Describing his meeting with US President Barack Obama in New York last week, on the sidelines of the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly as “very good, very friendly, very real and very honest,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Hebrew news site Walla on Saturday night that the differences between the two leaders over the past eight years — to the extent that they existed at all — “were not based on personal animosity.”
Contrary to popular belief, Netanyahu said, “I don’t think [any hostility] exists [between us]. There is greater mutual admiration than people think. The controversy surrounded issues, mainly Iran and settlements, perceived to be the obstacle to peace with the Palestinians.”
The best evidence that “all the predictions on the part of self-appointed experts” about soured relations between the White House and Jerusalem have been wrong, Netanyahu said, lies in the $38 billion military-aid package signed earlier this month between the US and Israel. This, he added, shows that the bond is as strong and bipartisan as ever.
Where the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is concerned – and rumors that Obama might take advantage of his lame-duck period after the November 8 US presidential election to make moves detrimental to the Jewish state – Netanyahu said, “We did not speak about the elephant in the room, which was whether Obama will enable an anti-Israel Security Council resolution to pass.”
“In my address [to the UNGA], I quoted Obama’s very decisive statement that the path to peace is not through resolutions from international bodies.” Netanyahu said. “During his entire tenure as president, the only time he exercised his veto was on an anti-Israel Security Council resolution in 2011. So I can only hope that the American administration sticks to what has been its consistent policy over the years.”
When asked by Walla how he would attempt to influence any of the vast array of possible negative scenarios floating around this issue, Netanyahu answered simply, “In various ways.”
Pressed about his viewpoint that settlements do not constitute an obstacle to peace – while key players in the West still see them as such – Netanyahu replied:
It takes time for truth to come to light. It is not true to say that settlements are the root of the conflict and prevent the achieving of an agreement. What prevents an agreement is the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people within any borders. That’s the truth. After all, they had nearly 50 years – from 1920-1967 – during which there were no settlements, yet attacks on us continued throughout the whole period. Why? …When we withdrew from Gaza, they continued firing thousands of missiles at us. Why? If we withdraw to the ’67 borders without their relinquishing the demand for the ‘right of return’ of all refugees and without recognizing the right of the Jewish nation-state to exist, this will continue. That is the root of the conflict.
How can the entire world keep repeating this nonsense? It is a clear fundamental mistake with contemporary historical evidence… How can they perpetuate the nonsense that the root of the conflict in the Middle East is the Palestinian problem?…Was the guy that immolated himself in Tunisia and sparked the Arab Spring thinking about the Palestinian problem? Of course not. Did Libya fall apart because of the Palestinian problem? Yemen? Iraq? Syria? Of course not. These conflicts stem from the enormous struggle going on in the Arab world between forces of tomorrow and yesterday, between modernity and radical Islam… That is the root of the real conflict that is rocking the entire world…
Turning to another favorite topic of Netanyahu’s, Walla asked him how it is that he speaks so much about the Internet and Israeli innovation, when he doesn’t even have a cell phone. How, Walla wanted to know, does he manage to follow what’s going on in cyberspace?
“I am greatly exposed to it, but do not expose myself,” he said. “I follow what’s going on; I read a lot and speak to leaders in the field around the world…”
Then the interviewer asked Netanyahu about his stance on women. “Do you define yourself as a feminist?” she asked.
“The answer is yes, if what you mean by that is that women have equal abilities, and should have the same opportunities as men,” he said, going on to reiterate what he had pointed out in his UN speech about the “absurdity” of the declaration in March by the Commission on the Status of Women singling out Israel for condemnation on this score, “while women are being murdered, raped and enslaved the world over by all kinds of tyrannies.”
This is not to say that there isn’t “room for improvement,” he added, moving on to the subject of his recent bolstering of ties with African countries.
“My vision is to break the automatic anti-Israel majority at the UN …At a pre-General Assembly meeting, one African leader asked me, ‘How do you create the miracle that is the state of Israel? What is in your DNA?’ It is a question I wasn’t prepared for. I told him that our DNA is like an ancient tree whose branches reach to the sky, because of the curiosity that is engraved in our national culture. There are both the roots of the tree, planted deep in our national soil, in our land, and the combination of heritage and innovation [which] is incredibly powerful. Africa recognizes this, so we ought to recognize it as well and bless it.”
Netanyahu concluded his pre-Rosh Hashanah interview by wishing the citizens of Israel a happy new year, “with security, success and – who knows? – maybe even peace.”
Watch the full Hebrew interview below: