Transcript of an interview conducted by CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor on June 15, 2009 with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
JEFF GLOR: Benjamin Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel. Mr. Prime Minister, thanks for joining us. I want to start by talking about this extraordinary speech you made yesterday. Are you surprised so far at the negative reaction it’s received from Palestinians and other Arab leaders?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I’m disappointed because I took a step, not an easy step. And I said, "Here’s what we are prepared to do for peace. We’re prepared to have a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state." And there are two points here. One, that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state just as we’re asked to recognize the Palestinian state. And second, that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized so that we don’t experience once again the hurling of thousands of rockets on our cities.
And I think this is an equitable formula for peace. It’s one that enjoys enormous unity in the Israeli public and I think among Israel’s friends and supporters abroad and the supporters of peace abroad. So, yes, I suppose I’d like a better response. And maybe it’ll sink in over time. But I think I’ve opened the door for peace. And I hope that the Palestinians and the Arab world respond to it.
JEFF GLOR: I want to talk about the military aspect of this and your request that the Palestinian state not be militarized. How do you expect Palestinians to rein in the more extreme elements of their society; for example, the ones who were lobbing rockets from Gaza into Israel, if they don’t have a military?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, there is a long-standing agreement on a strong security force, a strong police force, which is sufficient to deal with terrorists. The problem you have is, how do you interdict the flow of weaponry? You know, for example, in Gaza or in South Lebanon, you have the coming in of thousands and thousands of rockets; indeed, in South Lebanon, tens of thousands of rockets.
We’ve had from Gaza itself, which is now under Palestinian control, Hamas control, 7,200 rockets fired into Israel. You just have to imagine what seven rockets – let alone seven thousand – would be like on New York City or any one of the American cities that are watching this now.
And, of course, you understand that we want to make sure that we have security arrangements and effective monitoring that prevent that. That’s an essential part of demilitarization. And I think anybody who is grounded in the real world and how things really operate here in the Middle East would say that Israel has every right to expect that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized. That I think is an essential component of peace.
JEFF GLOR: Don’t you think an established and regulated military in Palestine, if there was one, would be different than terrorists lobbing rockets at random opportunities from Gaza?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: There are two questions about this. One is, what is the military force that we face? And obviously we don’t want to see an army with rockets, tanks, mortars, artillery, because the Palestinians don’t really need that to govern themselves. To govern themselves or even to deal with terrorists internally you don’t really need anything beyond small arms and relatively simple security measures.
But we have to make sure that those weapons are not used against us. That’s happened before. And we also want to ensure in demilitarization that the Palestinian areas do not become infiltrated with rockets and missiles, because that’s what Iran is pushing. Iran is pushing into Lebanon and into Gaza an enormous amount of rockets.
We have to make sure that there are effective safeguards against the inflow of such rockets into the territories that abut Tel Aviv, adjoin the Ben Gurion Airport, and adjoin our cities and our population centers. We want to make sure that we have peace. And peace means that the areas next to Israel, the Palestinian areas, are not used as staging grounds for attacking us.
I think that if you ask Israelis, it’s overwhelming across the political spectrum. People want the Palestinians to have their own free, independent lives. We don’t want to govern them. But we want to make sure they don’t have the power to threaten us.
JEFF GLOR: I wonder if we can talk for a moment now about the issue of settlements. Sir, you’re known as a very straight talker. So I wonder if you can clarify your stand on the settlements. Is this no new settlements? No expansion on existing settlements? Can you clear that up for us?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Yes. In fact, I said yesterday that we would not build new settlements, that we won’t expropriate additional land for the existing settlements. We’re talking right now with Senator Mitchell and I’m going to see him in Europe next week. And I hope that my government and the Obama administration can find a common position on this because we’d like to move the peace process forward.
And we know that this is an issue of contention. We’d like to put it behind us and get on with peace negotiations, direct between us and the Palestinians, and, if I could have my way, with the leading Arab countries that have still not made peace with us. And I look forward to meeting their leaders anywhere in the world, anytime.
JEFF GLOR: Would you be willing to freeze settlements?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the question of not expanding the territory is different from freezing. You know, you have children there. You have babies that are born. What do you do with them? You have to give them kindergartens. You have to give them schools. Can you build a classroom or not? Can you build a kindergarten or not?
I think to say that you can’t deal with newborn or with children is not something that people in Israel seriously think can be done. And, in fact what we talked about is just continuing normal life without prejudging the territorial outcome, without grabbing new land. I don’t want to grab new land. I don’t want to prejudge the final outcome, which will be determined in negotiations that will determine the future of the territories, the future of these communities. But we really want to have people live normal lives until that final peace agreement is reached. Then we’ll decide on the rest.
JEFF GLOR: You did not support a two-state solution when you ran for reelection here nor immediately after you were elected. Is your speech yesterday a direct result of pressure from the U.S.?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, I’ve been in government less than 100 days, and I said that we’ll have a policy review. And 100 days have not yet passed, but I think we’ve completed our policy review. And I came to the conclusion that this is the position that will unite the people about a substantive solution.
We don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We don’t want to rule them. And we want them to have a free and independent life. So in that sense, I agreed to a Palestinian state. But at the same time, we want two things that I think are fair and necessary for peace. We want them… just as we’re asked to recognize a Palestinian state, we want the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, the nation-state of the Jewish people.
And the second point is that we want to make sure that we have a peaceful Palestinian state, not armed, not stocked with rockets and missiles. And that is something that I think also unites the people of Israel. So these are the two points that I put down.
I didn’t put them down, by the way, as conditions or preconditions to begin negotiations. But I said that if people want us to accept the vision of two states, then, yes, we need two states, a demilitarized Palestinian state next to a Jewish state, a recognized Jewish state. I think that’s the winning formula for peace.
And it’s important for me to stress these two points because I think that the people of Israel overwhelmingly, as best as I can judge – and, believe me, I received a lot of reactions today in Israel – the people of Israel overwhelmingly support this. They want amity, not enmity. They want a real solution that gives us peace and security.
JEFF GLOR: Turning to Iran, Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been reelected by a wide majority that has been endorsed now by the Supreme Leader. It has resulted in a great deal of unrest, as you know and as we discussed in this broadcast. What do you make of that unrest?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think it unmasks the fundamental nature of the Iranian regime. It’s not a democracy. In democracies, you don’t have violence in the wake of elections. You have a resolution. Governments are either reelected or changed.
But in Iran, it’s a repressive regime. It’s a repressive regime that represses its own people and threatens everybody in sight. And I think what this election and the way it’s been conducted shows is the true nature of this regime. You don’t want this kind of a regime, this kind of government developing nuclear weapons because they might give it to terrorists and they might use it in a very aggressive way against everybody in sight.
JEFF GLOR: Was the election a fraud?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You know, was the election a true election in Iran? How can you say? It’s a totalitarian state that perhaps has elections on occasion. But we know the true nature of the Iranian regime. I think now the whole world knows that, too.
JEFF GLOR: Finally, sir, I want to ask you about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At what point would you, as Prime Minister of Israel, be willing to use military force to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think this is an issue not only for us; it’s an issue for the world. You do not want this regime developing nuclear weapons, giving nuclear weapons to terrorists. This is a threat to everyone: to Israel, to the moderate Arab regimes in our region, to Europe, to the United States and, in my opinion, to many other powers in the world as well.
And I think people are coming around to understanding how grave a danger that is. President Obama has said that he would leave all options on the table to ensure that Iran does not cross that line. And I think that’s the right policy to say at this point.
JEFF GLOR: You say Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a threat to the world. Does a worldwide solution or a worldwide coalition, does that become less possible or more possible now that Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been reelected in Iran?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think it’s not merely the result of the elections. It’s the fact that Iran is violating every understanding and every provision and is calling openly for denying the Holocaust and for the elimination of Israel, and supporting terrorists far and wide. I think it’s important to put the necessary pressures on Iran and, if necessary, apply sanctions and, as President Obama said, keep all options open to make it clear to the Iranians that they can’t continue this way.
JEFF GLOR: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you.