Netanyahu: Where's Abbas?

"We want Abbas to grasp my hand and negotiate a final peace settlement with Israel," Netanyahu tells ABC, adding he can bring acceptable peace.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:35

PM Netanyahu on ABC
PM Netanyahu on ABC
Israel news photo: MFA

Speaking on the ABC network's  "Good Morning America" program, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sidestepped questions about whether he would extend the construction freeze, and repeated numerous times that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas must agree to face-to-face talks with Israel. He also provided Israel's nationalist camp with reason for concern.

Interviewer George Stephanopoulos began the talk by noting the very warm and friendly reception Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu received from U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife. He then asked, "What concrete steps are you prepared to take" to advance the peace process with the Palestinian Authority?

Netanyahu noted that Israel and the US had recently come "closer together" on several issues, most notably on "how to make sure to clarify to the world that America's policy regarding the NPT… vis-a-vis Israel stands firm in the way that it's always stood."

"But the main thing that came out of these very good discussions I had with the President," Netanyahu said, "is that we want to advance peace. And the simplest way to advance peace is to put aside all the grievances and all the preconditions and all the excuses that have been put up to prevent me and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority from sitting down."

Netanyahu reiterated that he's "ready to sit down with him in Jerusalem, in Ramallah - that's 10 minutes away from my office - to discuss peace without preconditions. And if we do it, we can defy the world."

Next Move is Israel's
Stephanopoulos appeared to take it as a given that the next move in the "peace process" must be taken by Israel. He said, "You did say you were prepared to take concrete steps to advance this process. You know the Palestinians need to see that. What are you prepared to do? More security autonomy for the Palestinians on the West Bank? Prisoner releases? Are you willing to extend the settlement freeze past its deadline of September? "

Netanyahu mentioned three areas in which Israel has come towards the PA, saying Israel has "done quite a bit in relaxing hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints," as well as "I've talked about my vision of peace of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State of Israel."  The third item was the freeze: "We adopted a moratorium seven months ago for the Palestinians to enter the talks. They haven't so far done that."

"Abbas Should Shake My Hand"
He implied that there could be "additional easing of movements" and economic projects – "but what we want to see finally is one thing. We want President Abbas to grasp my hand, get into a room, shake it, sit down and negotiate a final settlement of peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

Netanyahu repeated several more times his seemingly innocuous hope that Abbas would agree to direct talks, and added his insistence on "very strong security arrangements so that the areas that we vacate do not turn into Iranian strongholds for flying rockets and sending terrorists against us," as has occurred in Gaza and Lebanon.

But he also added some side remarks that aroused some concern among his nationalist-camp supporters back home:  "There will be risks for us, for me, also for my country… I'm confident that if I'm convinced that our security needs are met, I think I can bring the peace that the majority of the people of Israel will support."

What's a Majority?
For one thing, it is not clear how such a "majority" would be measured. In the past, the Oslo Accords were passed in the Knesset by a one-vote majority; the decisive vote was swayed by the promise of a Mitsubishi. In 2005, Ariel Sharon promised to hold a referendum among Likud voters to decide whether to carry out the Disengagement from Gush Katif; the majority voted against the withdrawal, but Sharon ignored the vote and pulled it off anyway.

In addition, Netanyahu's confidence that he "can bring the peace that the majority of Israel will support" implies that the PA will support it as well. However, PA leaders have made it clear that 98% of Judea and Samaria is too little for them, that rights of millions of Arabs to "return" to Israel must be recognized, and that Gaza and Judea/Samaria do not intend to be merged anytime soon. It is therefore not clear what type of peace Netanyahu envisions.

Extend the Freeze? Netanyahu: "Realities May Change..."
Stephanopoulos asked, "What exactly do you need to see from the Palestinians in order to extend that settlement freeze past the deadline in September?" Netanyahu said: "We discussed the concrete steps that need to be taken… literally in the next few days and weeks to finally begin these direct negotiations for peace. I think once we get there, realities may change…"