Security Takes Center Stage at Saban Forum

PM defends Israel's right to self-defense against PA, Iran; Kerry says Israel's security is 'top priority,' but pushes two-state solution.

Tova Dvorin , | updated: 8:07 PM

John Kerry
John Kerry

Israel played a key role in stopping a deal with Iran on reining in Tehran's nuclear program from going ahead last month, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

The deal would have "effectively left Iran as a threshold nuclear power," he told the Saban Forum, organized by
the Brookings Institution, in a recorded speech transmitted via satellite, adding that Israel's "voice and our concerns played a critical role in preventing a bad deal."

Netanyahu also addressed its relationship with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which has stalled due to the PA's incitement against Israel and unilateral moves on the diplomatic and international fronts. 

"For nine months we negotiated with the Palestinians, but they consistently refused to engage us on our legitimate security concerns, just as they refused to discuss recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, while at the same time insisting that Israel recognize a nation-state of the Palestinian people," the prime minister said.

"The talks ended because the Palestinians wanted them to end," he continued, adding that Palestinian leaders "are simply not prepared... to confront violence" perpetrated by their own people.

He also stressed that the conflict cannot be solved without Israel defending its right to defend itself - and maintaining a high security presence throughout the country.

"We both want a sustainable peace. There can be no peace without real security and there can be no security without a long-term IDF presence," he said.

Netanyahu then addressed the upcoming elections, and said he hoped to emerge with a "broad and renewed mandate" for a government capable of protecting "the Jewish state in these tumultuous times."

US Secretary of State John Kerry also addressed the Saban Forum, where he spoke about numerous Middle East issues, including not only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also Iran, Syria, and ISIS. 

Kerry emphatically said he "won't give up" on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, even though the talks fell through in April after months of failures. 

Regarding ISIS, Kerry stated that the terror group is an "equal-opportunity killer" and that fighting it provides a unique opportunity for the "deeply divided Middle East" to unite. 

Kerry added that Israel and the US agree intensely on the need to prevent Iran from gaining access to nuclear weapons, saying that while "sometimes we disagree on tactics," the goal is the same. 

He stated that US President Barack Obama specifically had vowed to prevent the Islamic Republic from procuring the weapons, and noted that the US (and Israel, by proxy) is working with the P5+1 powers to keep a close eye on Iran's nuclear program. 

Kerry stressed that the US-Israel relationship is "stronger than ever." 

"Never has our day to day month to month security collaboration been better than this day," Kerry affirmed, citing the Iron Dome and various other projects. "Of course, like all other disagreements, we'll disagree from time to time [. . .] especially on settlements, which we believe, along with the rest of the international community, impede peace." 

"Make no mistake: the bonds that tie our country remain unbreakable," he maintained. "And that's not a cliche': they just are." 

Kerry added that the commitment is on the top of the US's agenda in Iran, but also regarding foreign policy re: Israel and the PA, and regarding terror. 

Kerry noted that no one should have to endure what Israel does, including terror, abductions, and warfare - but then equated that with the loss of civilian life in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. 

He then also equated the Har Nof massacre - which he incorrectly quoted as having killed three rabbis, instead of four Rabbis and one Druze officer, hy"d - with "price tag" attacks on Palestinian mosques. 

"Common sense tells us definitively that this cannot go on," he urged. "We need to do everything to stop the loss of innocent lives and smother the sparks of tension." 

Kerry added that the "status quo between Israel and the Palestinians is not sustainable" and that "the issues must be resolved." He claimed that "progress was made" during the nine months of failed peace talks between Israel and the PA. 

He maintained that "no Israeli can be asked to turn the West Bank (Judea-Samaria - ed.) into Gaza" and that they "understand" that Israel's security's needs must be met. 

However, he insisted that there are "options" that include an international presence in the region to keep security, adding that "the US strongly believes that peace is not a pipe dream."

He pushed the implementation of the "Two-State Solution," insisting that "the world needs it more now than it did a year ago." Kerry also slammed the PA's "unilateral actions" and support for terror. 

"The two-state solution is the only path to peace, for the simple reason that there is no one-state solution," he declared. 

He concluded that the US "will not interfere in the Israeli people's choice" regarding how a solution is found, but also stated that it is "top priority for this US administration." 

Part of this, he said, is bridging gaps between Israel and the rest of the Arab world, noting that moderate Arab countries find Israel's economic success "an asset." 

AFP contributed to this report.