With peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian delegations underway, and with a May 2014 deadline looming, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned on Sunday to the same podium from which he once backed the two-state solution and demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Four years after his momentous speech at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu returned to the venue and said that "recognition of a Jewish state is essential for the conclusion of the talks in an agreement. Peace will only be possible when they [the Palestinians] recognize our right to live here, in our own sovereign state."
Netanyahu spoke at the 20th anniversary international conference of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, titled "Israel Towards 2020: Perils and Prospects." In his address Sunday, the prime minister spoke about the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that in public discourse there were several misconceptions over relations with the Palestinians -- prime among them being that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the main problem in the Middle East.
"Today, in light of the events in the region, it is rather ridiculous to say that," he said.
Another misconception, Netanyahu said, was that the conflict is about "occupation" and "settlements." Netanyahu rejected this tenet, saying, "As far as I am concerned, practically speaking, the conflict began in 1921 on the day that the Palestinian Arabs attacked Beit Haolim in Jaffa." Netanyahu was referring to an attack on Jewish passersby and businesses on May 1, 1921, which sparked the Jaffa riots, a series of violent riots in Mandatory Palestine.
"That attack was not over land, or over settlements. It was over the immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel," he said.
Netanyahu also mentioned the link between Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis during World War II.
"European Jewry was almost wiped out, thanks in large part to the help of the mufti. But Zionism was not eradicated, and the State of Israel was established. The mufti still serves as a role model in the Palestinian culture. That is the root of the conflict, and it must be uprooted. The root of the conflict has always been, and still is, the same thing that has been coming up time after time for over 90 years: a deep resistance among the Palestinian core against the Jewish people's right to a state in the land of Israel.
"In order for the process we have undertaken to succeed, it is essential that we finally hear the Palestinian leadership concede that it recognizes the right of the Jewish people to the State of Israel," Netanyahu declared.
Addressing the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, "It is not enough for us that you recognize a binational state, and then try to flood it with refugees. If Jews want to come, they will come here. If Palestinians want to come, they will go there."
Iran's enrichment is not peaceful
Turning his focus to Iran, Netanyahu offered his equation for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the West: "If they disable [centrifuges] they will receive [sanctions will be lifted]. They don't disable, they won't receive."
"Iran's goal is to take over the entire Middle East, and even beyond, and destroy the State of Israel," the prime minister said. "This is not speculation, it is their express goal. Israel and the U.S. see eye to eye on the objective of preventing Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons."
Netanyahu added that there was no truth to recent declarations by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, that his country's nuclear program was designed to supply only civilian needs.
"I don't believe him," the prime minister said. "Anyone who wishes to investigate his remarks should ask why he insists on plutonium plants and on enriching uranium and spinning centrifuges. These are not required for the production of peaceful energy. There are 17 countries in the world, including Switzerland, Sweden, Canada and Indonesia, that produce nuclear energy without those components that Iran's president insists on. This insistence typifies only those who seek a nuclear bomb."
The prime minister stressed that so far, the Iranians have shown willingness to strike a diplomatic resolution due to the sanctions, but "we mustn't let up. On the contrary, we need to deepen and intensify [sanctions]. The simple truth is as sharp as a knife: If they really do want peace, they will agree and abandon the race toward a nuclear bomb. If they don't want peace, they won't."
In conclusion, Netanyahu said that "the struggle is difficult because human nature leads us to hope, believe and try. We, too, are willing to try, but we won't launch an open experiment without any criteria."
Earlier, briefing the cabinet about his recent trip to the U.S., Netanyahu said he had asked the Americans to insist during upcoming negotiations that Iran completely give up any enrichment capabilities. He described his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama as "long and in-depth." He stressed that Israel and the U.S. share a common goal: preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
"The main thing we are trying to achieve is preventing Iran from enrichment capability," Netanyahu told the cabinet ministers. He said he did not oppose diplomatic talks with Iran, and if diplomacy could stop the Iranian nuclear race, he would prefer this over a military solution.