Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, just a short time after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas officially submitted his bid for membership of a Palestinian state in the world body.
Netanyahu began by saying that he extends his hand to peace to all the surrounding nations, including Egypt, Jordan and Turkey with whom relations have been rough lately, and also to Libya, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.
“But most especially I extend my hand to the Palestinian people with whom we seek a just and lasting peace,” Netanyahu said.
He spoke of Israel’s hope for peace which never wanes, and reminded the audience of all the good things Israel has, such as doctors, scientists, innovators who work to improve the work of tomorrow, and its artists and writers who “enrich the heritage of humanity.”
Netanyahu added, “I know that this is not exactly the image of Israel that is often portrayed in this hall. After all, it was here in 1975 that the age-old yearning of my people to restore our national life in our ancient biblical homeland was branded shamefully as racism. It was here in 1980 that the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt wasn’t praised. It was denounced. And it’s here, year after year, that Israel is unjustly singled out for condemnation. It’s singled out for condemnation more often than all the nations of the world combined.”
Netanyahu said that “this is an unfortunate part of the UN institution. It doesn’t only cast Israel as the villain it often casts real villains in leading role. Qaddafi’s Libya chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights. Saddam’s Iraq headed the UN Committee on Disarmament.”
“You might say that’s the past,” he added, “but here’s what’s happening now: Hizbullah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the UN Security Council. This means in effect that a terror organization presides over the body entrusted with guaranteeing world security.”
He recalled what the Lubavitcher Rebbe told him in 1984, when he became Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations. “He said to me, ‘You’ll be serving in a house of many lies’, and then he said: ‘Remember that even in the darkest place the light of a single candle can be seen far and wide.’ Today I hope that the light of truth will shine, if only for a few minutes, in a hall that for too long has been a place of darkness for my country.”
Netanyahu then proceeded to address the conflict with the Arabs, saying: “I came here to speak the truth. The truth is that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East, at all times but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through UN resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refuged to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.”
He said that the greatest danger facing the world is militant Islamic fanaticism, such as that of Iran and its president. He warned against Iran arming itself with nuclear weapons.
“Can you imagine that man, who ranted here yesterday, armed with nuclear weapons?” Netanyahu said, referring to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tirade on Thursday. “The international community must stop Iran before it’s too late.”
“We must do our best to shape the future, but we cannot wish away the dangers of the present,” he said, warning that militant Islam wants to tear apart the peace treaties Israel has with Egypt and Jordan and saying that it “opposes not the policies of Israel but the existence of Israel.”
“Some argue that the spread of militant Islam - especially in these turbulent times - if you want to slow it down, Israel must hurry to make territorial compromises,” added Netanyahu. “The theory sounds simple. It goes like this: Leave the territory and peace will be advanced. The moderates will be strengthened, the radicals will be kept at bay, and don’t worry the pesky details of how Israel will actually defend itself. International troops will do the job.”
Netanyahu noted, however, that Israel has tried that theory and it hasn’t worked. He reminded the audience how in 2000 Israel made a sweeping peace offer that was rejected by then PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, and how former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an even more sweeping offer in 2008, to which current Chairman Abbas didn’t even respond.
He also reminded the audience that Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005, moves which resulted in rockets being fired at Israel from north and from south.
Netanyahu said that given the failure of the Gaza expulsion, Israelis rightly ask what’s to prevent this from happening again in Judea and Samaria. He reminded that while most of Israel’s major cities in the south are within a few dozen kilometers of Gaza, in the center of the country, Israeli cities are a few hundred meters or at most a few kilometers from the edge of Judea and Samaria.
“Would any of you bring danger so close to your cities? Would you act so recklessly with the lives of your citizens? Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in [Judea and Samaria] but we’re not prepared to have another Gaza there.”
Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s needs to have security solutions and long-term military presence in critical strategic areas, an arrangement that Abbas refused. He stressed Israel’s concern over the fact that the Ben Gurion International Airport is near Judea and Samaria and that without peace airplanes could be targets for terrorists.
“I believe that in serious peace negotiations, these needs and concerns can be properly addressed,” he said. “But they will not be addressed without negotiations….Israel needs greater strategic depth and that’s exactly why Security Council resolution 242 didn’t require Israel to leave all the territories it captured in the Six Day War. It talked about withdrawal from territories to secure and defensible boundaries.”
“These are not theoretical problems,” he emphasized. “They’re very real, and for Israelis they’re life and death matters. All these potential cracks in Israel’s security have to be sealed in a peace agreement before a Palestinian state is declared. Not afterwards. If you leave it for afterwards, they won’t be sealed. The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state. But I also want to tell you this: after such a peace agreement is signed, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member to the United Nations. We will be the first.”
Netanyahu reminded the audience that soldier Gilad Shalit has been held captive for five years by Hamas. He reminded that Hamas is violating international laws by not allowing Shalit to receive visits by the International Red Cross, and said that Shalit is “the son of every Israeli family. Every nation represented here should demand his immediate release. If you want to pass a resolution about the Middle East today, that’s the resolution you should pass.”
He reminded of his Bar Ilan speech in which he outlined his vision of a demilitarized Palestinian state which recognizes the Jewish state, and said it’s about time the Palestinians recognize the state of Israel.
“Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the one million Arab citizens of Israel,” said Netanyahu. “I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day, the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. They’ll be Jew free – Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing.”
He called the PA to give up its fantasy of flooding Israel with millions of Arabs, and dismissed Abbas’ claims that the core of the conflict is the Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. Netanyahu said that the issue remains the refusal of the Arabs to recognize a Jewish state under any border.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I continue to hope that President Abbas will be my partner in peace,” said Netanyahu. I worked hard to advance that peace. The day I came into office, I called for direct negotiations without preconditions. President Abbas didn’t respond. I outlined a vision of peace of two states for two people. He still didn’t respond. I removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints, but again – no response. I took the unprecedented step of freezing new buildings in the settlements for ten months. Once again, there was no response.”
Netanyahu concluded by calling Abbas to end the generations-old conflict and start negotiating. He quoted the Arab adage that one cannot applaud with one hand, adding that one cannot make peace with only one side talking either.
“President Abbas, why don’t you join me?” said Netanyahu. “We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace! Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today, in the United Nations!”
There was perfunctory clapping at the end of Netanyahu's speech, except for the Israeli delegation, a sharp contrast to the waves of applause that greeted Abbas' inflammatory words.
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