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CNN Exclusive: One-On-One With Israel's Netanyahu Amid Surging Violence; Netanyahu On A Possible Peace Deal With The Palestinians; Netanyahu Dismisses Criticism Over Proposed Judicial Changes. Aired 9- 10p ET
Aired January 31, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That does it for us. The news continues with Jake Tapper's exclusive interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu starting now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I'm Jake Tapper, live in Jerusalem. And welcome to a CNN Exclusive Report. Tonight, the eyes of the world once again upon the Middle East at the end of the bloodiest month for Israel and the West Bank in years. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu choosing now to sit down with CNN for an exclusive interview, his first televised interview since returning to power.
In recent days, the U.S. Secretary of State, CIA Director and the White House National Security Adviser have all converged to hear a clear sign that the Biden administration and its closest allies realize this region is frankly on the precipice.
Over the next hour, you will hear directly from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a number of key topics including how he envisions any sort of peace with the Palestinians, the backlash to his new right wing coalition government, whether Israel plans to further help Ukraine and its war against Russia, including militarily and his relationships with both the current and former presidents of the United States.
We started our conversation on the surge of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which in recent days has set off fears of perhaps a new Intifada, an uprising that could lead to a bloody deadly war.
Tonight, the U.S. State Department confirms the senior U.S. officials aren't remaining in the Middle East after traveling here to try to help Israel and the Palestinian Authority, "lower the temperature." And that's where I started our exclusive conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier tonight.
TAPPER: Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you so much for joining us.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My pleasure. Welcome.
TAPPER: So -- NETANYAHU: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I have to tell you something. Before I go into this. You're from Philadelphia.
TAPPER: I am from Philadelphia.
NETANYAHU: I spent some years in Philadelphia.
TAPPER: I know, in Overbrook.
NETANYAHU: I don't want to intervene in your football politics, but I understand that the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl.
TAPPER: We did make it to the Super Bowl.
NETANYAHU: I offer you my personal congratulations. Now ask me anything you want.
TAPPER: All right, thank you. You're trying to butter me up a little.
NETANYAHU: Yes, of course, I am.
TAPPER: But let's -- let's turn to a more serious subject because we're speaking at a -- at a -- at a rather perilous time, it feels like, in this region right now.
One of the bloodiest months that Israel and the region has seen in years and years. There were seven Israelis shot outside a synagogue, at the entrance of a synagogue on Friday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. That was one day after 10 Palestinians were killed, after a raid in the -- in the West Bank -- during a raid in the West Bank, in Jenin.
You promised a strong and swift response to the shooting of the Israelis. How worried are you about everything just spiraling out of control, as we have unfortunately seen happen in the past?
NETANYAHU: Look, I think there's always a danger of that, and I do everything in my power to contain it.
I can tell you that the 10 years during which I was prime minister were the safest and quietest in Israel's history. But periodically, we had to take swift and strong action against the terrorists.
I don't believe in collective punishment. But I believe in focused action, both against the terrorists themselves -- this action that you referred to was actually against intelligence that gave us a ticking bomb, a terrorist outfit that was out to murder Israelis. And happily, we knocked them out. Unfortunately, one woman was killed in the crossfire.
TAPPER: A civilian?
NETANYAHU: A civilian, but what we've encountered in the last two years, including in the outgoing government, was a doubling of terrorist attacks from Palestinian areas because the Palestinian authority was not really exercising its power to fight the terrorists, so the Israeli army had to come in. And we had to come in, in the last few weeks, too.
I'm taking targeted action against the terrorists, their immediate circle of supporters who were involved in helping them do the terror acts were celebrated with fireworks and candies and the other things that -- after the terrorist acts.
So, we think that if we take targeted action on the terrorists and their immediate circle, this can actually lower the incentive for what we call lone terrorists. They're not lone; they're within a context. And so, you want to -- you want to target them but keep the economy going, keep 150,000 Palestinians working in Israel. I haven't closed it, even for a minute, and I don't intend to.
TAPPER: So right now, everyone in the region, especially allies like Secretary of State Blinken and others, are calling for everyone to bring down the temperature. The Security Council of Israel met Saturday and announced a number of measures, including strengthening settlements; more punishment of family members of terrorists, which I think you were alluding to, to a degree there; and other measures.
And I'm wondering, did Secretary Blinken express to you whether he thought those measures would actually bring the temperature down or actually exacerbate it?
NETANYAHU: Well, you certainly said what I agree with, that we should do everything in our power to de-escalate, which we will. But it's not targeting family members. It's targeting family members who were involved in the terror acts or supported it after the act was done.
And I think, you have to understand, these terrorists are then celebrated, are paid by the Palestinian authority, pay for slay them; the more they murder the more they get paid. And the family members who supported the terrorism get social security benefits and other things. That's what we targeted, and I think that disincentivizes the terrorists.
As far as what they really want is they want to uproot us. And I said that you're not going to uproot us. We're here to stay, including in these Jewish communities in the territories that they want to uproot. That's not going to happen. So, I wanted to send disincentivize them.
And believe me, I've used this tactic over the years, and my record is actually the best record of any Israeli prime minister of any government in containing it.
It's going to be tough. It's not going to be easy. But I think with, I would say, a judicious use of force and the willingness to cooperate with the Palestinian authority and security matters, I think we can control it. And that's my hope, I hope the -- I hope we succeed. We have in the past, we should now. TAPPER: So, you just referred to Jewish communities in the West Bank.
And I know that there is concern in the Biden administration and in the Western world about some of those communities. I don't know which ones specifically you're talking about, but some of them are illegal and there are concerns about expanding some of those settlements, about annexing land.
What did Secretary Blinken say to you about that? Because my impression is that the Biden administration, and certainly he said this publicly when he met with you earlier, is worried about that and worried about that bringing Israel on a path where peace is never going to be possible.
NETANYAHU: Well, I totally disagree, because I think that the fact that we're here and our people, the Jewish people have been here for 3,500 years, the fact that Jews live here and will continue to live here and Palestinians will continue to live here, and we're going to have to live together.
We're not going to ethnically cleanse the heartland of the Jewish people. We're not going to ethnically cleanse Israel. Twenty percent of Israel's population is Arabs. We're not going to say we're not going to have peace until we kick out the Arabs from Israel and we're not going to have peace until we kick out the Jews from these areas which are disputed, but they're not illegal. They're disputed areas and the only way to resolve that dispute is from, to have peace negotiations with -- but Palestinians consistently refuse to enter.
Now, I think we can get hung up on this, and we have in the past. People said, you know, unless you resolve this issue and unless you have peace with the Palestinians, you're not going to have a broader peace with the Arab world.
So, for 25 years the Palestinians who don't want peace with Israel -- want to see a peace without Israel, who don't want a state next to Israel, but a state instead of Israel -- that in effective veto on Israel's expansion of the peace -- circle of peace around it.
I went around them. I went directly to the Arab states and forged with a new concept of peace for peace --
NETANYAHU: -- peace through strength. I forged four historic peace agreements.
TAPPER: The Abraham Accords.
NETANYAHU: The Abraham Accords, which is twice the number of peace agreements that all my predecessors in 70 years got, combined.
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you about that, because I know you're so committed to the Abraham Accords, which are a huge achievement by President Trump and by you. And I know you want to keep going.
NETANYAHU: Hmm. TAPPER: What happens when, let's say the big prize is -- I mean, I know Sudan's on the table. Some of these southeastern Asian countries are on the table. But the big -- the big prize is Saudi Arabia, obviously.
What happens when Saudi Arabia gets the U.S. to go along with some of the things that they want from the U.S. in terms of security measures, but they say, look, Mr. Netanyahu -- or they probably call you Bibi -- I need something for the Palestinians in order to go along with this. I can't just do this around the Palestinians. That's important to me and to my constituency.
What are you willing to give? Are you willing to let people in the West Bank vote? Are you willing to let the 300,000 Arabs who have residency in East Jerusalem vote?
NETANYAHU: Well, I'm certainly willing to have them have all the powers that they need to govern themselves, but none of the powers that can threaten us.
And this means that Israel should have the overriding security responsibility. Because every time we moved out, say from Lebanon, basically, Iran came in with its proxy Hezbollah. We moved out of Gaza and other radical Islamists, the Hamas, took over.
And if we just walk away, as people suggest, then you'll have Hamas and Iran move into the hills around Jerusalem, overlooking Tel Aviv.
That -- so, I think there's -- there's a formula for peace. But my view is because of the fact that the continuum, the persistent Palestinian refusal which goes back a century, to recognize a Jewish state, a nation state for the Jewish people in any boundary, that consistent refusal persists. If we wait for them, we're not going to have peace.
People are -- said you have to work your way outside in, first -- inside out, first, peace with the Palestinians, peace with the Arab world. I think realistically it's got to be the other way around.
TAPPER: But are you --
NETANYAHU: If we make peace with Saudi Arabia -- it depends on the Saudi leadership -- and bring, effectively, the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end, I think we will circle back to the Palestinians and get a workable peace with the Palestinians. I think that's possible. And I think that's the way to go.
TAPPER: Is it a two-state solution?
NETANYAHU: Well, I wouldn't call it necessarily that because I don't think that -- you know, I had a discussion with my friend of 40 years. I'm not just saying that, friend of 40 years, Joe Biden. I mean that, a friend -- a personal friend of 40 years and a friend of Israel. A real champion of Israel and of Zionism.
And I told him what I just told you. I said, look, any final agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would have Israel controlling security -- overriding security responsibility in the area west of the Jordan. That is -- that includes both the Palestinian areas and the Jewish areas, the Israeli areas, which is, by the way, the size of the Washington Beltway -- the width of the Washington Beltway.
I said, you can't divide who controls the airspace. You have to cross it. It takes two minutes for an airplane to cross it. So, what, one minute Israel controls it and the other minute the Palestinians? Of course, it's not workable.
He said to me, as others have said to me -- you know, but that's not perfect sovereignty.
And I said, you're right. But, I don't know what you'd call it, but it gives them the opportunity to control their lives, to elect their officials, to run their economy, to run their institutions, to have their flag and to have their parliament, but we have to have overriding security control.
And I think that's the way we're going to end up, but I don't think we're going to end up now because the Palestinians refuse to negotiate a real peace. And the reason -- and that's not because of me. For many years, people said I was the obstacle of peace. Well, I was removed.
They had Barak come in as the prime minister.
NETANYAHU: They had Olmert come in as prime minister, Sharon before that, and Paris and -- you know, before me -- and Rabin before me. And none of them succeeded because of this persistent obstacle.
So, I think that if we -- if we want to go into a rabbit's hole and try to resolve that and avoid going to the Arab world, I think we should go to the Arab world, I leave myself open to negotiations with the Palestinians at any time. But I think that the way we're going to succeed --
NETANYAHU: -- is not let the Palestinian tail wag the body of the Arab world. Get the peace with the Arab world and get the more recalcitrant Palestinians moved out, not moved out physically but moved out from dominating the political scene. You'll have the Israeli public with an outstretched hand for a real peace.
TAPPER: So, I want to come back to that but there's other big news --
NETANYAHU: You asked me about Saudi Arabia, though. You asked me a question.
TAPPER: But I'll come back to that in a second. But there's one other big news that happened just in the last few days. It's been a very eventful few days.
And that is over the weekend unidentified quadcopter drones attacked a military plant deep inside Iranian territory. You've always talked about the need for Israel and you've, in fact, you've said this is a cause of yours, a mission of yours, to protect the Israeli people from an existential threat, from Iran and Iran's nuclear program.
The incident was nearly identical to previous attacks said to have been carried out by Israel, including a series of drone strikes against Iranian military strikes and nuclear facilities in 2021 and 2022. Did Israel carry out this strike against in Iran over the weekend?
NETANYAHU: I never talk about specific operations, with the exception, I think, of our raid on Iran's secret nuclear archive.
And every time some explosion takes place in the Middle East, you know, Israel is blamed or given responsibility, sometimes we are, sometimes we're not.
But I will say that there is -- you're right, there is an overriding mission that I have. And I came back and ran in these elections and was elected the sixth time -- for the sixth time because I have three overriding goals.
One is to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. The second is to expand the peace dramatically, to end the Arab-Israeli conflict as a lead-in to the ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And the third is to further boost Israel's incredible economy.
But the first is first, the first is Iran. And I will only say this, that I will do everything in my power as Israel's prime minister to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear arsenal that is expressly directed at annihilating us. And they also say not only death to Israel, but death to America.
NETANYAHU: You don't want these people to have nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to --
TAPPER: So, the U.S. officials with whom I've spoken are skeptical that there is a long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear threat that is military in nature. They just think there cannot be that much achieved militarily. There could be piecemeal shots here and there, but not that much to prevent it or to stop it militarily.
And the U.S. obviously thinks the long-term deal -- the long-term solution -- the long-term solution to the problem you're talking about has to be diplomatic. Do you disagree? Or do you see a way to solve this problem militarily that doesn't result in all-out war? NETANYAHU: Oh, I don't think the Iranians want an all-out war because they'll lose. And I think they're very careful about that. They have a different assessment of what they're facing. They're careful about that.
But I would say this, that if you have rogue regimes that are intent on nuclear weapons, you can sign a hundred agreements with them. It doesn't help.
And in fact, there have been five. Three of them were stopped with credible military action. Saddam Hussein's Iraq that wanted to develop a nuclear capability. We knocked it out.
Syria's Assad wanted to develop a nuclear capability. We knocked it out.
Gaddafi's Libya wanted to develop a nuclear capability. America knocked it out by the threat of a military action.
TAPPER: Yeah, but that was a diplomatic solution. But yes.
NETANYAHU: Yeah, with a threat.
TAPPER: OK, but it was --
NETANYAHU: I mean he knew he would be next.
TAPPER: Well, the first two were actual military strikes. The third one was a --
NETANYAHU: But there was a credible military threat.
NETANYAHU: That's the point I'm making. The fourth, North Korea, was signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation pact, didn't help to do a damn thing. There was no credible military threat, and they now have a nuclear arsenal and perhaps the means to reach even the West Coast of the United States, and soon God knows what. So, there was no credible military threat.
Iran has faced a series of actions on our part and a series of paralyzing, crippling economic sanctions that we forged together with the United States and others in the international community. And that rolled Iran's program back. They were about 10 years behind where they expected to be. We know that for a fact.
NETANYAHU: But they're advancing. And so, I think the only way that you can stop a rogue state from getting nuclear weapons is a combination of crippling economic sanctions, but the most important thing is a credible military threat. And I would say this, if deterrence fails, you have no choice but to take action. Does that stop history? No. I mean, can Iran change, well you see -- everybody sees now. I'll tell you want has changed, and that is clearly expressed in the meetings that I had with Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor.
NETANYAHU: And Tony Blinken, the Secretary of State. I think there's been a moving of Israel in the United States closer together, because the world has moved closer to --
TAPPER: Everybody sees --
NETANYAHU: -- wrong.
NETANYAHU: There's barbarism over there, against their own people. The fact that they're supplying drones that kill innocent people in the heart of Europe and Ukraine, I think they've been unmasked. So, people understand, they recognize how dangerous this regime would be with nuclear weapons.
And I think there are two aspects in preventing such a -- such an outcome, one is recognition and the other is action. There is now recognition. We have yet to see the full action.
TAPPER: Next, Prime Minister Netanyahu response to massive protests in Israel over new moves even some of his allies worry will significantly hurt Israel's democracy. For more of our exclusive interview, stick with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Jake Tapper in Jerusalem, Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now leading what could be the most far-right government in the history of Israel. And its proposed changes to the justice system have spurred massive protests in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, even a former member of Netanyahu's government worries the move could bring down the country's democracy. I've pressed the Prime Minister about this earlier tonight.
TAPPER: So, let's talk about your new government, because we are now in a period, President Biden likes to say, I think you do as well, of -- of a challenge of democracy versus autocracy. And you saw the weekend -- over the weekend massive protests throughout Israel, over your new judicial reform plan that would allow the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to override a supreme court decision with a simple majority vote.
In 2017 though, just five years ago, you touted the importance of a strong, independent, honest and partial court. Your own former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon tweeted that this proposal -- your proposal would, "burn down the country and its values." What's your response?
NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, I haven't changed my view. I think we need a strong, independent judiciary. But an independent judiciary doesn't mean an unbridled judiciary, which is what has happened here, I mean, over the last 25 years.
You know, we come from -- you spent -- I spent some years in Philadelphia. You grew up there. OK. There's this place called Independence Hall. And these brilliant people met there and they said in order to secure freedom and democracy, you need the balance of three branches of government. OK.
In Israel, that balance has been thrown askew and you have one branch, a huge branch -- a trunk -- tree trunk -- the judiciary, basically overcoming and arrogating to itself the powers of the legislative and the government.
TAPPER: But would a simple majority vote overturn a supreme court decision? I mean, that seems pretty outrageous.
We've seen lots of people -- and you've heard from the governor of the bank of Israel, lots of serious business leaders, lots -- you're so proud, and rightly so, of the economy that you have helped build in Israel. And a lot of these same people are expressing concern to you, publicly and privately about what this means.
NETANYAHU: Well, I think they should look at the provisions of this -- of this reform. Britain doesn't have a constitution like us, and the court cannot rule down -- strike down any decision of the -- of the British parliament.
TAPPER: But that means you and your party right now could override everything --
NETANYAHU: No, wait --
TAPPER: -- in the -- that supreme -- that the supreme court rules.
NETANYAHU: There are checks and balances in -- in -- in that proposal.
TAPPER: But a simple majority vote in the Knesset.
NETANYAHU: Well, there's something that could be discussed, but let me tell you -- and it will be. The other side deigns to --
TAPPER: You are willing to slow it down? You're willing to --
NETANYAHU: I wanted to hear counteroffers. I called for them. But here's the other thing --
TAPPER: OK. So, you are willing to slow it down.
NETANYAHU: And here's a country that has exactly this provision, it's called Canada. Is Canada not a democracy? Is Britain not a democracy? Is New Zealand not a democracy? Because they all have -- either have these provisions of -- such a provision or have no ability of the court to strike down laws.
But here's the thing, look, Jake, if I told you -- I came to the United States and I said to you, and here's the main provision that people really object to. OK. If I came to you and I said, look, I -- I think your system choosing, selecting judges, where the president nominates the judges and the Senate confirms them in a public hearing, I think that's a danger to democracy.
NETANYAHU: I think you should adopt a different system. The difference is a closed committee where three judges, supreme court judges and two members of the body --
TAPPER: I'm not talking about your nominating of judges though --
NETANYAHU: But wait a minute. But this the -- this is the big thing, and listen to this, because they're saying this is the end of democracy. They decide who are the judges.
In other words, they self-select, the judges self-select themselves and they say, and -- and -- and this is a system we have in Israel. And if I said to you, this is democracy, you'd say that's ridiculous. It's unacceptable. People call that the end of democracy. They call what we propose that we have in Canada, or for that matter --
TAPPER: I didn't even bring it up because I don't think that that's really --
NETANYAHU: But that's the -- but this is what people are talking about.
TAPPER: I think people are talking about overturning a supreme court decision with a simple vote, like in the United States to amend the Constitution. It's an incredibly arduous process. NETANYAHU: Right, but we don't have a constitution.
TAPPER: Right. But my -- my point is to take a drastic measure, it takes a huge effort, whereas a simple majority vote in the Knesset -- but although you said you are now willing to hear counterproposals.
NETANYAHU: Well, they're actually safeties and safeties and this proposal people -- they don't want to hear it. Their slogans --
TAPPER: And some of them say it's because of your corruption trial, that you're on trial right now for charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust. You've denied any wrongdoing. You're fighting these charges, but what do you say to people who say you're only trying to override the judiciary because of yourself and your own interests?
NETANYAHU: None of the reforms -- that's false -- none of the reforms that we're talking about is democratic reforms have anything to do with my trial. OK. And by the way, the trial is unraveling.
You know, I had one request in this trial which was conducted in the last year. Only one request, televise it. They refused, but enough of it came out, you know, the blackmailing of witnesses, the use of the most advanced spyware on the planet against my -- that is supposed to be used for terrorists against my circle of associates. Terrible things that have happened.
And as a result, the trial is unraveling. And what happened in the last elections it that the trial was not -- was barely mentioned.
TAPPER: Was barely mentioned, right.
NETANYAHU: Why? Because, you know, it's unraveling. But again, the reforms have nothing to do with my -- these democratic reforms, have nothing to do with my trial. But they have something to do with the fact that we've lost the balance between the three branches of government.
In Israel today, it's not only that the judges are self-selected, it's that they can strike down cabinet appointments. They can strike down laws of the parliament. They can strike down any and all decisions.
TAPPER: You've -- but you've heard from supporters of yours, strong supporters of yours and Israel, Alan Dershowitz, one of the strong supporters of Israel in the United States, who says this change will make it tougher for him to defend Israel on the international stage. I'm talking about the overriding of a supreme court decision.
NETANYAHU: Look, I respectfully disagree. I think it makes Israel -- it brings Israel in line with most of the democracies of the world, because Israel is right now an outlier. Israel has the most extreme judicial activism that's gone off the rails and we're trying to bring it back to where just about all the democracies are, both in the selection of judges and the balance between the diverse branches of government. It's gone haywire and I think that, you know, correcting or restoring Israeli democracy will make the democracy stronger.
TAPPER: So, let us --
NETANYAHU: The judiciary will remain independent. The -- the rule of law will remain independent. Property rights, which I hold sacrosanct independent. Enforcement of contracts, which is -- I thought, independent -- it's going to be there.
NETANYAHU: I think that these concerns, some of them are driven by lack of understanding, lack of information, sloganeering. And some of them, frankly, by political opponents who lost the election, you know, they're hyperventilating, but you talk about 100,000 people.
Listen, we had just now, 2.5 million people go to the polls and vote for us --
TAPPER: Vote for you. Yes.
NETANYAHU: And I've had demonstrations in the past --
TAPPER: But let's talk about the government --
NETANYAHU: From economic reforms, I tell you we had 400,000 people. They said this will destroy the economy.
TAPPER: So --
NETANYAHU: They said -- they said when I took out -- the gas out of the water, the gas -- this will destroy democracy. They actually said that.
NETANYAHU: It didn't. Israel is now energy independent. When I brought in the peace reforms the -- the great change and the peace process, they said this will destroy peace. It didn't. So, you know, they're -- they were wrong.
TAPPER: Let's talk about the--
NETANYAHU: And they're wrong now.
TAPPER: Let's talk about your new government that you just -- that you just formed.
You have appointed some individuals, controversial figures, not part of your party, including ultranationalists Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Gvir is now in charge of security apparatus in Israel. One of the first thing he did was to ban Palestinian flags being used in demonstrations. That seems completely contrary to any notion of -- of free speech or free demonstration.
Do you agree with that, banning Palestinian flags?
NETANYAHU: That's actually a law that's been on the books in Israel for quite some time. So people are not aware of that.
Look, these two parties, which got more seats than the previous prime minister got -- each one of them got more seats, more votes. But they joined the Likud. I didn't join them.
NETANYAHU: And I direct policy. And I think my record, both on peace, on democracy, on the economy, on everything else has been, I think, very, very successful. And the Israeli people think it's successful. That's why they voted for me again and again and again and just now.
I will say that there's tremendous hypocrisy in talking about my coalition partners, because the outgoing partner had a government that hinged on one coalition partner, a party that was beholding to the Muslim Brotherhood--
NETANYAHU: -- who are anti-gay, anti-liberal, anti-West, anti- American, anti-democracy. I didn't hear a word. I heard silence, deafening silence.
Actually, that's not true, Jake. I heard a lot of protests from our neighboring Arab governments, who said: Listen, we're fighting these guys. They -- they want to bring us all down and restore the Middle East to some medieval theocracy. And you're bringing them into the government.
Well, I heard from them, but I didn't hear from any one of the people who criticize me for bring these coalition partners now, so I -- there's a lot of hypocrisy here.
TAPPER: But I don't know--
NETANYAHU: I'm governing. I've got my two hands on the wheel. And, believe me, it's going to be a good direction for us.
TAPPER: But, surely, the social issue positions of the Muslim Brotherhood is not the standard by which you want to associate yourself.
I mean, Smotrich just called himself a fascist homophobe. He suggested same-sex marriage is like incest. The former deputy director of Shin Bet said he was a Jewish terrorist, that he tried -- he tried to stage an event when the Gaza pullout was going on.
And the other day, he was saying that -- he was putting out these horrible conspiracy theories -- you must have seen this -- about the Shin Bet and the assassination of Rabin.
These seem like rather extreme individuals.
NETANYAHU: Yes, well, a lot of people say a lot of things when they're not in power, and they sort of temper themselves when they get into power. And that's certainly the case here.
I'm -- I think that what you see is -- again, I think there's a lot of hypocrisy. That's what -- the point I was making.
Look, I'm -- I'm controlling the government, and I'm responsible for its policy. And the policies are sensible and they're responsible. And they will continue to be that.
TAPPER: Well, that's good to hear, because I know there are people in your government that have very different views on the law of return and who counts as a Jew and who doesn't than you do.
TAPPER: You've said that, the way it is now, you think is going to stay.
NETANYAHU: Yes, I think we have to be very careful about tampering with the law of return, because you know where you start, you don't know where you end.
And I've consistently felt that Israel should remain the home for any Jew that wants to make it his home--
TAPPER: What about--
NETANYAHU: -- regardless of denomination, beliefs and so on.
TAPPER: What about -- Ben-Gvir also made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, sacred to both Jews and Muslims, obviously.
And he refused to say whether he would change the status quo and allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which obviously would -- who knows what that would provoke.
Do you vow to maintain the status quo as prime minister, regardless of what Ben-Gvir says?
NETANYAHU: I sure have. And we haven't changed it and won't change it.
But, mind you, the fact that he went in the Temple Mount, so did his predecessors who were ministers of internal security, I think all of them, actually. So we didn't change the status. But it's the hype, the hype that says that we have.
I'm -- I'm very, very strict on this, because it's outside our window here in Jerusalem. It's the most potentially explosive square mile on Earth, on the planet. And we've -- you know, it's been -- it's been quiet, relatively speaking, in historical terms, not when the Muslims ruled it, because they kicked out the Jews and the Christians.
NETANYAHU: Not when the Christian crusaders ruled that, because they kicked out the Muslims and the Jews.
But it's only under Israeli sovereignty that we've allowed free and unfettered access to all three faiths, and we will continue to do that, and we'll keep the status quo.
TAPPER: So, earlier today, Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, said that Israel is -- quote -- "trampling on the dignity of the Palestinian people and ignoring their legitimate rights to freedom, dignity and independence."
And a question that has confounded U.S. officials for a long time is the long-term plan for the West Bank.
You touched on it a little bit earlier, but are you really proposing a situation where the Palestinians are under Israeli control, but do not have the right to vote in Israeli -- in Israeli elections?
NETANYAHU: No, I think they vote for their own institutions. They're -- they have their own government.
TAPPER: As a separate institution.
NETANYAHU: Yes, they have their own separate institutions today.
I mean, we don't govern the Palestinian areas. They have their own parliament. They have their institutions. They have the same -- they're actually split into two, because--
TAPPER: But you would have the right to -- Israel would have the right to go in at any time.
NETANYAHU: That's the important question, because, when we don't, as in Gaza, look at what we got.
We got a Hamas, Islamic radical state that has fired 10,000 rockets into Israel. When we left Lebanon, you have got a radical Islamic state controlled by Hezbollah that is firing another 10,000 rockets into Israel.
And, by the way, the moderates -- the more moderate or less extreme faction went down the tubes. The radicals took over. So, I think that, in -- in any long-term solution that you're talking about, the Palestinians, as I've said before, should be able to govern themselves without the powers to threaten us. That primarily means that Israel has overriding security control. There is a solution. I think there's a lot of elements to it. I worked
on it for several years. We didn't get the Palestinians very far. Every time we try to get the Palestinians to come and negotiate a genuine thing, which would require them to give up their fantasy of driving Israel into the sea, including in the Obama years--
NETANYAHU: Secretary Kerry worked on this for years. I mean, he had endless conversations.
TAPPER: Very hard, yes.
NETANYAHU: Finally had a framework for peace, which I disagreed with some of the things. I said, OK, listen, I will come in with my reservations. Bring the -- Abbas, the Palestinian leader, and let him come with his reservations, and we'll sit on the table.
President Obama calls me into the -- I visit him in the Oval Office. He says: "President -- Prime Minister Netanyahu is willing to enter under these reservations. Are you?"
And President Abbas said: "Let me think about it." And he never came back.
TAPPER: He never got back.
NETANYAHU: And they never come back, because the Palestinians are the pampered child of the international community.
No one tells them to stop inciting in their schools to destroy Israel, murder Jews, celebrate the murder of -- the horrible murders of innocents, as they just did. President Abbas has not even condemned this horrific--
TAPPER: I don't--
NETANYAHU: -- slaughter outside the synagogue on Holocaust Day.
TAPPER: It's -- look, I mean, I -- you can say what you want about the Palestinian leadership, but to call the Palestinian people pampered seems a bit much.
NETANYAHU: Palestinian leadership, I said.
TAPPER: Leadership. OK.
NETANYAHU: Yes, they are. I think they've been pampered. Nobody's demanding from the Palestinian leadership--
NETANYAHU: -- to stand up against terrorism, to stop calling public squares and honoring terrorists, to keep calling for the expulsion of the Jews or calling Jews pigs and monkeys and so on.
These things are never -- they never hit the international press, but they hit the Palestinian press.
NETANYAHU: They hit the Palestinian children, who are educated to hate, hate and -- look, their culture, unfortunately, celebrates death. Our culture celebrates life.
I hope it changes, and I think it will when we end up having a broader peace with the Arab world. It's bound to affect the Palestinians. And, by the way, I want simultaneously -- I'm open to negotiations.
NETANYAHU: But I'm not waiting. I've reduced the number of Israeli security checkpoints by half.
I encourage Israeli investments and joint ventures in Palestinian areas. And I'd like to see our new peace partners in the Gulf invest right here in the Judea and Samaria.
TAPPER: So, that's an offer to Abbas right now, but he just has to meet you?
NETANYAHU: Well, let them start changing life.
You know, let's -- let's -- let's give a better life. To Israelis and Palestinians, it's just not talk. This is real stuff.
TAPPER: Coming up, Prime Minister Netanyahu on critics' claims that he's scared of Vladimir Putin and his relationships with both Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
More of our exclusive interview next.
TAPPER: Welcome back. With our CNN special report, I'm Jake Tapper in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now in his sixth term, has worked with his fair share of U.S. presidents. He enjoyed an especially close bond with former President Trump, before the pair had a falling out over the 2020 election.
I asked Netanyahu about that tonight and the decisions he's making right now about Israel maybe helping Ukraine.
TAPPER: I have to turn to Ukraine, because, last year, you said you'd look into providing military support for Ukraine if you became prime minister.
You are now. Have you looked into it? Are you considering reversing Israel's opposition to providing military support? I know you provide -- you support and provide humanitarian support, but what about helping with the Iron Dome or previous defensive technology that you no longer even use, providing that for Ukraine?
NETANYAHU: Well, I'm certainly looking into it.
Israel's -- Israel had -- just had 250,000 ammunition shells that we have for prepositioning taken out by the U.S. It's an American decision. It's their decision. It's fine. I have no problem with that. And, in fact, we didn't raise any objection. It's not our decision, but it's a point that people have to understand.
We just took -- I mean, the U.S. just took a huge chunk of Israel's munitions and passed it onto Ukraine. Israel also, frankly, acts in ways that I will not itemize here against Iran's weapons productions, which are used against Ukraine.
TAPPER: Yes, Russia -- Russia's partnered with -- with Iran to kill Ukrainian civilians.
TAPPER: And you're trying to take them out? You're saying you're taking out some of those arms?
NETANYAHU: I'm saying that we are attacking Iran's -- not only Iran's nuclear program, trying to thwart it, as I said, but also taking action against certain weapons development that Iran has.
And Iran invariably exports them.
TAPPER: Some of your critics say you seem afraid to alienate Putin in any way.
And I'm wondering if you think Putin was even justified in invading and attacking Ukraine.
NETANYAHU: No, of course not. It's not a question, but -- of course not.
But what we have with Russia is a complex relationship, because not very far from here, a few miles from here, on our northern border in Syria, Israeli aircraft and Russian aircraft are flying within spitting distance of each other.
That is, Russia is in -- militarily in Syria. Iran is trying to implant itself in Syria right next to our northern border, the way they did with Lebanon with Hezbollah.
TAPPER: So, they keep them in check?
NETANYAHU: No, we keep them in check.
And, in fact, I've adopted a policy over the last seven, eight years to militarily hit Iran's military installation. They wanted to build an army here of 100,000 Shiite militia commanded by Iranian generals. And we've systematically degraded them, taken them out.
To do that, I need to have -- Israel needs to have freedom of air, freedom of action in the air. And that freedom of action could be -- could have us confronting Russian pilots. I prefer that not to happen.
And I was very open with Putin about that. I said: "Look, I have no choice to act. We can clash or we can make sure that we coordinate in such a way that our air forces do not clash."
And I openly say that. I have no desire to enter a new Russo-Israeli military confrontation. And neither would anyone. Neither would you. But, at the same time, we've given Ukraine a lot of humanitarian support. We've taken in Jewish and non-Jewish refugees in a very tiny country, Israel, disproportionately. And we've also offered other kinds of aid.
I'm looking into other kinds of aid. But, realistically, Israel, in confronting Iran, is also confronting the main partner of Russia.
TAPPER: So, you have mentioned how President Biden is a friend of 40 years. And, obviously, you haven't always seen eye to eye on a lot of issues.
He says he once signed a photo for you: "Bibi, I don't agree with a damn thing you say, but I love you."
TAPPER: How would you describe your relationship when it comes to, nobody's there, just you two on the phone, he's telling you what he needs from you, you're telling him what you need from him?
I mean, that's exactly what happens. I mean, look, we've been -- we've been around the block so many times. We were the new kids on the block when he came in as a young senator from Delaware and I came in as a young Israeli diplomat, the number two in our embassy. This was 1982. So we've known each other a long time. That's 40 years.
And we speak openly to one another. I think President Biden's commitment to Israel is real. It's not just words. It's genuine. It comes from the heart. And our commitment, my commitment to the alliance with the United
States is real. It's gone through many presidents, and it doesn't -- and it has to be bipartisan. I believe in that. But it doesn't mean we don't -- we agree on everything. We've disagreed on a number of things. We disagreed on Iran, less disagreement today, I have to say. We've disagreed on other things. And we've agreed on many things.
We've agreed that that alliance has to be unshakable, because when you look at the Middle East and you look at this part of the world and you say, well, where do you have a bastion of common interests and common values, it's Israel. And most Americans understand that.
Our interests are sound. Israel remains democratic and will be democratic. After these democratic reforms, it will be more democratic. But--
TAPPER: It's not democratic in the West Bank, though. Is the -- I mean--
TAPPER: -- I think that's the argument that the Biden--
NETANYAHU: I don't -- I don't -- I don't say that we don't have right now military needs.
But I'm saying that we can fashion them in a civilian agreement that maintains Israel's overriding security. But I don't think the Palestinians are there.
But I will say that our interests are converging as never before, because, in the 21st century, the future belongs to those who innovate. Israel is the innovation nation, the other innovation nation. I think the U.S. is the big one. Israel is the second one. And we provide invaluable intel, invaluable cybersecurity, weapons development, and civilian technology that is changing the world.
That's why our Arab neighbors came to the Abraham Accords, both for security, but also for civilian technology which betters the lives of their people.
TAPPER: One thing I wanted to ask you about Russia and Ukraine is that an adviser to Zelenskyy floated your name as somebody who might be a decent mediator between Zelenskyy and Putin, between Ukraine and Russia.
And I'm wondering if anyone in any position of power has ever floated that idea to you, and what would be your willingness to take on that job?
NETANYAHU: I was asked to do that early on in the -- in the breakout of the Ukraine war. And I was opposition leader at the time. And I said, well, I have a
rule, one prime minister at a time, you know, like one president at a time.
TAPPER: Who asked you to do it?
NETANYAHU: I was asked. I don't know if it was official, but it was unofficial, so I didn't even pursue it. I said, there's a prime minister, and let him decide what to do with that.
He tried. Didn't succeed. But if--
TAPPER: Would you do it now?
NETANYAHU: If I'm asked by both sides and, frankly, if I'm asked by the United States, because I think you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen, you know?
And I'm -- you know, we have our own backyard to deal with.
NETANYAHU: And it's not that I don't think -- I think this is of monumental importance, because I think the peace of the world is at stake, as I think the peace of the world is at stake with Iran getting nuclear weapons. It will destabilize the entire world.
And so I'm really devoting my efforts to that and the other peace ideas that I have and the economic ideas. But, if asked by all relevant parties, I will certainly consider it. But I'm not pushing myself in, you know, which is -- you know, I've been around long enough to know that there has to be a ripe time and the ripe circumstances. If they arise, I will certainly consider it.
TAPPER: Trump has already launched a 2024 presidential bid. You have said effusive things about what he did for Israel while he was president.
But you've also criticized him for the insurrection that he incited, which you called -- quote -- "a disgraceful act that must be vigorously condemned," and his recent rather shocking willingness to sit down and break bread with Holocaust deniers and virulent antisemites Nick Fuentes and Kanye West.
Do you have any concerns if Donald Trump's back in the White House? Do you think it's time for the Republican Party to look to a new generation of leadership?
NETANYAHU: First of all, I did praise President Trump because he did great things for Israel. He recognized Jerusalem as our capital, kind of late, because, 3,000 years ago, King David proclaimed it as such.
He moved the American Embassy there. He recognized our sovereignty in the Golan Heights. He went out of the -- what I think is the dangerous nuclear deal with Iran. He helped me forge the four historic peace accords with the Arab states. So, he's done great things. I think he made a big mistake on the -- on the -- this Kanye West
thing. And I said so.
I'm not going to intervene in your politics. You know that. You tried. It's good that you would try to get me involved in your politics, but you do your job, and I will do my job. I want to stay away from your politics. Let the people decide.
TAPPER: Coming up next, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the rise of antisemitism around the globe and how he thinks the world and Jews should respond.
More from our exclusive interview coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back from Jerusalem.
We are here at a time when antisemitic rhetoric and attacks are on the rise in the United States and around the world.
I asked Prime Minister Netanyahu why he thinks that's happening and how he hopes to fight antisemitism as prime minister of the Jewish state.
TAPPER: So, lastly, sir, I come here just a few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
And this comes at a time when antisemitism is definitely growing around the world and in the United States. Holocaust denialism is growing around the world and the United States on the left and the right. We see it more among some politicians, more mainstream politicians on the right, but it's all over college campuses on the left in the United States. And it's obviously quite dispiriting.
And I know you take your role not only as prime minister of Israel, but also prime minister of the Jewish state formed out of the ashes of the Holocaust, seriously. And I'm wondering what you make of it.
NETANYAHU: You know, my late father was a great historian. He was also a historian of antisemitism.
And I learned from him that antisemitism has deep roots. It actually goes back as a doctorate 2,500 years to Hellenistic Egypt, actually. That's where it began, 500 years before Christianity. And it's taken on shapes, changed shapes, but it basically says -- it holds the Jews responsible for all the ills of the world and just purveys these horrible myths about the Jewish people.
They drink the blood of Jewish children. That's what they said in -- of Christian children. That's what they said in the Middle Ages. They actually say that about Israel today.
I think the current form of antisemitism is not only directed at Jewish communities in the United States and elsewhere. It's directed against the Jewish state, the Jewish people, their right to have a Jewish state in our ancestral homeland.
I think that's one classic manifestation of antisemitism. What I learned from my father and what I've learned from history is that you may not be able to eradicate it if it's been around that long, but you have to be able to resist it.
And, to resist it, first of all, the Jewish people have to be -- stand up proud and be strong. Non-Jews have to realize that hatred begins with -- with the Jews doesn't end there. We saw that with Hitler. It just spreads and engulfs, and in great inflammation, others.
I think my own -- my own role and my own responsibility as the prime minister of Israel is to keep the Jewish state very strong, to support the governments who oppose antisemitism -- and many do -- to support the Jewish communities, to tell people to be proud, to stand strong, to fight back the lies, and to fight back these bigots. Don't let them win the day.
TAPPER: Prime Minister Netanyahu, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.
And I know I speak for everybody watching right now that I hope things de-escalate, and I hope, soon, there is a peace and prosperity here among the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, the Arab states around us right now.
Thank you so much for your time.
NETANYAHU: Thank you. Appreciate it.
TAPPER: Thank you for watching our full exclusive interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
I want to throw it over to "CNN TONIGHT" and my friend and colleague Wolf Blitzer, who has, of course, covered Israel for decades and interviewed Netanyahu many times.