I think this [Goldberg's example of a deal that keeps Iran perpetually a year or more from reaching the possibility of nuclear breakout] is a setup for the same mistake that was done with North Korea. You leave Iran with a breakout capability -- let’s say a year. During that year, you have two problems. Will you muster the political will and capability to deal with this in a year? What if there is another unfolding crisis somewhere? Second, on the matter of inspections that are promised -- they built their underground bunkers when they were under inspection! Intelligence isn’t perfect -- far from it. Intelligence did not prevent enrichment sites from being built without anyone knowing for years.
Everybody in the region -- everybody -- shares my assessment that what you have to do is dismantle Iran’s enrichment capability. If you leave them with enrichment capability, then everybody will scramble to get their own capability. They might do two things simultaneously: They might actually kowtow to Iran and begin relations with Iran, and at the same time scramble for their [own] nuclear weapons. So this agreement that is meant to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons will be instead a tremendous force for proliferation.
If Iran is allowed to maintain what is called a threshold capability, then in all likelihood, they will break out. We think they should be pushed back so that they don’t have that capability to produce nuclear weapons. We need to dismantle their capability, to take away their enriched uranium and, of course, to address the other components of their system. What is the justification for giving it [enrichment] to them? They are a systematic violator of every UN resolution, including a UN report that shows they’re still violating even today.
Look at what Iran does without nuclear weapons. They’re in Syria; they’re in Gaza, sending ships with weapons. They’re in Yemen, in Bahrain, Iraq, everywhere. So if [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s Iran becomes a threshold nuclear power, what do you think will happen? Is this going to move Iran into greater moderation, when he has greater force, or is he going to be even less moderate?
Goldberg: There’s been a lot of criticism of President Obama on Syria, the "red line" controversy, and the deal he engineered with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to bring about the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons. It’s now nine months or so after that particular crisis. What’s your assessment of the chemical weapons deal today?
Netanyahu: I think this is the one ray of light in a very dark region. It’s not complete yet. We are concerned that they may not have declared all of their capacity. But what has been removed has been removed. We’re talking about 90 percent. We appreciate the effort that has been made and the results that have been achieved.
There are a couple of points of consensus in Israel that are beginning to emerge. The first point of consensus is that we don’t want a binational state. Another point of consensus is that we don’t want an Iranian proxy in territories we vacate. We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the nation-state of the Jews…. How do you get that if you can’t get it through negotiations?
It’s true that the idea of taking unilateral steps is gaining ground, from the center-left to the center-right…. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn't improve the situation or advance peace -- it created Hamastan, from which thousands of rockets have been fired at our cities.
Let me be clear -- negotiations are always preferable. But six prime ministers since Oslo have failed in their pursuit of a negotiated settlement. They’ve always thought we were on the verge of success, and then [Yasser] Arafat backed off, Mahmoud Abbas backed off, because they can’t conclude these negotiations.
We don’t have a Palestinian leadership that is willing to do that. The minimal set of conditions that any Israeli government would need cannot be met by the Palestinians….
There is an emerging consensus that we don’t have a partner who can challenge constituencies, do something unpopular, do something that is difficult. Abbas has not done anything to challenge the prevailing Palestinian consensus. In fact, he’s doing the opposite: the Hamas reconciliation, internationalizing the conflict, not giving one iota on the right of return, not giving an iota on the Jewish state. He wouldn’t deal with Kerry’s framework.
What the Palestinians keep saying is, Look, we want the maximum. We will not make any adjustments in our demands. Nothing. Not tactical, not strategic.
I think Palestinian society is divided into two. The first half openly calls for Israel’s destruction. And the second half refuses to confront this and refuses to confront the demons inside their own camp.
In Israel, there is a vigorous debate about what compromise would entail. There is no such debate in the Palestinian Authority. I’m not talking about Hamas. I’m talking about the so-called moderates who will not talk about the minimal conditions that are necessary for peace from the point of view of any Israeli government and just about any Israeli.
….The Americans said the only way Abbas is going to come into negotiations is either you release prisoners or freeze settlements: Choose. We chose [to release prisoners]. We made it very clear to the U.S. and to the Palestinians exactly how much we would build, including in Jerusalem. We built exactly what we said we would build in every one of the tranches. It wasn’t that we surprised anyone with extra construction.
The settlements are an important issue, but they are not the core of the problem….Just a few years ago, we were told that the Palestinian issue was the core of the conflict in the Middle East…. This absurdity was widely believed. There was no challenging it. Then there was a second illusion: that if you solved the Palestinian problem, you’ll get the Arabs to agree with you on a tougher policy on Iran. Well, that’s out the window now because they oppose Iran regardless of the Palestinian issue. Now the last illusion remains: The core of the problem in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the settlements. That’s about as truthful as the previous illusions. The real issue was and remains opposition to the Jewish state.
Look at what I’ve done. I gave the speech at Bar-Ilan University, a religious university, five years ago recognizing the two-state solution. Second, I tried a 10-month [settlement] freeze, and Abbas did nothing. Then I did something that was the toughest of all -- I released terrorist prisoners, killers of innocent people. That was the hardest decision.That’s what I did to facilitate the negotiations. And what has Abbas done? Nothing. He’s refused to entertain Kerry’s efforts to try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict. He went to the UN organizations in express violation of Oslo and all the interim agreements. And now he’s embracing Hamas.
Most of the settlement population, between 80 to 90 percent, is clustered in three urban blocs, in suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that everyone knows will stay in a final peace settlement. Effectively, the territory that is involved has not increased. It’s marginal. It’s been marginal for the last 20 years. No new settlements have been built since the time I was first prime minister, which was 1996.
What you are talking about is an increasing population within these urban blocs. It doesn’t materially affect the map. If you took an aerial photograph to see how much territory has been "consumed" by so-called "rampant" settlement activity, the answer is practically nothing.
…the Palestinians would not lock horns with the primary obstacle to peace, which is the refusal to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. To recognize that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination, just as the Palestinian people do. My insistence on recognition of the Jewish state is not a tactical PR stunt. It goes to the core of the conflict.