Speaking to the foreign and foreign language press, Prime Minister Netanyahu challenged the Palestinians to return to the peace talks as he awaits President Trump’s “ultimate” deal.
It’s rare that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces the Israeli press. It’s very rare that Netanyahu takes questions from the foreign and foreign language media. Wednesday night was one such occasion, as the Government Press Office hosted Israel’s 70th anniversary New Year’s reception for hundreds of journalists.
Held in an opulent reception hall at the new Orient Hotel in Jerusalem, the event featured a range of entertainment and an impressive buffet, but less than 10 minutes of the Prime Minister on stage answering journalists’ questions.
In his opening statement, before taking only three questions, Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians’ support of terrorism for the lack of a peace process in the Middle East and told the foreign journalists not to give Abbas “credence.”
Netanyahu went on to praise American Ambassador David Friedman for placing blame on the Palestinians’ support of terrorism for the Tuesday night terror shooting that killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach. Netanyahu told foreign journalists, “I want to congratulate Ambassador Friedman who tweeted the truth, unvarnished.”
Friedman had earlier tweeted, “An Israeli father of six was killed last night in cold blood by Palestinian terrorists. Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further as to why there is no peace.” The PA reacted angrily to Friedman’s comments, and accused the ambassador of “prejudiced and selective attitude toward the occupation, settlement construction, and the Palestinians just and legitimate national rights.”
‘Abbas’ government supports murderers’
Netanyahu said, “Abbas’s government is supporting the kind of murderers that shot dead a father of six. Such people in our jails get $355 million a year, they and their families, from the Palestinian Authority. That is something that is untenable.”
Netanyahu berated the media charging that they fail to adequately report on the fact that the PA pays “salaries” to imprisoned terrorists and their families.
“Funding and incentivizing murder doesn’t exactly advance peace.” Netanyahu added, “The Palestinian leadership teach their people, ‘Kill an Israel and get rich.’ Now what kind of message does this send to impressionable Palestinian children?”
Netanyahu has of late been a very strong critic of the media and has even adopted President Trump’s phrase “fake news.” Netanyahu challenged the foreign journalists to write stories about his government’s unprecedented NIS 15 billion programs to improve conditions for Israel’s Arab population. He also told the gathering that they were misleading the public when they describe Iran’s government as “moderate” due to its hardline and repressive policies.
Responding to a question about US and Israeli cuts in financial support for the Palestinian Authority and whether those cuts could lead to a collapse of the PA, Netanyahu briefly replied, “I don’t think it will lead to a collapse of the Palestinian Authority, but I think they should redirect their funds to other things.”
Replacing, not defunding, Palestinians’ UN agency
Netanyahu then went on to offer his position on funding for UNWRA. “My position is that it’s not a question of defunding UNWRA but rather of replacing UNWRA after 70 years and instead give the funding to an agency that deals with the real needs of refugees. There are millions of refugees around the world who are taken care of by organizations like the UN High Commission on Refugees and other UN organizations, but only the Palestinians have a specific organization that is supposed to solve their refugee problem but in fact it perpetuates it.
“That’s what UNWRA does. How long will it exist? It’s been 70 years. We already have great, great grandchildren who are considered refugees who are not refugees but they are listed on the lists of UNWRA. I suggest something else. A gradual conversion of all funds going to UNWRA to other agencies that deal with refugees and have actual criteria.
“This will have positive effects because the perpetuation of the dream of bringing the decedents of refugees back to Jaffa is what sustains this conflict and UNWRA is part of the problem and not part of the solution.”
The ultimate deal
The final question of the evening was about reports of an impending US peace plan that may soon be floated. The Prime Minister was asked, “What would your ultimate deal look like?”
Netanyahu responded, “Well, why don’t you let Mr. Trump present his plan first and then we will see what the penultimate and ultimate deal is. It takes time I don’t know if he will present it but (unlike the Palestinians) we have certainly not announced at any time that we will walk away because Mr. Trump said something that is so self-evident. Trump said that the seat of government of Israel is in Jerusalem, the Knesset our parliament is in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court is in Jerusalem, you know that’s not going to change.”
Netanyahu continued, “Jerusalem is the Israeli capital under any deal, ultimate or not, everybody understands that in any future deal Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and therefore it makes sense to move the American embassy there. It’s so obvious and so true.”
Netanyahu seemed surprised that his Jerusalem comments to foreign journalists actually received an impressive round of applause.
According to Netanyahu, Abbas has used Trump’s statement on Jerusalem to run away from the negotiations. “He’s done it before . His predecessor Arafat ran away from Camp David with President Clinton. Abbas ran away from a proposed discussion that President Obama suggested based on Kerry’s deliberations. I think the last thing you should do as journalists is to give him credence. If you want to negotiate peace you have got to negotiate. We have never made any preconditions on negotiations. I don’t do so now and of course if Trump puts forward his ideas I will study them very carefully.”