PM also says he wants president-elect’s help in working for accord with the Palestinians on ‘two states for two peoples’

12/11/2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wants to work together with US President-elect Donald Trump to roll back the US-led nuclear accord with Iran.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes set to be broadcast later Sunday, Netanyahu said it was not too late to undo the deal that was the landmark foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama, noting that he would present Trump with five alternatives to the accord.

But the prime minister also took a more conciliatory approach to the Palestinian issue, saying he was eager for Trump to help him reach a peace deal.

“I think what options we have are much more than you think. Many more,” Netanyahu said when asked if he did not fear that abrogating the nuclear accord would put Tehran on the fast track to a nuclear weapon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is greeted by members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2015. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“And I’ll talk about it – with President Trump,” said Netanyahu, according to a transcript of the interview, adding that Iran had not rushed toward the bomb before because they “were afraid of retribution.”

The Israeli leader, who campaigned vigorously against the deal, said he has “about five things in my mind,” but declined to elaborate before he had spoken with Trump about the issue.

Trump said during the campaign he would tear up the nuclear deal, calling it one of the worst agreements in history. However, his pick for Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, is opposed to rescinding the accord.

Asked if he expected a better relationship with Washington after the tumultuous years of the Obama administration, Netanyahu admitted he had differences of opinion with the outgoing US president, particularly on the nuclear deal. But he insisted that the matter was never personal.

“Yeah, we had differences of opinion, I had differences of opinion with President Obama,” he said. “Suppose we had the greatest of personal chemistry, okay? So what, you think I wouldn’t stand up against the Iran deal if I thought, as I did, that it endangers the existence of Israel? Of course I would.”

US President Barack Obama, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)

US President Barack Obama, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, November 9, 2015. AFP/ SAUL LOEB)

In early 2015, at the height of controversy, Netanyahu defied the Obama administration and accepted the Republicans’ invitation to lay out his criticism of the nuclear deal before a joint meeting of both houses of US Congress.

However, Netanyahu did acknowledge one benefit of the Iran deal. “I would say — I will say this. The only good thing I can say about the deal with Iran is that it brought the Arab states and Israel closer together,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CBS's 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast on December 11, 2016 (CBS screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to CBS’s 60 Minutes in an interview broadcast on December 11, 2016 (CBS screenshot)

“All I can tell you is that Israel’s position in the Arab world has changed because they no longer see Israel as their enemy, but as their ally, in their indispensable battle against the forces of militant Islam, either those led by Iran, the Shiites, or — and those led by Daesh –- by ISIS, the militant Sunnis,” the prime minister said.

He named Egypt and Jordan among them, two Arab countries with which Israel has peace agreements, but said “no comment” when asked about Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu also said he wants Trump’s help in reaching an agreement with the Palestinians

“Two states for two peoples. And that’s where I’m focused,” Netanyahu said.

“Yeah, I’d like to have President Trump, when he gets into the White House, help me work on that. I’d like to see if the Arab states can help me achieve that. It’s a new reality. A new possibility,” he said.

While Netanyahu has been publicly committed to the two-state solution for several years, many in his coalition, and even in his Likud party, see the Trump administration as an opportunity for Israel to move past the idea of a Palestinian state and annex much, if not all, of the West Bank.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has been the most vocal proponent of annexation, saying last month that: “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security.”

But Netanyahu reiterated his long held demand that the Palestinians first recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

“The real reason we haven’t had peace is because of a persistent refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border,” Netanyahu said. “And if they do, this thing will begin to correct itself very quickly.”