Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to exit polls, won Israel’s election Tuesday under the combined Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party ticket, spoke to Israel Hayom, an Israeli publication, in a pre-election interview. Here are excerpts:
In the last election you spoke about your “natural partners.” Are the same parties still your go-to coalition partners?
Anyone who wants to walk with us on our path is invited to do so and will be a welcome partner. I will say it again: I am not assembling any coalitions right now.
If I look forward, beyond the election, our objectives are clear: We are facing enormous challenges. There is the Iranian nuclear threat, Syrian chemical weapons, and an ever-growing missile threat from Hezbollah and Hamas. We have very big tasks ahead.
Add to these enormous tasks the duty to maintain a strong Israeli economy while the global economic crisis is still ongoing.
Who would you like to see as foreign minister in your next government?
I am not handing out portfolios just yet, but I certainly have an agreement with [Yisrael Beiteinu leader and former Foreign Minister] Avigdor Lieberman that I will keep that portfolio in the party.
I hope that he can put his personal issues [he is facing corruption charges] behind him quickly and resume being a senior Cabinet minister.
Jeffrey Goldberg published an article on Bloomberg View in which he said that after the announcement that Israel planned to build hundreds of new housing units in the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim, Obama said that Netanyahu was advancing self-defeating policies and leading Israel toward global isolation. Do Goldberg’s sentiments accurately reflect the views of the U.S. president, in your opinion?
I don’t know. But I think that President Obama knows that only the citizens of Israel will determine what Israel’s vital interests are, and they will be the ones who decide who is best suited to protect these interests in the best possible way.
What will your relationship with the U.S. look like in the next term?
The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is very strong. We are in full cooperation on defense and intelligence. There are also joint ventures in other areas as well, but there are disagreements over the best way to achieve peace.
That is not new. Disagreements surrounding this issue have existed between Israeli prime ministers and American presidents since the establishment of the State of Israel.
Despite all these disagreements, the relations between the two countries only grew closer, because the shared interests and shared values are stronger.
I know what my policy is: to launch peace negotiations with clear terms on how to end the negotiations. I refuse to jeopardize Israel’s security with this maneuver, and I will not close my eyes. I am not willing to be satisfied with signing a piece of paper and saying that I protected Israel’s vital interests. No one can guarantee that the land we concede to the Palestinians won’t end up under Hamas control, and in practice in Iran’s control.
Wisdom, care and responsibility are required for this. I think that these are things that I have brought to Israel’s leadership.
If relaunching talks requires you to declare another moratorium on settlement construction beyond the Green Line, would you be willing to do it?
I don’t see any reason to declare a moratorium. It exhausted itself. After nearly a yearlong moratorium, it turned out that it wasn’t what the Palestinians really cared about. Our problem with them is more basic: recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state within any border.
There was a moratorium, they didn’t utilize the time and only waited for it to expire, and then asked for another moratorium. [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas could have taken advantage of the time to engage in real, meaningful negotiations. But he didn’t. Afterward he went to the U.N. and blatantly violated the Oslo Accords.
Is Abbas still a partner?
I hope that he changes his behavior, because up until now he has done everything in his power to avoid negotiations, and he has also joined up with Hamas, which seeks our destruction. That is no way to make peace.
Will 2013 be a deciding year on the Iranian front?
Up until this minute, the Iranians haven’t crossed a single one of the red lines that I drew at the U.N. That is not to say that they are not advancing their nuclear program in other ways.
They are continuing to enrich low-grade uranium; they are not crossing the red line of highly enriched uranium, but they are continuing to improve their facilities and to prepare for that option.
In my assessment, if they thought that sanctions were not accompanied by a credible military threat, they could become tempted to cross that line and to try to complete the enrichment required for their first nuclear weapon.
Has there ever been a situation in which you planned to take a certain action and senior officers or organizations stopped you?
I invested billions in making us stronger. I also invested billions in a security fence that has completely stopped the infiltrations [into Israel].
For the last seven months, not a single infiltrator has entered Israel’s cities. Of course it also helps a lot in preventing terror attacks from the Sinai border. We invested in Iron Dome, to protect the South as well as central Israel, and we are still going strong.
We invested billions in the IDF’s defensive and offensive capabilities as well as the Israel Security Agency’s and the Mossad’s capabilities. These capabilities came into play during Operation Pillar of Defense and in other operations that I will not specify.
We have to be ready to protect ourselves if needed. This is a very basic principle. It is what sets us apart. I refuse to let the State of Israel be in the situation that the Jews were in 70 years ago, having to beg others to protect us. As long as I am prime minister, that will not happen.
Are the sanctions against Iran working?
They are effectively weakening the regime there, but so far they have been ineffective in stopping the Iranian nuclear program.
If you assemble a coalition, what will your first task be?
First, I will ensure Israel’s security. Within security, the first task will be to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I hope we can do that with international pressure and that the U.S. will join us and live up to the promise we have heard from them countless times, to prevent the nuclearization of Iran.
Meanwhile, we are taking into account the possibility that we might have to act alone to protect ourselves. Not only are these things overt, they are usually linked. If the world knows that we are determined to take action, it will encourage the world to take action. Sanctions without a credible military threat are not enough.
Do you have a partner in the Arab world today?
There are quite a few Arab leaders that see eye to eye with us on the Iranian threat, and not just that. It isn’t always projected outward. Sometimes we reach understandings for other reasons, like the understandings we have with Egypt on stabilizing the Sinai border and the situation in Gaza.
I think that right now, our interests correspond. That doesn’t guarantee that they will continue to correspond, but we have to keep navigating the diplomatic arena wisely. I think that we have proven that we know how to do just that. l