It’s not obvious where the Arab spring will go, but I will say this, that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, the Arab spring could well turn into an Iranian winter. 

 Press conference with PM Netanyahu and Italian PM Berlusconi


PM Netanyahu with Italian PM Berlusconi in Rome (Photo: GPO)

Mr. Prime Minister, my friend Silvio,

It’s a pleasure to be with you and with all of you here today. You are a great personal friend, but you are also a great friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I say that from the heart.

I was asked about our relations by one of your television channels. So I said something I said in the Knesset when you came on a formal visit. I spoke about this young mother, actually a pregnant mother, in her eighth month of pregnancy, who on a train confronted… I think it was a Gestapo officer who wanted to take out a Jew, and she said: you will not take that person, and he said: of course I’ll take that person, and she said: you will not take that person because you will not come out of here alive, and all the people who were afraid drew courage.

So we don’t forget Rosa Berlusconi, we don’t forget the mother and we don’t forget the son. We know how deep and enduring your friendship is to Israel and the Jewish people, and this meeting today has given us another opportunity to strengthen this remarkable friendship between Israel and Italy, between our two countries and our two peoples.

When you go through Rome – we took a late night trip, a drive, this is what they allowed me, they got me out of my cage, they allowed us to drive and even get off the car, out of the car, at Piazza Navona, right next to Bernini – but when you go through the splendor of Rome, you see once again a reaffirmation of the fact that in the ancient world, Rome and Jerusalem were the two wellsprings of Western civilizations.

Rome was the center of extraordinary progress in antiquity, in law, in engineering, in architecture and so many other fields, and Jerusalem was the center of our spiritual progress, the belief in one God, in the equality of man, in universal peace and justice. But as you go through Rome, you also see that in modern times our two peoples have been remarkable engines of modernity. We visited Bernini and Michelangelo, Raphaelo, right here. I mean, the Italian renaissance paved the way to the modern world, and my own people, the Jewish people, helped pave the way in science, in medicine, in technology, in culture.

So we are contributing to one another and to humanity throughout the ages but many people don’t know that the unification or the establishment of modern Italy 150 years ago also deeply influenced the founding fathers of Zionism. In fact, the story of Mazzini and Garibaldi had a deep impact on Theodor Herzl and all the other founders of the modern Jewish national movement.

I happen to belong to a movement, political movement, that was founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and he was a great admirer of the Italian national movement. He was called "the Jewish Garibaldi" and he very much liked that too, that appellation. So our remarkable heritage of our two peoples has formed this partnership, the foundation for this partnership, and it is expressed today by the meeting, the second meeting between our two governments. The agreements that you’ve described… Prime Minister Berlusconi outlined these agreements, they are not merely technical agreements, they are a bond, a growing bond in modern times, in the beginning of the 21st century between the people of Italy and the people of Israel.

I want to thank all our ministers, the Israeli ministers and the Italian ministers here for the work they’ve been doing to expand the cooperation between our two countries in trade and transportation, in tourism and agriculture, in education, in so many other areas.

I also had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of regional and international subjects with Prime Minister Berlusconi. We talked about Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and we agreed that such weapons in the hands of Iran pose not merely a threat to Israel, but a threat to peace in our region and to the peace of the world.

Now there is today a great battle throughout the Middle East and North Africa between medievalism and modernity; between tyranny and freedom – and it’s not clear how this contest will be decided.  Just five or six years ago, there was a great hope in Lebanon for the success of modernity and democracy, and a million Lebanese walked into the streets of Beirut – a million Lebanese – that’s like 20 million Egyptians in Tahrir Square – a huge number, and they all expressed this hope for a new dawn. And now five years later, Lebanon is gripped by the iron hand of this early medieval movement, Hizbullah, at the behest of Iran.

So it’s not obvious where the Arab spring will go, but I will say this, that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, the Arab spring could well turn into an Iranian winter. They will tilt the tide everywhere, and I believe that it is in our common interest and in defense of our common values to make sure that this doesn’t happen and I can tell you that Prime Minister Berlusconi shares this view completely.

I use this opportunity to thank you once again for your clear and consistent position against Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and I also want to thank you, as I did in our meeting, for your clear position against the attempt to bypass peace negotiations. 

Peace will only come from negotiations. It will be a negotiated peace. It cannot be imposed from the outside – not by any power and certainly not by one-sided UN resolutions.  Peace requires negotiations. It requires mutual compromise. Palestinians compromise; Israel compromises; we both compromise. We’re prepared to do so, but to do that, you need a negotiation.

But a UN fiat, a UN declaration that is one-sided, would do several things. First it would violate the agreements between the Palestinians and Israel, but it would also harden the Palestinian positions, because if the UN General Assembly adopts the Palestinian positions in advance of negotiations, why should they negotiate? So such a resolution, if backed by an overwhelming majority including the leading countries of the world, that could actually push peace back by hardening Palestinian positions, by pushing negotiations further away. So I think anyone who is interested in advancing peace will opt for direct negotiations and will oppose the attempt to impose a peace from the outside.

We also discussed the unfolding events throughout the Middle East, and I mentioned the fact that you, Silvio, you had talked about the Marshall Plan for the Palestinians, and we are engaged all the time in trying to help their economy. It’s doing very well actually because of the lifting of roadblocks and the facilitation of free movements of goods and people, something that my government has done consistently. But I’d like to suggest that your idea, the Marshall Plan, be expanded to include those countries throughout the region that are struggling to establish real democracies because I think such economic and trade assistance can help strengthen security and development and stability and that would strengthen the forces of moderation and progress throughout the region.

So let me thank you for all these clear positions and your clear support and especially let me thank you for this warmest of welcomes you have shown me and my ministers. I look forward to working with you to advance peace and security and prosperity in the region but also the prosperity between our two countries. We have so much good will, so much talent and brilliance within our two peoples, and the sum of the parts will be much bigger. So on behalf of the people of Israel and the State of Israel, I want to thank you again for your unwavering support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people. 

We have no better friend. Thank you, Silvio.