Netanyahu says first not to be ‘obsessed’ with peace with Palestinians

(CNN) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN on Tuesday that people may “get obsessed” with peace negotiations with the Palestinians, but he has taken a different approach.

“When the Arab-Israeli conflict does (come) to an end, I think we will go back to the Palestinians and achieve a viable peace with the Palestinians,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Asked by Tapper about the Joe Biden administration’s concerns that settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan could exacerbate tensions, Netanyahu pointed to the success of the Abraham Accords during the Trump era, which normalized relations between Israel and various Arab countries.

“(I avoided them and) went around them (the Palestinians), went directly to the Arab states and forged a new concept of peace… I formed four historic peace agreements, the Abraham Accords, which are double the number of agreements of peace that all my predecessors achieved in 70 combined years,” he said.

Netanyahu’s comments come at a tense time for Israel. Palestinians and Israelis suffered terrible bloodshed last week, and fears are growing that the situation will get out of control. Last Thursday was the deadliest day for Palestinians in the West Bank of Jordan in almost two years, followed by a shooting near a Jerusalem synagogue on Friday night, which Israel considers one of its worst terror attacks in recent years.

The Biden administration has called for a bilateral solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there has been very little movement and apparently little active effort toward that goal by Netanyahu or the Palestinian leadership.

Analysts say the Abraham Accords have also done little to temper Israel’s position on the Palestinians. Asked what concession Israel would grant to the Palestinian territories, Netanyahu replied: “Well, I am certainly willing for them to have all the powers they need to govern themselves. But none of the powers that could threaten (us) and this means that Israel must have the primary responsibility for security.”

His comments come more than a month after Netanyahu’s dramatic return as Israel’s prime minister late last year. But his government — which has been described as the most right-wing in the country’s history — is already facing internal tensions and widespread public protests.

Netanyahu’s ruling coalition relies on the support of a number of nationalist political figures once relegated to the fringes of Israeli politics.

Netanyahu was forced to remove his key ally Aryeh Deri from his ministerial posts after the High Court ruled that it was unreasonable to appoint the Shas party leader to government posts because of his criminal convictions.

Ongoing demonstrations against the Netanyahu government and its planned judicial reforms have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the country’s streets in January.

Netanyahu met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday during a planned visit that came amid rising tensions in the West Bank of Jordan and Jerusalem.

Israel’s prime minister stressed in a joint appearance with Blinken on Monday that Israel was a “strong democracy,” that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons and that broader regional agreements would help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu made a point of repeating that Israel and the United States were “two strong democracies,” an apparent reference to concerns that his government plans to weaken the powers of Israel’s independent judiciary.

Meanwhile, Israel’s prime minister continues to face charges in three separate cases in a long-running corruption trial that has dogged him politically. He has repeatedly denied all charges against him and has described the trial as a “witch hunt.”

The trial began in May 2020 but has been plagued with delays.

Hadas Gold, Richard Allen Greene, Amir Tal and CNN’s Pauline Lockwood contributed to this report.

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