The Israeli army is preparing to deal Hamas “a heavier blow” than it sustained in last month’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a television interview broadcast on Saturday night.
“I’d suggest that Hamas not celebrate” any ostensible victory in the wake of that eight-day operation, Netanyahu told Channel 10, indicating that Israel was not finished yet with Hamas, which fired 1,500 rockets at Israel during that campaign. “We inflicted a very heavy blow” on Gaza’s Islamist government, he said. “We destroyed almost all of their long-range rockets,” he noted. “But I’m telling you that the IDF is preparing to strike a still-heavier blow. Our account with Hamas is not closed.”
In wide-ranging interviews with Israeli TV stations over the weekend, a confident Netanyahu indicated he expected to win next month’s elections but stressed he sought to do so with “a big party” behind him – calling for the public to vote for his Likud-Beytenu, which is currently polling at about 36 seats.
“The public knows who will deal best with the security, regional and economic challenges,” he told Channel 10. “The public wants a strong prime minister with a strong party behind him.”
In an interview with Channel 2, Netanyahu said he believed that “on election day, the citizens of Israel will send a message not just inside the country, but to the whole world.” He explained that come election day, “Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Mashaal will want to know one thing: has the prime minister become stronger or weaker? Because to them, it means that Israel has gotten either stronger or weaker. And they understand very well that the deciding factor is whether or not the prime minister’s party has gotten larger or smaller. If it has gotten larger, Israel has gotten stronger, and that is the message that I expect and believe the citizens of Israel will send to our enemies around the world on election day.”
He acknowledged differences with the US over building beyond the Green Line in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, but denied having taken sides in the US elections by favoring failed challenger Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama. If anyone in the administration believes that he did take sides, “they’re wrong,” he said.
Netanyahu stressed that the recent announcement concerning settlement construction was a response to the Palestinians’ appeal for observer status at the UN. “They were the ones who simply tore all the agreements with us to shreds; going [to the UN] unilaterally – my friends, we are not going to just stand back and do nothing,” he said. “Would I go and give away land so that Iran takes it over? I’m not prepared to do that.”
He noted that Israel had built over the Green Line for decades, and claimed that if Israel had capitulated to international pressure, “Tel Aviv would not have risen. Nor would Kfar Saba.”
He vowed to continue building new neighborhoods, noting that he had established East Jerusalem’s Har Homah Jewish neighborhood in the face of heavy international objections. In recent weeks – in part as what he said was punitive action for the Palestinian Authority’s successful bid for UN General Assembly nonmember observer state status – his government has announced plans for thousands of new homes in disputed territory, including in the highly sensitive E1 corridor between Jerusalem and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement to the east.
“What kind of future does Israel have if it cannot built in Gilo and Ramot?” he asked his Channel 2 interviewers. “The Western Wall is not occupied territory … we will build in Jerusalem because that is our right,” he said.
Asked if Israeli policy under his leadership had made the country seem more war-mongering than peace-faring, Netanyahu responded that “if there were a partner who was willing to accept the principle of recognizing the Jewish state, and if the territory given to him were demilitarized using real security measures on the ground — by all means, let’s talk about it.” The Palestinian National Authority, he said, had not exhibited any willingness to make peace during his four-year tenure as prime minister, setting preconditions for negotiations rather than proceeding with them. “When Abbas goes and embraces Hamas, speaks about reconciliation with Hamas and allows Hamas demonstrations calling for the destruction of Israel in Nablus, I ask myself — is he a partner for peace?”
Overall, Netanyahu said, the US-Israel relationship was firm and strong, and coordination in the areas of intelligence, on Iran, on Syria, on Egypt and more, he said, was profound.
Facing repeated questions about the high cost of living, Netanyahu noted that to reduce the price of housing, “I need a strong Likud-Beytunu bloc.” Apparently blaming his ultra-Orthodox Shas coalition partners for failing to solve the housing crisis, he said that in the outgoing coalition the Likud had not controlled the Housing Ministry, but that Likud-Beytenu would run that ministry in the next government.
“We’ve turned education around. We’ve stopped the infiltration of economic migrants,” he noted. “We’ve cut some taxes… What we’ve done here economically is a miracle. We had 9% unemployment and now it’s 7%. We’ve added 400,000 jobs… And we gave teachers, police and social workers pay rises.”