MARCH 19, 2015 — In his first interview since re-election on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell: “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable two-state solution.”
Mitchell’s interview with Netanyahu will air on “NBC Nightly News” on Thursday evening. A preview is available online here: http://nbcnews.to/19CFNts. The full interview aired on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” today at noon ET and is available online.
Mitchell has been in Israel since Tuesday morning to cover the country’s national elections, reporting live for both NBC News and MSNBC. Follow her on Twitter @MitchellReports for the latest.
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ANDREA MITCHELL: Prime Minister, congratulations on your victory.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Thank you.
MITCHELL: But — there’s always a but — critics and analysts here and around the world are saying at what cost. Your hard turn right on the Palestinian issue, what you said about the Arab voters coming out in droves, they say are costing you, costing you support around the world.
NETANYAHU: Well, neither one is — the premises in your question are wrong. I haven’t changed my policy. I never changed my speech in Bar Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. What has changed is the reality. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, has made a pact with Hamas that calls for destruction of Jewish state. And every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.
MITCHELL: But they are saying –
NETANYAHU: We want that to change, so we can realize a vision of real, sustained real peace. And I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.
MITCHELL: But you were reelected on a mandate, certainly Israeli voters, your supporters, believe you were reelected on a mandate against a two-state solution. That is the way the White House is interpreting. The White House says this is divisive, and it’s so divisive that now the administration is saying that they will not stop the U.N. from conferring statehood. They will not block — or at least they’re strongly considering not blocking a vote for statehood for Palestinians.
NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, that state would become a terrorist state. Iran says that they will arm the West Bank the way they arm Gaza. We withdrew from Gaza. We got just a few months ago, not ancient history but a few months ago, thousands of rockets, Andrea, on our heads.
MITCHELL: So what does that mean –
NETANYAHU: We don’t want it to happen again. And I think the administration has said time and time again that the only way to achieve peace is a negotiated solution. You can’t impose peace. And in any case, if you want to get peace, you’ve got to get the Palestinian leadership to abandon their pact with Hamas and engage in genuine negotiations with Israel for an achievable peace.
We also have to make sure that we don’t have ISIS coming into that territory. It’s only two dozen from our borders, thousands of miles away from yours.
So we need the conditions of recognition of a Jewish state and real security in order to have a realistic two-state solution. And I was talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable. To make it achievable, then you have to have real negotiations with people who are committed to peace. We are. It’s time that we saw the pressure on the Palestinians to show that they are committed too.
MITCHELL: Words have meaning. Tom Friedman wrote today, “They must have been doing high-fives in Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran’s behavior?”
Joe Klein in “Time” magazine quoted bigotry. Jeffrey Goldberg said that it would be calamitous, the way you talked about Arab voters and the way you talked about not going for a Palestinian state.
NETANYAHU: Well, I explained on the Palestinian state what it is we need. We need a demilitarized state that recognizes a Jewish state.
MITCHELL: Can — telling your supporters –
NETANYAHU: But an Arab vote is, I think, it’s very, very important. First of all, I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.
MITCHELL: That’s not the way it sounded on election day.
NETANYAHU: Well, if you hear what I said, you might reconsider what you just said and what you quoted. I’m very proud of the fact that Israel is the one country in a very broad radius that — in which Arabs have free and fair elections. That’s sacrosanct. That will never change.
I met a few days ago with the Arab supporters, many Arab supporters of Likud. I met them in the north of the country and I said, look, I’m concerned with a massive foreign-funded effort, massive foreign money —
MITCHELL: Which foreign money? U.S. money?
NETANYAHU: Big NGOs that are coming in here with foreign money and it’s all over the place.
MITCHELL: You said tens of millions of dollars.
NETANYAHU: Well, definitely millions and I said it looks like maybe tens of millions of dollars that are coming in –
MITCHELL: From America?
NETANYAHU: Among other places. Foreign funders, that’s important.
But what has happened is that I said that they would try to get out votes for a specific party, an amalgamation of Islamists and other anti-Israel groups. And I said, when that happens, make sure we get out our vote. I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote; I was trying to get something to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party. And I was calling on our voters to come out.
And by the way, quite a few of them, we got quite a few Arab voters for the Likud and I’m very proud of that.
In any case, my governments have funded billions, billions, into the Arab communities to try to upgrade infrastructure, schools. And I will continue to do that. I will continue to do that, in my government, to have real integration of Arab citizens of Israel into the Israeli economy, Israeli high tech, Israeli society, medicine. In all of those areas, my commitment is real and that will stay real.
MITCHELL: I know our time is brief but I want to ask you about Iran. Why should President Obama trust when you came to Congress to lobby against his negotiations with Iran?
NETANYAHU: I think there’s an unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States. The president has said that; I’ve said that.
MITCHELL: But what about between you and Barack Obama?
NETANYAHU: Well, I think that is reflected in the relationship between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel. We have — we can have differences but we have so many things that unite us. And we have a situation in the Middle East that is very dangerous and presents a common challenge to (ph) us.
MITCHELL: Has he called you yet to congratulate you on your victory?
NETANYAHU: Secretary Kerry called me yesterday and I’m sure I’ll be speaking to President Obama soon. We’ll work together. We have to. We have our differences on Iran.
By coming to the U.S., I didn’t mean any disrespect or any attempt at partisanship. I was merely speaking, Andrea, of something that I viewed would endanger the survival of Israel. I felt my obligation to speak up there.
But there are so many areas that we have to — we must work together, will work together with the United States. And with the president. Because we have no — no other alternative. We’re allies; we have to consult each other, not have fiats or unilateral imposition, but negotiated peace with our neighbors and support between allies. And America has no greater ally than Israel and Israel has no greater ally than the United States.
MITCHELL: On Iran, the draft agreement reportedly would permit Iran to have 6,000 centrifuges and that it last for ten years or more. Why isn’t that that better for Israel, to freeze their program and have inspections, than the other option, which would be a military option? Which would only set them back a year or two?
NETANYAHU: Well, I think there are other options as well. I think you can get a better deal. And I think the one that I would have is to reduce Iran’s nuclear capabilities so you increase the breakout time. I mean, if I had a vote on that negotiating team, I would say zero centrifuges. I don’t have a vote there, but I can only ask –
MITCHELL: You’re willing to accept some nuclear centrifuges –
NETANYAHU: I would. I’d say that that is something that, you know, a smaller number would be something that Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn’t love but they could live with. And the second thing is — the most important thing is that the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would depend on Iran’s change of behavior, that it would stop supporting terrorism, stop its aggression against just about every country in the region, and stop calling and threatening the annihilation of Israel. That is — I remain committed to that and I think that’s the right policy.
MITCHELL: Are you counting on Republicans in Congress to kill a deal if it’s a deal you don’t like?
NETANYAHU: I’m counting on having people hearing my view and considering the dangers to Israel, and I think not only to Israel. Across the broad spectrum, this is not a partisan issue. I received very good feedback from both Democrats and Republicans in the United States and from many other places in the world, and from many countries in the Arab world. And the only thing I would say, Andrea, is when Arabs and Israelis agree on something, I think it’s worth paying attention.
MITCHELL: And your message to Iran?
NETANYAHU: For the people of Iran, we want peace with them, but they’ve been taken over by a regime that calls for our destruction, I think suppresses and brutalizes them as well. And the most important thing is that we prevent this regime from having atomic bombs to carry out their designs on destroying Israel and their mad fantasy of becoming — taking over the Middle East, and from there to the world. You don’t want the foremost sponsor of global terrorism armed with atomic weapons. That’s bad for everyone.
MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Prime Minister.
NETANYAHU: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you very much. Thank you.
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