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Transcript of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Interview on NBC’s “Today Show”
MS. CURRY: Well, among the world leaders closely watching the events in Iran is Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And Mr. Netanyahu is making headlines of his own. During a speech on Sunday, he endorsed a Palestinian state beside Israel for the first time. But his support came with conditions that are already being rejected by the Palestinians. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now joins us exclusively.
Mr. Prime Minister, good morning.
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Good morning, Ann.
MS. CURRY: Before we get to your historic speech, given all of Israel’s concerns about Israel (sic/means Iran), do you believe that the re-election of President Ahmadinejad is legitimate?
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, you know, Iranian democracy is a peculiar exercise, as you can see. And what’s disappointing, of course, is that Iran has been a repressive regime, repressive to its own peoples and threatening its neighbors abroad. It’s a terrorist regime that is building nuclear weapons with the express purpose of wiping Israel off the map and intimidating and dominating the other governments and areas in the Middle East and beyond the Middle East. I think it’s very disquieting what we see in Iran.
MS. CURRY: You mentioned Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear site. Under your leadership, at what point would Israel go it alone and bomb Iran to stop its nuclear ambitions?
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: I think the most important thing is for the international community to recognize that an Iran with nuclear weapons would threaten the entire world. Certainly it would threaten Israel, but I think it would threaten the Middle East. It would threaten the United States, American interests, in a very, very far radius.
And, look, they’re building ballistic missiles that reach deep into Europe and soon could reach beyond Europe. And, of course, they could give these weapons to the terrorist groups that they harbor and inspire and control. I think these are dangerous for all of mankind, and I think all of humanity has to get together, the main forces of civilization, to prevent this from happening.
It’s not just an Israeli issue. It is, of course, first and foremost, an issue for our security. But I think it’s an issue for the security of the entire world. And I hope the United States leads a successful effort, with the right kind of pressures, to make Iran cease and desist from acquiring those nuclear weapons.
MS. CURRY: You mentioned the pressure from the United States. Your speech on Sunday was groundbreaking. For the first time you endorsed a two-state solution, even though you’re under tremendous pressure from within your own government not to do so. So how much did President Obama influence your decision, Mr. Prime Minister?
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Well, I share the president’s view to try to start a new beginning here in the Middle East. I called on all the Arab leaders to meet with me. I said I’m willing to come to Damascus and to Riyadh and Beirut, and frankly I hope they’d come to Jerusalem. But I’d meet them anywhere at any time. And the same is true for the Palestinian leaders.
I said that to the president when I met him in Washington. We have a common vision of peace. We want to see peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors. We want them — just as they expect us to recognize a Palestinian state, they have to recognize a Jewish state. And, of course, a Palestinian state cannot threaten the Jewish state. That’s why I said it should be demilitarized.
And I think this is what unites — you know, if you look at the people of Israel and you look at their responses to my speech, I expressed what really unites overwhelmingly Israelis, and I think anyone who wants to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinians have to recognize the Jewish state, and Israel has a right to expect that this state next to them, a Palestinian state, will be a demilitarized one. And these are things that I think can lay the groundwork for a future peace agreement.
MS. CURRY: You talk about demilitarized. You know, you’re talking about, basically, that this Palestinian state can have no army, can have no control over its own air space, and that Jerusalem will not be divided. One Palestinian legislator has already called this, your idea, a, quote, “ghetto.”
And also, you know, while President Obama has called this shift in your position, quote, “an important step forward,” it does not address the freeze that he says is vital on what’s called natural- growth settlements in the West Bank. He called — President Obama called this a violation — called those settlements a violation of previous agreements and an undermining of the peace process.
So will you stop these settlements from growing? What is your response to this idea that this is a ghetto idea for the Palestinians?
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: You asked me two questions. First, I think my vision has the Palestinians and Israelis living side by side as free peoples in amity, not in enmity, and allowing our children to have a real life. And I suggested also a variety of economic and other projects that we could launch together to make life better for us, and, by the way, strengthen the moderates and push back the radicals.
But as far as the security of Israel is concerned, this is not a theoretical exercise. I mean, we’ve got an enclave in Gaza, an Iranian-supported enclave. We’ve received 7,000 rockets since we got out of Gaza. And we can’t have rockets on Tel Aviv, which makes life unbearable. Just think of seven rockets on New York, let alone 7,000 rockets, and you’d understand our concern with demilitarization.
So it’s got nothing to do with those accusations that people are leveling against us. And, in fact, Israelis ask, “Of course it should be demilitarized. Of course they shouldn’t be able to put in rockets and missiles to fire at our cities. Of course that’s a requirement for peace.”
As for the second question about settlements, I think that I made it also clear that I would not build new settlements and that I would not expropriate land for additional building in existing settlements. This is a subject I’ve been talking to Senator Mitchell, who has been here a number of times. I’m going to see him again soon in Europe. And I think President Obama and I are trying to reach a common understanding of this. And I hope, with good will — and certainly we have good will, and I’m sure the president has that too — I think we’ll find such common ground.
MS. CURRY: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you so much; a pleasure to speak to you, sir. Thank you.
PRIME MIN. NETANYAHU: Thank you, Ann. Good to talk to you.