Netanyahu: We Can Only Negotiate with an Enemy Who Wants to Stop Being Our Enemy
Fareed Zakaria, Host, CNN's “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” Interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, October 5, 2014
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: ISIS is a threat to the United States. It's also a threat to many states in the Middle East. That is making for some very strange bedfellows in that part of the world.
I sat down with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ask him about the threat, Obama's plans and those unusual alliances being formed to fight the terrorists. Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you for joining us.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. My pleasure.
ZAKARIA: You have very good intelligence. What is your assessment of the strength of ISIS?
NETANYAHU: Well, several tens of thousands by now. It's growing by day because they've got about two million petrodollars revenue a day. They're augmenting their territory. The strength of ISIS is the strength of terror and fear. They don't have to be that large. There were times in history where small bands conquered all of Asia just by galloping on horses and beheading people and instilling terror in the hearts of millions and the—that is the strength of ISIS—fervent—fervent fanatic ideology and the willingness to, to kill anybody...
ZAKARIA: When will you...
NETANYAHU: for its realization.
ZAKARIA: When we look at what is going on in the Middle East, when you look at Syria and Iraq, what does it mean for Israel because at one level, I wonder, you've got the Iranians are tied up in supporting the Syrian regime. You've got Hezbollah forces tied up in dealing with it. All your enemies are fighting with one another. Is this good for you or bad for you?
NETANYAHU: Well, when your enemies are fighting each other, don't support one or the other, we can both, that means, that we fully support President Obama's goal to defeat ISIS, but we also believe that we should prevent Iran from becoming a threshold nuclear power, to prevent it from having the capacity to enrich enough uranium for the bomb in short order. So I think these are the twin goals that I have as the prime minister of Israel. But I find not only that I have them, that many, if not all of the Arab states, except Assad in Syria, everybody shares those views.
ZAKARIA: Are you in a tacit alliance with the moderate Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
NETANYAHU: I would say there's a commonality of interests that has crystallized and I've never seen in my lifetime, because they - all the Arab states identify, as we do, these twin challenges of a nuclear Iran and the radical Sunnis making inroads into Sunni states. And they recognize that it's - it imperils their societies and, of course, they all want to get rid of Israel on their way to the Great Satan. We're just the little Satan. The Great Satan is the United States. And they all have these mad ideologies. So we share the common— the common interest to address those dangers. My hope is that we can pivot on this to a productive relationship also to advance a realistic Palestinian-Israeli peace, thus reversing the old assumption that if you had a Palestinian-Israeli peace, you'd get a - you'd facilitate a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world. I think because of these common challenges, it may actually work the other way around, that a rapprochement between Israel and the key Arab states would facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace. And I think we have to explore both.
ZAKARIA: But—but if that is the case, what these Arab states will say is they need to see progress on the ... on the Palestinian front and on that front, you gave an interview to "The Times of Israel" in which you said - and they were reporting on the interview - they said Prime Minister Netanyahu could never ever, and they italicized this, countenance a truly sovereign Palestinian state.
NETANYAHU: They said?
ZAKARIA: They . . . they have characterized that interview. Is that . . .
NETANYAHU: Oh, well I'm characterized in so many ways . . .
ZAKARIA: No, no, no. But it was done in Hebrew, so they don't have an exact quote. So the question is, do you—do you hold that? Because that is true, you're essentially saying there is no two-state solution.
NETANYAHU: No, I just said yesterday at the White House publicly. I said I remain committed to a vision of peace, of two states for two peoples, two nation-states, one for the Palestinian people, one for the Jewish people living in mutual recognition with solid security arrangements on the ground to defend Israel, to keep the peace and to defend Israel in case the peace unravels.
ZAKARIA: Well, what did you mean when you said—when they say you—you said ...
NETANYAHU: Here's the security problem. What is the security problem? What's the problem?
First of all, I think the problem is not this or that border, but what lies on the other side, the Palestinian side of the border. Do we have a Palestinian state there that is like Syria or like Libya or like Gaza, in which you have people sworn to our destruction? Or do we have a peaceful state that recognizes our right to have a state of our own? That's the recognition part. The second part is, OK, even if we had that, how do I know that this will keep? How do I know that Hamas will not walk in and, as they did in Gaza, and knock out the Palestinian Authority? We walked out, Hamas, backed by Iran, walked in through President Abbas and established Hamastan, from which they fired 15,000 rockets into Israel, after we cleared every last inch of Gaza.
ZAKARIA: But to a Palestinian in the West Bank, if it's if they—if you—if they hear what you're saying, they're saying I think they would interpret it as we'll never get our own state.
NETANYAHU: I disagree with that and I think that it's too facile from the part of governments and others to accept this notion, because look at the Middle East. I mean states are disintegrating. Militant Islam is walking into the cracks. Every place that Western powers vacate has been taken over by Islamists, whether it's Iraq and elsewhere. We vacated Lebanon. Southern Lebanon taken over by Islamists. Hezbollah on behalf of Iran. We walked out of Gaza. Taken over by Islamists. Hamas and backed by Iran. So we have a real problem. It's not really our problem, it's also, paradoxically, also the problem of the Palestinian Authority. If you just expect Israel to walk out, you'll be thrown out, too, by the Islamists, OK? So how do we work out a deal, a protracted deal where you get political independence—and I have no desire to govern the Palestinians, none whatsoever. But at the same time, I don't want a two state or a unitary state, a bi-national state, but I don't want an Iranian state, a third Iranian enclave around Israel's borders. And I think the solution lies in long-term security arrangements that involve Israel for a protracted period of time, to which the Palestinians say, oh, you can't do that, that offends our sovereignty. We can't have the presence—the security presence, a military presence of our former enemy on our soil. That doesn't square with independence. I say really? How about American forces in Germany 70 years after the fact? Or Japan? Or in South Korea? Now, no analogy is perfect and identical. But the principle in the Middle East, as we know, where the Islamists, you know, just rush in, how do we prevent Hamas from taking over…?
ZAKARIA: But those forces were protecting Germany from the Soviet Army, not—not occupying Germany.
NETANYAHU: Well, nobody really—after you win a war, you—you do a Nagasaki and it's a debatable question what, you know, how much—you know, what the local government's decisions are. But the point was that there was also an American security consideration. And it wasn't merely Germany's consideration or Japan's consideration, there was an American security imperative. Now, think about that. This is Germany or Japan? When we talk about the West Bank, the distance from the West Bank, ok, to Israel's international airport is the distance from the Triboro Bridge to this hotel. That's it. So if the West Bank is taken over by Hamas, they could fire mortars into this hotel, into the center of New York. They could stop the our international airport with mortars—not rockets, not missiles, mortars, a guy with a mortar.
ZAKARIA: So let me ask you about Hamas...
NETANYAHU: So we have to—we have to find a security solution that is real. And I think it's possible. I think we have to adjust our conceptions of sovereignty. I don't know if there's all - if there's absolute sovereignty anyway. I don't see it in the economic field. We're all tied to international structures. We're all tied to limitations. And I think we have to think about - about having these security arrangements which could be, over time, could be made shared security arrangements. But that's the way to keep Israel safe. Paradoxically, to keep the Palestinian Authority intact and ultimately to secure peace.
ZAKARIA: You said in your speech, ISIS is Hamas, Hamas is ISIS. President Obama says very clearly ISIS can never be negotiated with, under no circumstances whatsoever. Are you saying that you will never negotiate with Hamas under any circumstances?
NETANYAHU: I negotiate with an enemy who wants to stop being my enemy. That's how you make peace. An enemy who wants to destroy you remains committed to your obliteration is not— is not someone you can negotiate with. You don't negotiate with al Qaeda. You don't negotiate with this latter day Caliph, with Baghdadi, because these people want to destroy you. As long as Hamas remains committed to our destruction, what's there to negotiate? The method of my suicide or what? You know, we can talk to those Palestinians who want to live in peace with us. We can have disagreements about borders and so on. But fundamentally, we want to shape a common future of peace with each other. With Hamas, that calls for eradication. There's nothing to discuss.
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about Iran. The . . . my reporting tells me that the negotiations are currently in the stage where, you know, the Iranians want about 9,500 centrifuges, the Americans have said 1,500. The question is...
NETANYAHU: How - can you sign that?
ZAKARIA: Not that...so as I say, this is reporting. It may be, you know, that we have—I'm not entirely sure—but a number of people are saying maybe there's a deal to be had at 5,000. Could you live with 5,000 centrifuges?
NETANYAHU: Could you? Here's the question, you know, why should Iran have a single centrifuge? I mean what's their argument? They say we want civilian nuclear energy. Well, so does Canada, Indonesia, Mexico, Sweden. Seventeen countries that have civilian nuclear energy and they don't have a single centrifuge, because you really need centrifuges not for civilian energy, but to make bombs.
ZAKARIA: But there are a lot of other ones that have civilian...
NETANYAHU: But you don't need it.
ZAKARIA: They do have it.
NETANYAHU: But Iran has violated an endless number of U.N. Security Council resolutions telling them thou shalt not have centrifuges, because you're secretly building underground nuclear facilities to make bombs. You're building ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, whose only purpose is to carry nuclear bombs. You have neutron bombardment facilities. They're only for that. And you're not making ... they say we're making radioisotopes. What, to shoot out on your on anti-, ICBMs to - to Iranian patients orbiting the Earth? You're making medical isotopes to treat the orbiting Iranians? That's ridiculous. Of course they're out to make a bomb. So they shouldn't have centrifuges for that purpose. To the extent that they have centrifuges, which is contrary to our position, the more they have, the worse the deal gets. The fewer they have, the more time it would take them to enrich enough uranium to make the bomb.
ZAKARIA: But is 5,000 too many?
NETANYAHU: Five thousand would cut it down to that time, what is called the breakout time, the time it would take them to kick out the inspectors and enrich very rapidly the—the lower enriched uranium into bomb grade uranium. It would be a very short time. And I think it would imperil all of us.
ZAKARIA: One final question. Do you think President Obama has been too passive in his assertion of American power? There are people in the United States who feel that way. Do you think that he has been too passive or restrained?
NETANYAHU: I think he's aware fully of the challenges that face the United States and the world. I mean, we had, actually, I thought, a very—a very deep conversation, actually, about the—the challenges. And I think the fact that he has chosen to act as he has and it's not an easy thing to be a leader who takes his country into battle. It's not something that is done impetuously. And I say that from my experience as well. I think he's fully aware of the - of the great challenges that face him, the United States and the democracies of the world. We have to build alliances, but ultimately, we have to, is I see it, certainly defeat ISIS, unquestionably, but also prevent this malignancy that is growing between East and West. In the West, the great civilization of the United States, in the East, the rising powers, impressive powers of Asia, principally China and India. And, of course, there are others. And the world will readjust itself to this new structure and I actually bode it well. And in between this wild growth, wild, people with a desire to roll back modernity, constrict choice, subjugate women, eliminate gays, tell minorities you either convert to our creed or you die. That's wild. No more relativism there. And these people are trying to arm themselves with territory, with weapons, with nuclear weapons. That is a threat to our common future. And I think this is the largest challenge. I never lose sight of that. Not only to me. They all want to destroy my country, Israel. But I think to everyone. And increasingly, people see that. And certainly the Arabs. The Arab states around us see it. So I think there's a challenge, but there's also hope.
ZAKARIA: Do you trust Obama on this challenge?
NETANYAHU: I trust him to do what is important for the United States. But I think that we're - the jury is out on all of us. The jury is out on all of us. We have to - we're going to be tested, all of us. And ultimately, it's not what we - it's not what we intend to do, it's what we end up doing, especially what we end up preventing.
ZAKARIA: Prime Minister, thank you very much.
NETANYAHU: Thank you. Thank you.