Interview realized on the 22nd of June 2009.
Claudio Pagliara: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for this exclusive interview. You should be quiet satisfied these days because hundreds of thousands of people in Iran are demonstrating against your worst enemy, Mr. Ahmedinajad. Do you support their struggle?
PM Netanyahu: I think that anybody who supports freedom and supports human rights supports the effort of the people of Iran to regain their freedom. I am not happy seeing demonstrators shot, young girls murdered in front of our eyes, but I think that what we see, what is staring us in our face, is the true nature of this regime.
I think that people now can understand many of the things that we have been talking about all these years. This is a regime that oppresses its people and this is a regime that threatens everyone with the denial of the Holocaust, the call for the elimination of Israel, with the sponsorship of terrorism throughout the world and with the attempt to develop nuclear weapons, which they can give to terrorists around the world. I think now that the true nature of this regime has been unmasked.
C.P.: You are talking about the nuclear program. In 1981 Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear program in order to stop it, are you ready and in which circumstances to do the same with Iran?
PM Netanyahu: I think right now everybody understands that nuclear weapons in the hands of such a brutal regime could be very dangerous to the entire world. This is an international issue and I was very pleased to hear President Obama in my recent visit to Washington say that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran is a strategic threat to the United States and to the peace of the world. Certainly it is to my country, but it is an international danger and it should be dealt with by an international effort led by the United States. That's our preference.
C.P.: A few days ago you endorsed for the first time the two state solution but you put harsh conditions: recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, no army for the future Palestinian state, no division of Jerusalem. The Palestinians have already rejected your proposal.
PM Netanyahu: I don't see why they should reject these two basic pillars of peace that I have put forward, which I think are a winning formula for peace. I said that there are really two things that have to happen:
One, if we are asked to recognize a Palestinian state as the nation-state of the Palestinian people, then the very least is that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. After all we have only been around for the last 3500 years. That's obvious -this is the land of the bible, we are the people of this land, we don't seek to drive out anyone, but we want them to recognize us just as we recognize them. That's point number one.
Point number two: a Palestinian state can not be the launching ground for thousands of rockets and missiles. What does Palestinian self determination have to do with Kassam rockets or with deadly missiles? And the answer is nothing. They should have, the Palestinians, all the powers to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten the State of Israel. So a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State of Israel I think is the winning formula of peace. I can not understand why anybody who wants peace should reject it. I can see every reason why those who want peace will embrace it. It was a very important step in Israel to unify the Israeli public and it should unify those who want peace around the world.
C.P.: How can you convince Palestinians of your true commitment to peace if Israel continues to build in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem?
PM Netanyahu: First of all, separate the two. Jerusalem is our capital, it has been our capital since the time of King David. That's a pretty long time. During the thousands of years of history of Jerusalem, the only time, certainly in the last centuries, the only time in which, Jewish, Christians and Muslims had free access to the Holy Places and freedom to worship in unfettered way, was since the city was reunited under Israel in 1967. You can go to the Holy Sepulcher, you can go to the Al Aqsa mosque, you can go to the Western Wall. These are the sites which are very holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. People are there all the time, side by side. So Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel with freedom of faith, of all faiths.
As far as the settlements are concerned, this is something that will be discussed in final status negotiations. In a final peace agreement the fate of the settlements will be decided. And I accepted that we shouldn't prejudge the final outcome. So I have said that we will not build new settlements, that we will not expropriate additional land to expand existing settlements, and that all we ask is that, pending a final peace agreement, the people who are there will be allowed to live a normal life. They have children, they need kindergartens, they need health clinics and so on. This is, I think, an equitable position which reflexes our willingness to enter immediately in peace negotiations and get on with peace. I think that the more we spend time arguing about this, the more we waste time instead of moving towards peace.
C.P.: Tomorrow you are visiting Italy, how you can describe the bilateral relations?
PM Netanyahu: Excellent, very friendly, it has been that way for many, many years. Israelis have a natural affinity with Italians. We both use our hands when we speak. I think that there is a lot friendship there and there is a lot of friendship at the government level. Prime Minister Berlusconi has been a great friend of Israel and a great friend and champion of peace and security.
C.P.: Italy, as well as Europe, would like to see quick progress in the peace process. Which kind of role can Europe play?
PM Netanyahu: I think if it embraces my formula for peace, the demilitarized Palestinian state and the recognition of the Jewish state, then we can move on to provide peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis to live side by side freely, each one governing itself but not in a position that Israel will be threatened in any way. I think that this is something that can move things forward. Even though I heard the commentary, the negativity, almost reflexive negativity coming form the Palestinian side. I think that giving it a second thought, which is sometimes required in our area, they will see that there is a government here and a people in Israel that is willing to move the peace process forward, and they are challenged to do the same.
If you want to move peace, you need two partners, you don't need just courage and clarity on the Israeli side, you need it on the Palestinian side. Now the Palestinian society is split, between the extremists who say: "we are going to throw you in the sea" – they have thrown thousands of rockets into our cities - and the moderates who don't say: "No, wait, stop that, not only let's stop terror, but let's accept the Jewish state of Israel as a fait accompli, let's understand that Israel is here to stay and that we make peace with it."
That unequivocal statement is what I long to hear from the Palestinian Authority, because once they say it, once they tell it to the Palestinian people, the way Anwar Sadat did it in Egypt, the way the late King Hussein did it in Jordan. They said: "It's over - we are going to make peace, we are not going to make claims and claims and claims to the peace treaty. We are not going to use the Palestinian state as a platform to continue the attacks against Israel. We are actually going to live in peace side by side with Israel, we want to develop our economy, our commerce, our relations, we are going to educate our young people to peace, what a brilliant future we can have." That requires leadership on both sides. I think Israel is providing that leadership on our side.
I want Palestinian moderates to stand up and be counted for this vision of peace on their side.
C.P.: You are saying that if the Palestinian Authority truly recognizes the Jewish State of Israel we can progress like Sadat and Begin, in one year - a peace treaty?
PM Netanyahu: I don't know if it will take one year but I think that the door will be unlocked to get a final agreement. Because you know I have asked in my speech, why haven't we had peace? Why not? People say: it's your presence in the territories. Well, we got out of Gaza, completely, uprooted over 20 settlements, and we were met with thousands of missiles and rockets on our towns, our villages on the heads of our children. And the Palestinians who took over on Gaza just said, "Well, we are not interested in the West Bank, we are interested in Tel Aviv, we are interested in Haifa, we are interested in all of Israel."
C.P.: So, do you believe that this is the key to unlocking the door?
PM Netanyahu: For nearly 50 years, before there was even a single Israeli soldier in Judea and Samaria, when the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands, for decades there were attacks on the Jews. And the reason those attacks took place was not because of the territories that we didn't hold, it was because of the persistent refusal to recognize Israel in any boundaries. I said: "Look, this is the truth, the people of Israel yearn for peace." We have given up Sinai, something extraordinary, an area twice the size of Israel, for peace. We have made peace with Jordan and also made territorial concessions there, even though they weren't really required, they weren't mandatory.
No people yearns more for peace than Israel, it's ready to give more for peace, but we want from the other side to say unequivocally: "It will be over, it will be the end of claims because the absence of recognition of Israel is the root cause of the conflict and the embracing of that recognition will begin to untie all the obstacles that prevent it's resolutions
C.P.: There is an issue which is very important for the public in Italy: the Gaza situation. The Palestinians are suffering because of the blockage imposed by Israel. Can you make some steps forwards and give hope to the people of Gaza?
PM Netanyahu: In Gaza you have a proxy regime of Iran. This regime in Iran - which is first of all oppressing the people in Gaza. They are not given a choice, they are given about the same choice as the people in Iran are. There you have this violent band of gunmen, the Hamas, which receives all its weapons from this regime of Iran. And they fire rockets. Right now, today 7200 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Let's imagine 7 rockets on Rome, let's imagine 700 rockets on Rome, let's imagine 7200 rockets on Rome and other towns in Italy and you would say this is insane. Of course Israel had to act after years of waiting and waiting and waiting and pleading and hoping... and acted. The previous government did, but it had no choice and everybody supported it.
People of course see only the last reel of the movie, when Israel goes in. They don't see all the other parts of the story. They forget what it was like to live in the town of Sderot and have rockets fall on your head and your children have to sleep underground, in underground shelters if they were lucky enough to have it. Nobody could live that way. So the misery in Gaza is the direct result of this Iranian terrorist proxy, Hamas. What we try to do is to make life easier for the population out of the humanitarian concern and at the same time try to prevent Hamas from getting money and weapons it could use to fire more rockets on us. We are trying to find a balance to help the population but not help this terrorist regime that unfortunately governs them.
C.P.: The Iranians' struggle, the Hizbullah which didn't win, as expected, the elections in Lebanon and Hamas which hasn't fired rockets recently. Is the Middle East on the verge of an historic change?
PM Netanyahu: I think what is happening in Iran is a fact of monumental and historical importance. I don't know how it will end but I think that it is a deep expression of a desire for change, for freedom. I don't think people are merely protesting, "We don't want this or that particular president." By the way, it is very clear now who calls the shots. They want a change, which will allow them to walk the streets, to have empowerment of women, to have youngsters being able to make choices in their lives. I think that anybody who believes in democracy, as I do, understands that this is a remarkable example of civil courage. I don't believe that this kind of thirst for freedom can be suppressed for very long. It may be suppressed further, but I think that two things are evident. One, the true nature of this repressive regime has been exposed and, two, there is in the Middle East something I haven't seen in my life time, and that is an awareness by everyone, not just Israel, but many of the Arab governments and I think many in the Arab public, including Palestinians, that we have a common challenge. We don't want to be overrun by this theocratic barbarism. We want a free life and we want a good life and we want a peaceful life.
What has been preventing the peace? Iran with Hizbullah, Iran with Hamas, Iran that succeeds in dominating and intimidating moderates everywhere, including in the Palestinian camp. We are in the fork on the road, if Iran acquires nuclear weapons than their ability to intimidate, to give these weapons to terrorists, to give terrorists a nuclear umbrella, this would push peace further back, dark in the horizon. But if there will be a change in Iran, this would work in the other direction, and would give peace a tremendous opening, peace between Israel and the Palestinians, peace between Israel and Arab States that share our concerns. I think that this is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity. It is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge. I am very hopeful that we can meet the challenge and exploit the opportunity for peace.