Posted December 12, 2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the notion that Israel is entering an «anti-American bloc» in a high-stakes interview Sunday night with Lesley Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes:

Lesley Stahl: «You have a friendship with Mr. Putin, and a friendship with China. You seem to be inching toward an anti-American bloc.»

Benjamin Netanyahu: «God, no. Let me tell you something—»

Lesley Stahl: «Well, talk about that ‘cause I think there’s an impression of that.»

Benjamin Netanyahu: «That’s a false impression.  First of all, there is, there is an irreplaceable ally. It’s called the United States of America.»

Lesley Stahl: «Yeah, but here you are making friends with our adversaries—»

Benjamin Netanyahu: «So no. You have relations with Russia and you have relations with China. We can have relations, economic relations, trade relations with other countries as you do. Why not?»

In the interview, Netanyahu provided insight into Israel’s rapidly developing status and position in an ever-changing and tumultuous Middle East from the perspective of his eight-year tenure.

When the sensitive topic of the nuclear deal the US struck with Iran against Netanyahu’s clearly expressed wishes was raised, the prime minister commented on an unexpected silver lining. «The only good thing I can say about [the deal with Iran] is that it brought the Arab States and Israel closer together.»

He continued, «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.» He cited improved relations with Egypt and Jordan, and declined to comment on Israel’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Referring to Netanyahu’s aggressive campaign against the nuclear pact, which culminated in his memorable speech to US Congress, Stahl stated: «When you campaigned against him [Obama] and you spoke to the Congress, it was read as a lack of respect and something that had never been done before.»

Netanyahu replied, «No, it was not borne of any disrespect, because I have the greatest respect for him. I had then and I have now.»

However, Netanyahu did express a certain relief in regards to the prospect of working closely with President-elect Donald Trump, as opposed to his at times apparently strained relations with President Obama. «I know Donald Trump. I know him very well. And I think his attitude, his support for Israel is clear.»

When asked about the backlash against Trump and his strategic advisor Steve Bannon for their alleged anti-Semitic beliefs, Netanyahu said that while he would always denounce antisemitism, he did not feel worried about Trump or his inner circle.

Netanyahu said he felt Trump had already spoken out against anti-Semitic rhetoric. «I’m not a referee,» the prime minister said. «I will say that I know his attitude toward Israel, toward the Jewish State, and the Jewish people… for God’s sake, he has Jewish grandchildren. He has a Jewish daughter who converted to Judaism… I think we should keep sight of that.»

Stahl pressed about the anti-Semitic reputation of some of Trump’s followers, but Netanyahu repeated his confidence in Trump, and said, «We say the boss ultimately decides the policy. The spirit of the commander permeates the troops. That’s our motto in the Israel Defense Forces. And that’s, I’m sure, true of the US presidency as well.»

Netanyahu continued to talk about several other pressing topics: the effect the BDS movement has had on Israel’s diplomatic and business affairs with Europe, Israel’s current stance on settlement construction and the prospect of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Discussing the latter, Netanyahu capped off the interview optimistically: «Two states for two peoples. And that’s where I’m focused. Yeah, I’d like to have President Trump, when he gets into the White House, help me work on that.»

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