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article imageOp-Ed: Israeli PM Netanyahu first exclusive interview with Arab network

By Sam Halaby     Jul 21, 2011 in World
If the Arab world ever wanted evidence to make peace with Israel, tonight's first ever Arab-network interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be just the proof they need.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in his first-ever Arab network interview on Thursday evening.
The Israeli leader sat down with al-Arabiya to hammer out the most recent and historical issues, including the situation with the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank, negotiations with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, the uprisings in Syria, among other things. Netanyahu answered the questions in English, with Arabic translation.
The interview, in and of itself, tells viewers that the leader is ready to sit down with the Arab world, and that the world over should be listening closely. If you want any message of peace conveyed properly, it must be done directly to the audience.
This is exactly what Netanyahu tries to convey in the interview; it’s an opportunity to discuss, rather than tell, accuse, or leave up to interpretation. Netanyahu is telling the Arab world that in order to sit down at the table, they have to get to the table. The whole Arab world may not be necessarily at a physical war with Israel, however de-legitimatizing the state can also be considered an attack that simply prevents peace from be possible.
Netanyahu clearly recognizes that the Arab public may take him a bit more seriously than the regimes that Israel has battled against and made peace with in the past. He also realizes that the Arab public may take him more seriously because of the Arab spring; the leaders in countries such as Syria and Libya, who have shared icy relations with Israel, are under fire of being deposed. Whether they’re pro-Palestinian activists or supporters of terrorists like Hamas, the goal is to show a level of reason to be able to sit down at said negotiating table, and not stand up in anger throwing chairs around. The only reason which it would be acceptable to stand up in anger against Israel and her actions would be if the intended goal was to eliminate the existence of Israel entirely.
Needless to say, it would be completely unacceptable to or unachievable, morally and realistically, to desire Israel’s destruction, or even de-legitimize her existence on any level. While most may argue that this is not the intention opponents would like to relay, it certainly isn't interpreted as peaceful by the Israeli people who, less than a century ago, suffered heinous atrocities themselves. As Netanyahu mentions, there’s no place a discussion can go if the other side has annihilation on the agenda as a precursor to any negotiation. When it comes to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, or Syria, it doesn’t help to vilify or attack Israel with such harsh rhetoric.
In fact, it makes matters worse. Each of their cases get thrown out, away from the proverbial negotiating table, as it should.
Even if naysayers would be prepared to say that this is part of Netanyahu’s using the Israeli PR machine to talk to the Arab world, no one is denying that things in the Gaza Strip may be bad, contrary to what Netanyahu is saying. In every other country in the world, people are prepared to blame the shortcomings of the nation on the politicians that govern them. Netanyahu is simply saying that Hamas, who are responsible for the Gaza Strip is no exception to that rule, whether you see them as terrorists or not. If conditions in Canada were the same as they were in the Gaza Strip, Canadians would hold (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper accountable. The United States is suffering an economic crisis, to which not only is current President Barack Obama under pressure to repair, but also the previous President (George W. Bush) is being held responsible for causing. Why are circumstances so different in Gaza? Why can’t Hamas and their actions be held accountable?
Thus, Netanyahu tacitly de-legitimizes Hamas as a current representative of the 1.6 million denizens of Gaza. Although they were democratically elected by the Palestinians in 2006, the stakes have changed in the last five years. Since the blockade in 2007, the war in 2009, and Abbas’ move to unilaterally declaring Palestinian statehood at the U.N. later this year, Palestinians are at a stalemate with the Israelis.
Hamas wants a war without peace or a state, Abbas wants a state without peace or war, and Israel wants peace, without war, and has never declared issues to the existence of a Palestinian state.
The prime minister also mentions the Gaza Strip’s economic growth, saying that preventing further rockets from entering the territory is the reason for rejecting the flotilla. Anyone with a Twitter account can access the Israeli Defense Forces feed to know that and how frequently goods are delivered via various crossings around the Gaza Strip, as well as how many rockets are fired into various locations in southern Israel and the damage they cause.
On the topic of damage, the world may perceive Netanyahu negatively for his support of a recent bill in the Knesset that targeted Israelis declaring to boycott Israeli products will be subject to criminal offense. Hypothetically speaking, even if the current boycott, divestment, sanctions, and harsh criticism movement is successful in getting Israel to succumb to pressure vis-à-vis the occupation, Gaza blockade, and any other causes: where does it end?
While referring to Israel as an “apartheid” state may imply recognition of the Jewish state's right to exist, it still de-legitimizes Israel. As Ontario MPP Peter Shurman said about the term, "apartheid" is accusatory before the discussion begins. It's the type of conclusive term you can draw from a discussion after it's been held. Shurman said that calling the phenomenon "Israeli Apartheid" is not only counter-productive to "dialogue", it is a "monologue". The issue is that whether or not you consider Israel an apartheid state, it doesn't give the opportunity for an optimistic end result. This is why the resolution Shurman proposed banning the term “apartheid” was passed by unanimous vote in the Ontario Legislature in early 2010.
The only Jewish state in the entire world is drawing more and more negative attention; it's almost as if people are succumbing to that same vilification -within themselves-. Each call for boycott is like Israelis firing a rocket within Israel, at other Israelis. It is a blind attempt to damage the livelihood of innocent Israelis – or Israel’s settlers. Call the bill whatever you want, democratic or not. However, Israel’s democratically-elected Knesset members voted on the bill, and it passed via democratic process. That’s more than some dictatorships of the past have been able to achieve. The legitimacy of Israeli settlements themselves may be questionable and debated, but to target the settlers themselves is irresponsible.
Even if Netanyahu were to hypothetically declare war on the entire Arab world in a worst-case scenario, at least he’d have the courtesy to do so on Arab television. However, he presents the notion that peace may even be possible with Syria. It is one thing to discuss the right to defend your own sovereignty, but it’s another take it a step further and reach out for peace with another people. That's more than several Arab leaders of today can do.
In order to level the playing field, pro-Palestinian activists and the organizations which oppose Israel need to realize the extremism of their actions, or at the very least, realize the path they may have embarked on, be it violent or not.
The quest for justice is a slippery slope, because the search for equality and fairness is eternal, and it is impossible to reach perfect justice. However, Netanyahu’s clearly reaching out to the Arab world, and whether you agree with what he says or not, the gesture in itself should be interpreted in good faith.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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