'We're Ready': Netanyahu Challenges Abbas to Restart Peace Talks

Israeli leader addresses Clinton comments in interview with David Muir.

September 22, 2011, 10:13 PM

Sept. 23, 2011 — -- An hour after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the U.N. General Assembly to a rousing ovation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a more measured response.

"The Palestinians should first make peace and then declare their state," he said today in response to Abbas' bid for U.N. statehood. "Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state but we are not willing to have another Gaza."

After weeks of diplomatic pressure led by the United States, Palestinian leaders, as promised, rebuffed those steps and submitted a letter to the United Nations for full membership and international recognition.

"It is no longer possible nor practical nor acceptable to return to conduct business as usual as if everything is fine," said Abbas.

Netanyahu Responds to Clinton Remarks

After speaking to the U.N., Netanyahu sat down with "World News" weekend anchor David Muir and addressed former President Clinton's comments Thursday in Foreign Policy magazine that Netanyahu's government was to blame for the continued failure of the Mideast peace process because it moved the goal posts upon taking power.

"I respectfully disagree," he told Muir. "President Clinton knows very well [that] in 2000 at Camp David ... who really made the generous offer and the Palestinians refused to come. I'm sure that President Bush can tell you what happened at Camp David a few years later, when another Israeli prime minister made a generous offer, and the Palestinians refused to come."

Netanyahu said the goal posts had not been moved.

"Not at all," he said.

During his General Assembly speech today, Netanyahu challenged Abbas to resume peace talks in New York. He told Muir that the two had not yet met.

"I'm still here. He's in town," Netanyahu said. "If he wants to come right now, to this hotel, or to the U.N. or to his hotel or to your studios. We should be able to proceed on negotiations. From my point of view, we're ready."

Netanyahu's challenge to the Palestinian leader came at the end of a speech in which Netanyahu pointed to militant Islam and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as the principal reasons for holding back peace. He referred to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech Thursday in which he claimed that 9/11 was a conspiracy.

"Some of you left this hall," Netanyahu said. "All of you should have. Can you imagine that man who ranted here yesterday armed with nuclear weapons? ... If that man is not stopped, the Arab Spring could become an Iranian winter."

Netanyahu to UN: 'We Didn't Get Peace; We Got War'

Netanyahu said the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was initially applauded by the world as a bold step. He pointed out that Israel had dismantled settlements, retreated to the 1967 borders and bulldozed synagogues.

"The theory says it should all work out," he said. "But we didn't get peace. We got war. We got Iran, which through its proxy Hamas kicked out the Palestinian Authority. ... When Israel left Gaza ... the moderates were devoured by radicals."

Netanyahu said he could not risk the future of the Jewish state on wishful thinking.

"The world around Israel is definitely becoming more dangerous," he said.

Netanyahu: Peace Before Palestinian State

There were major life-and-death security concerns that, he said, "have to be sealed in a peace agreement before a Palestinian state is declared."

"Give up the fantasy of flooding Israel with Palestinians," he said directly to Abbas, imploring Palestinians to first recognize Israel.

"The core of the conflict is not the settlements, the core of the conflict is their refusal to accept a Jewish state," he said.

Netanyahu said if that was done, Israel would be prepared to take some painful steps.

"I continue to hope that President Abbas will be my partner for peace. We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations," he said. "Let's just get on with it."

Mahmoud Abbas Takes UN Stage

Before Netanyahu, Abbas took the U.N. stage today in front of the General Assembly to request that leaders accept Palestine as a member state despite U.S. and Israeli opposition.

He pointed out speeches made last year, most notably by President Obama and other leaders during the last General Assembly, hoping the stalled Middle East peace process would resume.

"But all of the sincere efforts and other parties were smashed against a rock by the Israeli government," Abbas said.

He pointed to settlement construction as the embodiment of colonial occupation and racial discrimination.

"It is the primary cause of the failure of the peace process," he said, adding that Israeli settlements threaten the very efficacy of the Palestinian government.

Abbas said that he sought international recognition of Palestinians with East Jerusalem as the capital under the June 4, 1967 borders.

"It is no longer possible nor practical nor acceptable to return to conduct business as usual as if everything is fine," he said.

After repeatedly criticizing Israel throughout his speech, Abbas said: "We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people. Let us urgently build a future for our children."

Palestinian Membership to Be Reviewed

The Security Council will begin reviewing the application for Palestinian membership in the U.N. Monday afternoon. But U.S. and European diplomats will try to stall any planned vote until peace talks resume.

If Palestinian leaders cannot coax the Security Council to produce the required nine votes, without a veto, needed for full membership, they have promised to take their cause to all nations and seek an "observer state" role in the U.N.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Catherine Ashton, the E.U. high representative for foreign affairs and security policy; and former British leader Tony Blair -- aka "The Quartet" -- released a statement saying that they were committed to peace in the Middle East and would "consult to identify additional steps they can actively support towards Palestinian statehood."

Those steps include a planned meeting in October between all sides aimed at finding a way forward.

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