ABC "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" INTERVIEW WITH ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU
INTERVIEWER: GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
SUBJECT: U.S.-ISRAELI RELATIONS; PEACE PROCESS
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We’re going to turn now to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday after a series of disagreements and diplomatic gaffes plunged U.S.-Israeli relations into their chilliest period in years. The last time they met in April, there were no public photographs, and President Obama kept the prime minister waiting for hours while he ate dinner. Not yesterday. It was smiles all around. And here for his first interview since the meeting is the Israeli prime minister.
Good morning, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for joining us today. And I guess you couldn’t have asked for a warmer reception from President Obama yesterday. There was the private meeting in the Oval Office. Pretty effusive displays of friendship in public, both from the president and the first lady to your wife, Sara.
But I guess the big question this morning is, what’s going to come of it? One analyst said, this is a false con, suggesting that you can’t or won’t deliver what President Obama is calling for in the peace process. So what concrete steps are you prepared to take?
PM NETANYAHU: I think it was a warm reception. First of all, it was very warm in Washington, still is, even for that climate, an unusually warm reception. And my wife and I appreciated it, and the State of Israel appreciates it.
We’ve had disagreements. It’s natural between two allies. But in recent weeks and months, we’ve come closer and closer together on a number of important things. How to open up Gaza for civilian traffic and keep the arms blockade. How to make sure to clarify to the world that America’s policy regarding the NPT, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, that policy vis-a-vis Israel stands firm in the way that it’s always stood. And all of this was clarified in the course of these discussions.
But the main thing that came out of these very good discussions I had with the President is that we want to advance peace. And the simplest way to advance peace is to put aside all the grievances and all the preconditions and all the excuses that have been put up to prevent me and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority from sitting down.
I said, I’m ready to sit down with him in Jerusalem, in Ramallah – that’s 10 minutes away from my office – to discuss peace without preconditions. And if we do it, we can defy the world.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know that’s your position, Mr. Prime Minister, but even yesterday you did say you were prepared to take concrete steps to advance this process. You know the Palestinians need to see that. What are you prepared to do? More security autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank? Prisoner releases? Are you willing to extend the settlement-freeze past its deadline of September?
PM NETANYAHU: Well, we’ve done quite a bit in relaxing hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints. That’s facilitated the West Bank economic boom. I’ve talked about my vision of peace of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State of Israel.
We adopted a moratorium seven months ago for the Palestinians to enter the talks. They haven’t so far done that. And I think all these things, in word and deed, show that we are interested in launching this peace forward. Now, rather than pile up more preconditions, even though there are more things we are prepared to do –
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they?
PM NETANYAHU: The important thing is that the Palestinians – well, there are things of additional easing of movements, some questions of economic projects. There are quite a few. And the point is, we’re prepared to do them.
But what we want to see finally is one thing. We want President Abbas to grasp my hand, get into a room, shake it, sit down and negotiate a final settlement of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Believe me, George, it’s hard. There will be risks for us, for me, also for my country. We’ll have to have very strong security arrangements so that the areas that we vacate do not turn into Iranian strongholds for flying rockets and sending terrorists against us. That’s happened before in Lebanon and in Gaza.
So we have some very clear requirements, and the Palestinians will have very clear requirements. The only way that that is going to mesh together is if we sit down together so that we can live in peace and security, side-by-side together.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about extending the settlement freeze? The president said yesterday he hopes that there will be enough progress in the peace talks for the freeze to be extended past September. What exactly do you need to see from the Palestinians in order to extend that settlement freeze past the deadline in September?
PM NETANYAHU: We discussed the concrete steps that need to be taken in the next few days, literally in the next few days and weeks to finally begin these direct negotiations for peace. I think once we get there, realities may change. But I think the most important reality is that we don’t stick on, as we negotiate or start peace between Israel and the Palestinians, we don’t stick on all sorts of requirements and grievances that are ancillary.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re open to extending the freeze?
PM NETANYAHU: I’m open to beginning peace negotiations now, and that’s what I want to do. And by the way, I’ve been open for the last year and a quarter. I think we’ve wasted a lot of time with these kinds of excused, preconditions, all sorts of things that are packed in the way of a simple action.
You know, you’ve seen these pictures of peace conferences. Let’s put it in the Middle East as a peace tent. We’re sitting in the tent, we’re waiting for Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, to sit on the other side, across the table, in the tent. And the Palestinians say, we won’t even enter the tent before the tent or the one before that tent as well.
I say, just fold the tents, get into the main arena, engage in negotiations. Let’s not waste our energies on ancillary things, on minor things. Let’s try to resolve the issues of security, territory, refugees, water. These are huge issues.
I think, I’m confident that if I’m convinced that our security needs are met, I think I can bring the peace that the majority of the people of Israel will support. And what we’d really like to see is that the Palestinians understand that we expect them to end the conflict. That the state that they will receive will not be a platform for additional conflicts against Israel, but an end to the conflict with solid security –
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m afraid that’s all we have time for, Mr. Prime Minister. I’m sorry for that. But thank you for joining us this morning.
PM NETANYAHU: Well, don’t be so skeptical. Raise your hopes. It’s summertime. You can perform miracles.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, thanks very much.