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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Israel PM Questions Iran Report, Palestinian Sincerity

JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had two topics in mind when he addressed foreign journalists at the annual press conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening: Iran and advancing the peace process with the Palestinians.

In 2009, he began, Iran was unmasked before "broad segments of the international community" and this continued throughout 2010. But while the U.S.-led sanctions have put real economic pressure and caused hardship to the regime, they wouldn't be effective without a "credible military option."

"The only chance these sanctions will achieve their objectives would be to couple them with an understanding from Iran that if they don't achieve their goal, they would be followed by a credible military option," he said.

Netanyahu disagreed with predictions by outgoing Mossad chief Meir Dagan that Iran would not produce a nuclear bomb before 2015.

"I think intelligence estimates are exactly that - estimates. They range from best case to worst case possibilities, and there is room for differing assessments," he said.

Click here to read the prime minister's complete address.

Shifting gears to negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu predicted that 2011 would clearly reveal "who is seriously interested in peace in the region."

He noted that Israel has taken a number of steps to advance the peace process while the Palestinians have not.

"I am prepared and able to achieve an historic peace," he said, noting some of what Israel has done to advance the process: calling for direct negotiations, agreeing to advance the goal of a two-state solution, imposing a 10-month construction freeze in Judea and Samaria and agreeing to a three-month extension, and removing numerous checkpoints to help the Palestinian economy.

On the other hand, Netanyahu said, the Palestinians made their own moves.

"So while we did these five things, this is what the Palestinians did. They refused to negotiate for the first time since the Oslo process began 18 years ago; they placed a settlement freeze as a pre-condition for negotiations; they wasted nine months before coming to the talks; and then they left the talks after three weeks and all of six hours of direct negotiations," he said.

"What is preventing the advent of peace negotiations is that the Palestinians are doing everything in their power to avoid them," he said. "This is the simple truth," he said, adding that "the only pre-conditions for negotiations are negotiations."

"I am committed to Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, with democratic values," he said, pointing out that he stands up against discrimination in Israel, noting that he was quick to condemn a call by rabbis last month not to sell - or rent - property to non-Jews.

"Yet 10 minutes from here in the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah, there is a law - a decree - that says if you sell land to Jews, it's punishable by death.

"That's worthy of your reporting. It tells a lot about this asymmetry. Israel is criticized when it's really a democratic country that upholds the rights of everyone," he said.