President Barack Obama refused to back down on his administration’s public doubts about Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s sincerity in seeking peace with the Palestinians, in an interview aired in Israel on Tuesday night.
When asked about Netanyahu’s commitment to the peace process, which the White House said necessitated a review of Mideast policy after the March elections, Obama said:
“I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is somebody who’s predisposed to think of security first, to think perhaps that peace is naïve — to see the worst possibilities as opposed to the best possibilities in Arab partners or Palestinian partners.
“And so I do think that, right now, those politics and those fears are driving the government’s response. And I understand it. But my argument has been — directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu and I think publicly — is that what may seem wise and prudent in the short term can actually end up being unwise over the long term.”
The Israeli interviewer pressed Obama on why he could not accept Netanyahu’s retreat from election statements about not allowing a Palestinian state. “Why not take him at his word?” she asked.
Obama replied that Netanyahu’s comments had been “fairly unequivocal” and “subsequently, his statements have suggested that there is the possibility of a Palestinian state, but it has so many caveats, so many conditions, that it is not realistic to think that those conditions would be met any time in the near future. And so the danger here is that Israel as a whole loses credibility.”
As to Obama’s recent statement that “all that has foreign policy consequences,” he confirmed that while security cooperation would be unaffected, U.S. backing for Israel at the U.N. was in jeopardy.
He would not be drawn on what exactly the U.S. will do vis-a-vis upcoming resolutions at the U.N. Security Council for a timetable on negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Instead, he spoke of the difficulty of holding the international community at bay if there is no confidence that the peace process exists any longer.
“If, in fact, there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation — it’s more difficult for me to say to them, be patient and wait because we have a process here — because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made saying there is no process.”
Regarding Iran, Obama insisted that only an agreement, not military action, can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Obama said, “I can, I think, demonstrate, not based on any hope but on facts and evidence and analysis, that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement.”
“A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it,” he said in the Tuesday night interview.
When asked how he would respond if Israel were to act militarily without notifying him, Obama said he “won’t speculate on that.”
He tried to pacify an Israeli public widely skeptical of the deal by saying, “I understand your concerns and I understand your fears.”
Addressing those fears, he promised that unprecedented monitoring “mechanisms” would be implemented to detect immediately if Iran decided to secretly go for a nuclear weapon.
Hours ahead of the airing of the interview, Netanyahu again slammed the emerging Iran deal and said that Israel must “first and foremost” rely on itself.
On a day of when a Homefront Command drill activated air raid sirens around the country, Netanyahu said the threats of enemy rocket and missile fire are “piling up.”
Most of the weapons aimed at Israel have been supplied by Iran, he said. “When speaking of Israelis’ security I rely first and foremost on ourselves, and proof of this is the agreement emerging between the world powers and Iran,” he said.
Not only will that deal “pave the way for Iran to atom bombs,” he said, but it will also give it an injection of billions of dollars.