Netanyahu : As prime minister I'd work for solutions
By CAROLINE B. GLICK Nov. 7, 2002
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, newly sworn-in Foreign Minister and Likud leadership candidate Binyamin Netanyahu elaborated on his differences with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, explaining why he believes he is the best man to lead the country.
Do you think you were a successful prime minister?
Yes and I think the public thought I was successful, because in retrospect, a year and a half after I was defeated I was going to be reelected by the greatest majority in Israeli history. All the polls were placing me at 70 percent. And the reason that was the case is because people looked in retrospect at the three years that I served and saw the virtual absence of terror and the economic liberalization moves that I made, and concluded rightly that those were years of security and prosperity.
Yes, but you did lose the 1999 elections by a considerable margin. Did you learn any lessons from that? How would you act differently in a second go around as prime minister?
I think I concentrated an enormous amount of time on policy and less on politics, and I think the balance of the two is required. You have to spend time on people. You cannot just concentrate on policy. We did tremendously important things for the economy. When the Russian economy tanked, when the Asian markets collapsed, we were able to move the economy forward. We also achieved a breakthrough in the strong security. This requires spending effort and time with political colleagues and reporters.
Do you favor forming a unity government after the elections?
The government has to be one that is based on solutions. The important thing is not the breadth but rather the depth of the government. What do you elect a government for? You don't elect a government just to have people sit there in as many seats as possible.
You elect a government in order to solve the country's problems and preferably to leave the country in better shape than you received it. I can say that of the last four prime ministers I am the only one to have left the country in better shape than I received it.
Do you think that Sharon is leaving the country in worse shape than he received it?
I think one of the things that we see is the tremendous escalation of terror. The economy is in worse shape. There is no question about it. A lot of that is derived not so much from the lack of security but from the absence of a coherent economic policy.
So you don't plan to have a unity government, then?
I will have the broadest government possible around the solutions that I plan to bring to revitalize the economy and restore security. This means that whoever opts to join will be most welcome. I will certainly ask Labor to join as well. But the important thing is, I want to have a government that will solve Israel's problems and get the country moving again. This is more important to me than if we extend our majority by whatever number of seats.
With regard to that policy, until 1993 it was the policy of the State of Israel and the US not to negotiate with the PLO, and to oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state. Do you think -- based on the experience we have had over the past nine years with the opposite policy -- that it is possible now to revert to the old one?
I have no problem with negotiations. I'll negotiate with someone who doesn't want to destroy us. But Arafat's regime has failed twice. It abrogated its promise to recognize the State of Israel and to promote that recognition among its people. Second, it abrogated its promise to cease terror. So they are not partners for anything. I think it is easy to persuade the international community of what the majority of Israelis understand: namely, that Arafat is not a partner.
What about Palestinian statehood? In a television interview Tuesday night, you said that a Palestinian terror state won't be established in 2003. Could it be established in 2004 or 2005?
I think we have to resist and I think we can and must resist the Palestinians' efforts to achieve the powers that would endanger the State of Israel, like the fielding of an army.
Would the forces they have today be acceptable to you in a future arrangement?
Not really. They were supposed to have a modest police force, and here they have much more than that. But I'm talking about the threat of an army with half-tracks and missiles and eventually with an air force. This would not be merely irresponsible, it would be a mortal threat to the life of State of Israel. The ability to have certain sovereign powers that have nothing to do with self-determination must be withheld.
The Palestinians have a right to self-rule. I have no intention whatsoever of interfering with the self-government. But allowing them the powers that could destroy the one and only Jewish state is not a prescription for peace. It is a prescription for catastrophe.
President Bush is talking about the establishment of a Palestinian state. Do you see agreement between what you are saying and what he is saying?
Yes, I think there are maybe some differences, and some of them primarily in the semantic areas, but I think there are aspects of his view that I fully subscribe to. I think, first of all, we agree on the interim stages. We agree that the Palestinians have to completely, radically alter their behavior in the interim period.
We need to also speak more precisely about what it is that we envision in a final settlement. I envision a situation where the Palestinians would have the all powers of self-government but none of the powers that could destroy or threaten the state of the lives of Israelis.
Shimon Peres and others have said that Israel doesn't have the right to determine the leadership of the Palestinians. Do you think that they are right?
The Palestinians don't have the right to determine their own leadership. I think that certain leaderships make themselves illegitimate. Does America have the right to intervene in the leadership of the Iraqi people? Do we say that the Iraqi people choose their own leadership? That's absurd. In certain cases, when dictators unfold a regime of terror on their own people and their neighbors, they become disqualified as legitimate leaders. This is precisely what President Bush said about Arafat, and he's right.
So Israel has the right to say that these people are not acceptable leaders of the Palestinians?
We don't choose the leaders, but we can say categorically who we won't accept as their leaders. We cannot say who we will accept.
So who would you categorically exclude?
Anyone who espouses the destruction of Israel and the pursuit of terror.
Anybody. The name is irrelevant. It's the policy that is relevant.
What is your view then of the US 'road map' plan for peace? It doesn't seem to be as explicit as the president's speech in making negotiations or statehood contingent on changing Palestinian behavior in a radical way.
I am looking into it right now and so I don't want to comment, except to say that the prime minister said he had some serious reservations.
Prime Minister Sharon has visited with President Bush more than any other world leader. He claims that the relationship he has developed with the president is a strategic asset to the country. What do you think of that claim?
I think that I have a dual view -- a slightly more nuanced view of the way that our relations with the US are structured. The relations of leaders is important. I am glad that both the prime minister and I have good relations with this administration. We know the president personally, and I have known the people around the president for the last 20 years. I entertained the president when I was prime minister. I thought then that it was critical to bring him over and to show him Israel. It was his one and only visit to Israel. I think it helped cement his view about Israel. But equally, I have known the key figures in the administration for two decades and we share many elements of our world view.
Like the difference between those who believe in paper and those who believe in power, to use Charles Krauthammer's dichotomy. This administration does not believe in the power of paper contracts with dictators. It believes in deterrence and the use of power to roll back aggression if deterrence fails. This is exactly what I have been arguing for many years regarding our relations with our neighbors. So there is an intellectual and personal conviviality here that is very natural and obvious to me. I know the US and I know Washington and I know this administration.
But I think that this is only one aspect of our relations with the US. The critical factor in shaping the foreign policy of the United States is public opinion. American public opinion is one main asset that we need to nurture all of the time. Because public opinion will prevent any government from turning on Israel. It will also make a friendly government friendlier.
It is a fact that when we had pressures coming from the United States in the first few days of Operation Defensive Shield, the prime minister asked me to go to the United States, which I had been doing anyway. But then, as throughout, my main effort was to educate American public opinion about Israel's right to defend itself. The right that was exercised by the United States in Afghanistan after it was attacked by terrorists.
Public opinion was decisive in shaping policy then. Public opinion is always decisive. And therefore, our efforts have to be multi-layered. We need good relations with Washington, which we have, and we need to constantly work on public opinion.
It is amazing to me that most Israelis don't understand that America is a very different country from China. In China, public opinion doesn't count. It is solely what the leaders of China decide that becomes the policy. In America it is very different. This is the case in some countries in Europe as well. We are fortunate that the most accessible country in regard to public opinion is also the most important country in the world.
One of my main efforts as foreign minister and as prime minister will be the nurturing of American public opinion. And to nurture that public opinion we need to persuade Americans of the justice of our cause.
What about Europe?
Yes, Europe too.
Do you think there is a problem of anti-Semitism in Europe?
There is definitely latent anti-Semitism in Europe.
Latent or active anti-Semitism?
Well, it was latent for 50 years. Parts of European society are laced with anti-Semitism; [other] parts of European society are not laced with anti-Semitism. But anti-Semitism is a very old tradition there. It goes back not only 2,000 years but even to the 500 years of Hellenistic anti-Semitism that preceded the birth of Christianity, so it goes very strongly with tradition. And it doesn't disappear overnight. The odd thing, the exception, is that Europe did not have overt anti-Semitic expression over the last 50 years, and that's an historical exception because of the Holocaust.
In my view, there are many in Europe who oppose anti-Semitism and many governments and leaders who oppose anti-Semitism, but the strain exists there. It is ignoring reality to say that it is not present. It has now been wedded to and stimulated by the more potent and more overt force of anti-Semitism which is Islamic anti-Semitism coming from some of the Islamic minorities in European countries. This is often disguised as anti-Zionism.
As foreign minister now and possibly the next prime minister, what do you propose to do to combat the now active European anti-Semitism?
You try to lance this boil. You try to fight its canards, its myths. But this is a very difficult proposition. What you must do is put forward your case, to insist that when we are being attacked and slaughtered by savage barbarians who happen to have good PR who have a PR effort that they are unjust, and that we who defend ourselves are acting in the most sensible and moral tradition of self-defense, the most decent tradition of self-defense that any society has had.
Speaking of bad PR, why do you think that the Israeli settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are such an explosive issue?
I don't think they are. They are presented as such. But it is a fact that when Barak was prime minister, when he offered practically the entire territory of Judea and Samaria, including the uprooting of dozens of settlements, Arafat merely pocketed the offer and proceeded to the real aim of the conflict, which is the eradication of the rest of pre-1967 Israel. The settlements are a smokescreen under which Palestinian and Arab propaganda tries to reverse causality. What they typically do is present the results of Arab aggression as the cause of the problem.
Now they are saying that the settlements or our being in the territories is the cause of the problem. But of course, when we were attacked from these very territories in 1967, there wasn't a single Israeli soldier or settlement there. That came about as a result of Arab aggression, not the cause of it. They did the same thing about 1948 in 1967. Then they said the cause of the conflict was the refugees, but there wasn't one refugee in the Middle East when five Arab armies attacked us. What they consistently do is turn the results of this aggression against us.
So what are you going to do to change Israel's image and the settlement's image as the cause of the problem?
I'm going to tell the truth just tell the truth. How do you do that? Just get people who know the facts and are convinced of the justice of our cause to appear on the international airwaves and to make our case forcefully.
Have we not done that until now?
No, we haven't. What I have tried to do on a voluntary basis is not enough.
Why haven't we done it?
Because, I think, our whole machinery for it has not understood the principle observation of the 20th century: that you cannot protect a military victory without a political victory. You cannot protect a political victory without anchoring it in public opinion. You cannot win over public opinion unless you persuade that public that your cause is just.
The Arabs, having been defeated on the battlefield, are trying to reverse our military victories from 1948, and especially from 1967, by winning over Western public opinion by convincing that public opinion that our victories are unjust, and that the reversal of those victories would serve justice and peace. They are lying, of course. But the important thing is that they have had the field to themselves in many parts of the world. In Europe, they have been practically unchallenged. In the US, they have been challenged more successfully. That is one of the reasons that the situation in the United States is better.
So, as foreign minister and then perhaps as prime minister, what will you do to change the situation?
I am going to set up a hasbara effort that will be launched from Jerusalem to these various places. Both through the appointment of ambassadors and the appointment of advisors who have access to the media to influence the international news organizations, I arrange a steady stream of written and oral argumentation to explain our justice.
Speaking of ambassadors, Shimon Peres just appointed two of his allies Nissim Zvilli and Danny Gillerman to key diplomatic postings. Would you expect them to submit their resignations now?
I am going to look into all these appointments. I have decided to accept the resignation of Mr. Peres's director-general. I have asked the long-time professional Yoav Biran to step in in the interim. I believe the key job of ambassador in democratic countries is to influence public opinion and promote trade and commerce with Israel.
For this, don't they need to reflect the policies of the government in power?
I would assume it is taken for granted that to effect public opinion they of course must reflect the coherent policies of the government.
Sharon's advisors have claimed that your appointment as foreign minister was aimed as neutralizing you as an opponent, because you cannot at once serve in his government and attack him. Yet they have attacked you. Sharon did so on Monday in the Knesset and his son, Omri, said Wednesday morning that you don't get along with people. And you stated here that the country is worse off today than it was when Sharon assumed office. How can the two of you work together?
There is an objective test. People can judge what the situation was in 1999. Is there a secret? Is it a state secret what our situation is today? Do we have to spell it out? Do we have to have poverty reports? People don't need reports. People are living this reality and it is a very difficult one. Can it be compared to the situation in 1999 when I left office? And was the situation in 1999 when I left office comparable to the situation in 1996, when I came into office after a plethora of suicide attacks?
How can you represent policies you oppose and serve under a man you are running against, and how can this be prevented from degenerating into a mud fest?
I don't think there will be a mud fest, and you will never find me making personal attacks against the prime minister -- ever. I think what I am going to do is present my vision of moving the country forward, of moving the economy forward -- creating growth and jobs, and allowing for lower taxes that could actually induce an increase in tax revenues. This would provide more money for social programs. These are things I deeply believe in. They are policies I began implemented as prime minister.
These are policies of liberalization and privatization, and I will implement them again. I will put my vision before the people. Let the people choose. In the coming elections people have to choose one thing. They don't have to choose a foreign minister or a finance minister. They have to choose a policy that will get the country moving. That policy can be determined by only one man the prime minister of Israel.
How do you respond to them saying that such criticism is undermining the prime minister?
Undermining, that is absurd. I am running because the country is in dire straits and we have to get it out. That doesn't mean that I personally attack the prime minister. But you have to be blind... I spoke about my economic views and I have been critical of the government's economic policies. But I don't want to concentrate on the malaise. I want to concentrate on solutions. Mine will be a government of solutions.