We live in an unstable area of the world that presents great challenges to peace, security and the world’s future. This is a time when realistic, determined and responsible leadership is needed to face these challenges.
My friend, Donald Tusk, Prime Minister of Poland,
You must have noticed that we spoke until the last minute. There are so many things that convey the cooperation and friendship between us – both personal friendship and the profound friendship between our governments, our countries and our peoples.
Yesterday, our two delegations had a chance to spend a wonderful evening together at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Given the special atmosphere we experienced there, which continued today during the joint meeting of both governments, I can tell that you, Donald, are a true friend of Israel. As Prime Minister, I have the great privilege of counting you as a personal friend, and Poland, too, is a real friend to Israel.
We are taking advantage of this opportunity to deepen the cooperation between us by signing cooperation agreements in defense, health, environment, water and energy, culture and in a number of other areas. This also includes recognition of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people on Polish soil, and your and your government’s sincere attempts to commemorate and give meaning to these events. We appreciate it, and we appreciate your open, sincere and fair attitude, which further deepens the friendship between us.
I attribute tremendous importance to this friendship, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I discussed the fact that Poland will soon play a key role in Europe during a critical time. Poland will assume the presidency of the European Union for six months during a very turbulent year. We believe you will play a key role in advancing peace, stability and security in the Middle East in four areas that are of interest to us. First: by continuing the international fight against Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. You made very strong statements regarding the danger that could result from this development, and I appreciate your stance and your determination in this first area, which is important to the entire world.
The second is taking steps that will return the Palestinians to the path of direct negotiations and preventing their attempts to bypass direct negotiations through international dictates.
The third thing of which we spoke at length during our meetings is the fight against attempts to delegitimize Israel and standing clearly behind the Jewish state’s right to defend itself – a right granted to each and every country.
Finally, the fourth thing we discussed, of course, is making every effort to ensure that our region is stable and that it moves in the positive direction that interests us as two advanced democracies that want peace and seek peace.
We do not live in a simple region; yesterday, Grad rockets were fired from Gaza on Be’er Sheva. I instructed our military forces to respond forcefully, and they did so immediately and without hesitation. I do not suggest that anyone test the State of Israel’s decisiveness. We are determined to defend our citizens, and we will not tolerate the shelling of our cities and our civilians. No country would agree to this, and I know that Poland would not agree to it. Israel, too, does not agree with this, and it will act accordingly to defend its citizens.
We live in an unstable area of the world that presents great challenges to peace, security and the world’s future. This is a time when realistic, determined and responsible leadership is needed to face these challenges. I welcome to Jerusalem one such leader.
I want to tell you, my friend Donald, Jewish history and Polish history will forever be connected with one another. The chapters of our past – both the triumphs and the tragedies – cannot be rewritten. But the future is up to us, and I have no doubt that both of us are committed to ensuring that our common future is one of security, of hope, of prosperity and of peace. I look forward to working with you, both as Prime Minister of Israel with the Prime Minister of Poland, but also as Prime Minister of Israel with the EU representative, as you lead Europe during this critical year.
I want to thank you and welcome you, and I thank the members of your delegation, the ministers who worked here with the ministers in my government in a close and serious manner. The friendships that have developed between them personally will help both our peoples. It helps Poland; it helps Israel. It helps expand and deepen the friendship between us – and that friendship will only grow during our meeting next year in Warsaw.
Once again, welcome to Israel, friend of Israel.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, is what is happening right now in Gaza, the firing on Be’er Sheva of extremely sophisticated missiles, missiles that come from reliable sources, missiles that can be used against armies as well – can this be tied to Iran’s activities, not only from afar, but also what Iran is trying to accomplish at sea, and is this being translated into actions in Gaza against Israel?
PM Netanyahu: Iran has consistently supported Hamas since the Hamas regime was established in Gaza. Iran sends a flow of weapons there; it tries to send even more weapons there in order to harm Israel, and therefore this is not some new action. This is continuous action. As I said, no country, certainly first and foremost Israel, would not allow for the continued shelling of its cities and residents. Our policy is to respond immediately. The Minister of Defense had to respond; the IDF had to respond; we will not wait. This is our policy, and it will remain our policy. I hope no one, no party, will be tempted to test this policy in new ways, because we will respond accordingly.
Q: Mr. Prime Minister, two questions if I may. Regarding Syria: an American research institute reported that they have more nuclear facilities. We would be pleased to hear your position on the matter. And is it true that there is a new American mediator between Israel and Syria?
Secondly, regarding Libya: we did not hear your position on what is taking place there, that Qaddafi is massacring his people. I wanted to ask you if Israel can still count on the Americans, as we saw that in Egypt, which was its friend, America intervened and, on the other hand, with Qaddafi’s regime, it did not intervene. Do you think that when Israel will be in trouble, and it needs the Americans, we will be able to trust them? What do you think about the Arab MK’s who visited Qaddafi several months ago?
PM Netanyahu: I have nothing to add regarding the new nuclear facilities attributed to Syria. I have nothing to say about that.
Regarding your question about attempts to mediate: they occur all the time, that’s not new. Senator Kerry has been trying to mediate between Israel and Syria for several months. Others also try. This too is no secret. For example, there is the French envoy Cosserat. There are others: other countries in Europe, other countries in Latin America, and others. So, fundamentally, these reports are true. The problem remains how to conduct negotiations when Syria says: "Give me the fruits of negotiations as I want them before we start." This is a difficult problem, as you can imagine. However, I want to clarify that if Syria truly wants peace, it will find in us a loyal partner to achieving that peace. In this sense, our goal has not changed following the events occurring in our region. I only hope that Syria’s intention is peace, and only time will tell.
Regarding the events in Libya, I think it is horrible. I think that when a regime takes its army and security forces and maliciously fires on its people, indiscriminately, and slaughters hundreds, this is a horrible thing. I also think that this obligates the strong condemnation of all civilized countries, certainly civilized democracies, and we strongly condemn it. We know that we saw a similar sight on the streets of Tehran when the Iranian regime turned to its security forces and commando units and fired with malice and cruelty into the crowd and left Iranian citizens lying on the sidewalks, choking on their own blood. This is horrifying; it is horrifying in Libya and it is horrifying in Tehran as well. It obliges and demands strong and clear condemnation in both cases.
Our relations with the United States are excellent, and I don’t think anyone can doubt the strength of this bond and its resilience. This bond is on many levels – from security issues to the most basic values. The United States, like Poland and other European democracies, understands very well that the world’s democratic stronghold, the stronghold of our shared values in the Middle East – values that the American people see as their existential purpose -is the State of Israel. If they thought that beforehand, believe me, they understand it even better now, and that is why this friendship is strong.
Regarding the visits of Israeli MK’s to Libya, if they wanted to advance peace between an Arab country and Israel – more power to them. If they were tempted to be carried away by mistaken appreciation for the Libyan dictator’s character – well, they have had more than enough time to come to their senses.
Q: What are Israel’s expectations regarding Poland’s presidency of the EU? Mr. Tusk spoke about it. I would like you to expand.
PM Netanyahu: First of all, we have complete understanding and we want to help. Every country wants to help another. A question was asked previously, to which I did not respond, regarding the upgrading of Poland’s image. The Ministers of Education and Culture and Sport reported to us that 30,000 young people – which is a huge number – 30,000 Israelis per year visit Poland. Currently, in addition to visiting places associated with the tragedies of the past, half of them, 15,000, meet with the hope of the present and future, with young Poles. We want to expand these programs.
Beyond that, Prime Minister Tusk rightfully said that we want to mobilize and spread the word about the new and renewed Poland to the entire world, wherever we can. First of all, on our part – and let it be clear that we are completely serious about this and are working practically and wholeheartedly to do so.
Regarding our expectations of Poland as it leads the European Union, we have two expectations: upgrading Israel’s standing in the EU and upgrading the truth. Israel is fighting for its right to exist, to live in security and exist at all, against ceaseless waves of attacks; against the regime in Iran calling for our destruction. Just several decades after the Holocaust, after the destruction of six million Jews, they clearly say: "We intend to destroy six million more."
I think this demands a strong and clear position, as we heard from Prime Minister Tusk, from all Europe. Just as we expect recognition, which I heard here, of our unique need to defend ourselves against these forces and other forces attacking us from adjoining areas, those firing thousands of rockets at our cities. In order for there to be peace, the war must stop. In order to stop the war, true recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is also necessary, and we must be allowed to defend ourselves against those who do not recognize that, or those who could violate that recognition in the future.
These are the things I would expect from any leader in Europe, and from all European countries, on whose soil six million Jews were murdered. That is what I would expect, and in Prime Minister Tusk’s case, I am convinced that this expectation will be realized. I have no doubt in my mind.