  

CROWLEY:  Nuclear-enriched, yes, sir.  

NETANYAHU:  That is fissile material for a bomb.  

They’re about two months away.  And they’d like — they’d like to be — to stay two months away.  They have been under terrific sanctions pressure.  There was an interim deal.  Now they’re seeking a deal that would keep them more or less where they are.  In other words, they will be a few months away — or they might be set back a few months from producing enough nuclear material for a bomb.

And, in exchange, they will have all the sanctions removed.  That’s a terrible deal.  It would keep Iran as a threshold nation that is capable of crossing the nuclear threshold at the time of their choosing within weeks or months.  That would endanger the entire world.  It would endanger you.

They’re developing intercontinental ballistic missiles to put nuclear bombs on those missiles for you.  Don’t let it happen.  

CROWLEY:  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you for your time this morning.  

In the noon hour of this program, I will have a response from a top official in the Palestinian government.  

But, when we return:  President Obama says the international community must stand firmly in opposing Russia in the Ukraine.  Does he have the sway to make it happen?  Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Ben Cardin and John Barrasso with their take next.  

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