Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Knesset PM Netanyahu defends heritage list decision, as opposition attacks

(Ynet).Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday defended the decision to include the Cave of the Patriarchs and Rachel's Tomb on the national heritage list.

Speaking before the Knesset, he said, "These sites are part of our heritage. How is it possible to leave them out? So I thought they must be included. I have no intention of changing existing prayer arrangements."

He went on to say that the government has already renovated the area used for Muslim prayer at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and that now the same should be done for the Jewish side.

"This decision creates a solid base for our national existence," he claimed. "We are not here by chance. We are here because we have a deep, basic connection to the land, which has continued for almost 4,000 years. We must enable the younger generation to connect with our heritage in innovative ways. We have created a plan and granted it a budget, and this is something that should cross party lines."

PM: We need two to tango

Despite the lack of progress on the political front, Netanyahu sounded optimistic. "It seems the conditions are ripening for renewed talks between us and the Palestinians," he said. "I think conditions are ripening because of understanding and despite the criticism."

"Fewer and fewer countries are willing to countenance prior conditions and it may be that negotiations will be seen soon," he continued. "In the Middle East, one needs two to tango, or maybe even three. The obstacle is not Israel. And anyone who studies the situation reasonably knows this."

Netanyahu also referred to the Iranian issue. "The international community is moving towards sanctions. I was in Russia with (Yuli-Yoel) Edelstein and met (Russian President Dmitry) Medevdev and (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin, and Russia fully understands the significance of the Iranian nuclear program. (Deputy Foreign Minister Danny) Ayalon's visit with (Bank of Israel Governor Stanley) Fischer to Beijing was important for understanding the Iranian program."

After the prime minister's speech, Opposition Chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni criticized Netanyahu in a strongly worded speech of her own for his silence in the face of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's verbal attack on law enforcement agencies.

Livni also slammed Netanyahu's performance as prime minister, saying "Just because you are in the prime minister's chair doesn't mean you are a leader."

"Today there are no negotiations, and I hope they will start soon. There is no economic policy. And the two-year budget – the last time a two-year budget was proposed, it was because of an economic crisis, and this time? Since you took over the helm, Israel has become an ostracized nation," Livni said

Netanyahu also counter-attacked the opposition. "This discussion is to be welcomed, and I think there is also a place for criticism. I don't have any problem with that, but I do have a problem with abuse and slander. Citizens expect a reasoned discussion, not verbal sparring."