Sunday, March 7, 2010

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Speech at the Knesset Special Session - The Gov't to where?

"This session gives me, as Prime Minister, an opportunity every month – although it's been six weeks now, if I'm not mistaken – to hear what Members of Knesset have to say, and to respond and address things that have happened or that the Government has done in recent weeks.

It's an important framework. Some parliaments do it differently. We're all familiar with “Question Time” in the British parliament, and there are other, similar techniques. So this session is welcome and useful. I also think there's room for criticism, pointed questions and even sharp comments. I don’t see anything wrong with it – but I do see a problem with abuse and personal insults.

I think the main problem lies with the Knesset. Our citizens expect discussions here to be pointed and even scathing, but still courteous without degenerating into verbal thuggery. I'm not asking my colleagues in the Opposition for any more than I asked myself and my colleagues when we served in the Opposition.

Now, I'm going to try and answer your questions and tell you what's happened in five areas – security, diplomacy, economics, education and transportation – since our last Knesset session.

In the area of security, or rather security and diplomacy, the international community is moving toward sanctions. We're involved in this process and held important meetings with two pivotal members of the Security Council – meetings that were fully transparent and coordinated with the United States.

The first one was in Russia and the second in China. In Russia, where I was joined by Minister Yuli Edelstein and MK Ze'ev Elkin, we met with President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. It's clear that Russia now understands the full significance of Iran’s nuclear program, even if it hasn’t been stated publicly and officially. In fact, I'm certain about this.

And the visit of Minister Ya’alon, Bank of Israel Governor Fischer and their colleagues to Beijing was also important, in terms of understanding Iran’s military, nuclear program. There's been some progress in this regard and I'd say that the last six weeks have seen a better understanding among the international community – certainly among major countries – with respect to the nature of the program and the dangers it poses. I would even say that this is accepted by almost every country in the world, including the Arab countries of the Middle East.

But there's a difference between understanding and action. There's a gap. And this gap will start to close if the international community, by way of the Security Council, imposes sanctions on Iran now. Our position is that Iranian imports of petroleum products, of gas, have to be restricted because their ability to refine petroleum is extremely limited. Petroleum exports from Iran should also be restricted. I expressed this view in Moscow and it was also made clear in Beijing and in my conversations with world leaders, including Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, and of course President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The international community is moving toward lower-level sanctions, which are not unimportant, but may not be enough. The only ones proposing the kind of sanctions we're talking about are the US Congress, and there's a certain tension between the required force of the sanctions and the ability to obtain consensus support in the Security Council.

I've talked about the steps we're taking to cooperate with the American and French efforts to win Security Council approval for the package of sanctions. But unless those sanctions have sharp enough teeth, it's doubtful that Iran’s program will be stopped.

On the diplomatic front between us and the Palestinians, what I've said before is now happening in practice, as it appears that conditions may now be ripe to resume talks, proximity talks, between us and the Palestinian Authority. It hasn’t happened yet. Discussions are taking place right now, as you know, within the Arab League; they are encouraging renewed dialogue, but with all kinds of reservations.

I don’t want to talk about something that hasn’t happened yet, but personally, I think that conditions are ripe because the whole world understands that our government supports negotiations and has taken difficult steps to advance them – despite the criticism, which is understandable, expected and by no means surprising. We’ve made public statements and taken practical steps to this effect.

The world also realizes that the Palestinians refused, from the outset and without any justification or cause, to re-enter negotiations and that they made demands never heard before in sixteen years of political negotiations. Ultimately, everyone knows this to be true and that's why fewer and fewer countries are willing to accept these preconditions.

The fact that these conditions are being gradually withdrawn is the reason I think we may be on the verge of talks – maybe even before our next meeting. We'll see, but either way, Israel is not the obstacle.
I've said before that it takes two to tango in the Middle East. Sometimes, even three. And we may need to have some preliminary shuttle diplomacy. But the State of Israel is not, and has not been the obstacle. You can't say: “Well, maybe you're not the obstacle, but Israel still bears responsibility”.

The State of Israel does not bear responsibility for this impasse; we are not the obstacle. Anyone who looks at the situation rationally and honestly knows this – and should not legitimize unfounded and unjust criticism of the State of Israel or this government......"