According to someone who knows Benjamin Netanyahu well, Israel's prime minister views the threat from Iran in stark terms: he sees his mission as protecting the Jewish people from a second Holocaust. Like many Israelis, he is outraged by a U.N. report overseen by former South African judge Richard Goldstone that accuses Israel of war crimes in its invasion of Gaza earlier this year. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth spoke to Netanyahu in Jerusalem last week. Excerpts:
WEYMOUTH: What did you think of the Goldstone report?
NETANYAHU: I thought there were limits to hypocrisy, but I was obviously wrong. The so-called human-rights commission accuses Israel—which legitimately defended itself against Hamas—of war crimes. Mind you, Hamas didn't commit just one type of war crime. It committed four. First, they called for the destruction of Israel, which under the U.N. charter is considered a war crime—incitement to genocide; secondly, they fired deliberately on civilians; third, they hid behind civilians; and fourth, they've been holding our captured soldier Gilad Shalit, without access to the Red Cross, for three years. And who gets accused of criminal behavior at the end of the day?
People here appear to feel the report is very unfair, but some have called for an internal inquiry.
We're looking into that not because of the Goldstone report but because of our own internal needs. The best way to defuse this issue is to speak the truth, because Israel was defending itself with just means against an unjust attack.
Were you surprised that countries like Britain and France did not support Israel?
I think all countries should stand up that are themselves engaged in the war against this brutal terror. Moral clarity is the most important weapon against terror.
What do you think of the Geneva deal that the Obama administration and other Western countries appear to have struck with Iran?
It's too early to say, because the crucial thing is that the international community pressure Iran to stop the enrichment of uranium, which has only one purpose—the development of nuclear--weapons capability.
Someone told me this week that you believe it is your duty to prevent a second Holocaust of the Jewish people.
This has been the sentiment of all the prime ministers of Israel.
But do you feel it particularly in light of the Iranian nuclear threat?
I think right now the issue is not merely the security of Israel but of the world. Free and open societies are menaced by a dark radicalism that is seeking to arm itself and its proxies with nuclear weapons.
Your Arab neighbors say that they are very concerned, too.
There is not—perhaps with one exception, [and] I'm not even sure about that one—a single Arab country that is not concerned by the possibility of a nuclear Iran. And, of course, many of the great powers in Europe understand the danger. This would be a pivot of history if it happened.
Reportedly, Israel might be preparing for a strike against Iran.
I'm not responsible for rumors. Our belief is that this is a global problem. Since it's the problem of the international community, the international effort led by the United States is the way to stop this danger.
What do you think should happen with the Palestinians?
If I had to sum it up, I'd say that the beginning of the peace negotiations should be without preconditions, and the outcome of the negotiations should be a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. That brief sentence encompasses the gist of the problem and the gist of the solution. The gist of the problem is that for 62 years the Palestinians have refused to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
They say they've recognized Israel, but now they are being asked to recognize it as a Jewish state.
That's right. Israel is not a binational state. It has non-Jews who live here with full, equal rights, but it has two things that assure its special character. It's the homeland of any Jew. And there is a very broad consensus in Israel that the Palestinian-refugee problem should be resolved outside Israel's borders. Jews come here and Palestinians will go there. So choose. That's the basis of a solution.
What do you think of President Obama?
There is much greater cooperation and transparency between the Obama administration and my government than people know. We speak openly, and I greatly appreciate steps taken by the Obama administration against the distorted Goldstone report and their pressure on Iran to stop its military nuclear program, as well as the ongoing efforts we are making to relaunch the peace negotiations between us and the Palestinians.