Netanyahu to Italian Prez: Real Issue is Palestinian Recognition of Jewish State

Italian President Sergio Mattarella (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in Yerushalayim on Wednesday. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Italian President Sergio Mattarella (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference in Yerushalayim on Wednesday. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday morning and issued the following statement at the start of their meeting:

“I begin by extending our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the earthquakes that have struck Italy in recent months. We wish a speedy recovery to the wounded. Israel has extended its offer to help and if you need it, we are there. You are great friends, and you come to a country that has a fond sentiment for Italy.

“… I cannot say that the history of our peoples in antiquity was always marked by such amity, even though there was a very active Jewish community in ancient Rome. But obviously things took a turn for the worse, and that is commemorated in all its tragedy in the Arch of Titus in Rome, which I visited many times, in which you see, of course, the great artifacts of the Jewish Temple carried in a triumphal march in Rome. And you see the Menorah, which is the symbol of the Jewish state, but also was of course the main object in our ancient Temple. And you see the Menorah, which is the symbol of the Jewish state, but also was, of course, [one of the main objects] in our ancient Temple.

“I raise this because we’ve just had an absurd decision of UNESCO that said that the Jewish people have no connection to the Temple Mount. Well, the Arch of Titus was built by Titus’s brother, the Emperor Domitian. He wasn’t a Zionist propagandist. And he obviously was depicting that long, thousands-year connection to the Temple Mount, to Jerusalem and to this country of the Jewish people.

“That absurd resolution obviously shocked us in many ways, but it didn’t leave us speechless. We were gravely disappointed, obviously, on Italy’s vote and I was delighted to hear Prime Minister Renzi’s saying that he too was shocked by the UNESCO vote and Italy’s abstention. And I welcomed his statement — clear, forthright statement — that Italy would change its vote in any such future resolutions. I deeply appreciate Prime Minister Renzi’s words.

“Mr. President, I know you’ve just met with the Palestinian president Abbas. Sadly, he continues to refuse to accept a Jewish state in any boundaries and this remains the core of the conflict, this persistent Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state in any configuration. I think the focus that people say on settlements is wrong. It’s just as wrong as when people said that the core of the conflict — in the singular — in the Great Middle East was the Palestinian issue. It wasn’t, never was — not in Tunisia, not in Libya, not in Yemen, not in Iraq, not in Syria.

“But it is equally wrong to think that the conflict between us and the Palestinians is rooted in the settlements. It preceded the settlements by half a century. And when we left Gaza and all the settlements, they continued — continued to fire rockets at us.

“And I turned not only to Hamas, but to President Abbas, and I said, ‘Would you recognize a Jewish state, assuming we solve the settlement problem?’ And they won’t, because the real settlement issue are the settlements of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Haifa, Akko — the persistent refusal to recognize a Jewish state is at the boundary.

“This conflict is not and never was about a Palestinian state, which successive Israeli governments, including this prime minister, is willing to arrange — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. This conflict was never about the Palestinian state. It was and is about the Jewish state, and unless and until our Palestinian neighbors face this, confront these demons, give up the ghost of trying to destroy the Jewish state by this or that means, peace will be harder to achieve. Denying our history is one of the means of denying the Jewish state. This is the bad news.

“Now, the good news. The good news, the incredible news, one that fills me with great hope, is that there is a dramatic change taking place in the Arab world, and that change is that many of the Arab countries see Israel no longer as their enemy, but as their ally, even their vital ally, in fighting against Islamist terrorism, militant Islam, either led by Iran or led by Islamic State.

“Here are two sentences that summarize everything that I said. I am hopeful as never before. If we said in the past that if we break through with the Palestinians, we’ll have broader peace with the Arab world, I think the odds are that it’s now going to — peace is going to be achieved through a reverse path. Not that the Palestinians will bring peace with the broader Arab world, but a broader rapprochement with the Arab world would bring peace with the Palestinians.

“Israel’s hand is extended to peace for all those who want to make peace with it.”

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