Netanyahu: Media conference
Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Bibi Netanyahu faced the media at Sydney Kirribilli House following discussions held in private.
Malcolm Turnbull said: “Welcome Bibi, Prime Minister. Lucy and I were delighted to welcome you and Sara to Australia today. Israel and Australia are very good, strong friends. From the charge of the Australian Light Horse Brigade in Beersheba 100 years ago, to the foundation of the state of Israel and the United Nations, to today, with a deep engagement in everything we canvassed, those areas of cooperation and engagement in our meeting.
Naturally we’ve talked about the security dimension, especially in the Middle East and indeed globally. We’ve talked about our cooperation on national security matters. We talked about how we can enhance our collaboration, especially in cyber-security where we both face the challenges that are being made by state actors and non-state actors to the digital platforms which are the foundation of our 21st Century economies and way of life.
We’ve also talked about the remarkable achievement of Israel as truly a miraculous nation; a nation founded on the most ancient history, yet at the cutting edge of technology and innovation, inspiring others. Of course, as you know, we have our landing pad as part of our Innovation and Science Agenda in Israel. We are deepening that cooperation with agreement on technology and innovation, and we are enhancing, too, the people-to-people connections with an air services agreement. We are delighted at the way the working holiday visa arrangements have been operating. So many of our young people are travelling to each other’s countries and getting to know the Australian way of life, the Israeli way of life.
We have so much in common, shared values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law. Two great democracies, one very small in area, one vast, but each of us big-hearted, generous, committed to freedom. Prime Minister, you are so welcome here in Australia.
In response Benjamin Netanyu said: “The first thing that I should say is ‘g’day, mate’.
And it is a good day, indeed a wonderful day. First of all, a remarkable experience landing here, seeing this extraordinarily warm welcome that you and Lucy have shown Sara and me and our delegation, and the warm words that you published in a seminal article that you published in the Australian press.
I’m honoured to the first Israeli Prime Minister to officially visit Australia. God, it’s been a long time coming! It celebrates, really, 100 years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.
You mentioned, Malcolm, the charge of the Light Horse Brigade. This is not only etched in your memory; it is etched in our memory. In fact, we are going to celebrate this and I’ve invited you and your delegation to mark this extraordinary event, the last successful cavalry charge in history that liberated Beersheba. We will celebrate this event in Beersheba, in Israel. We would like you to know that when you come there, you come as a great friend of our people and our civilisation.
Because you rightly say, these are common values. This was reflected in the fact that Australian and Jewish soldiers fought the Nazi attempt to invade the eastern part of the Middle East, which would have put an end to Zionism. We remember Australia’s contribution there. We remember that Australia was the first country to vote for the Partition Resolution that called for the establishment of a Jewish state. We never forget that, and we have since made so many advances and so much progress in so many areas, we are now facing a new future. The future belongs to those who innovate. Israel is an innovation nation, Australia is an innovation nation. You have entrepreneurs, we have entrepreneurs. Our task is to try to put them together more intensely, to cooperate for the benefit of our people and your people, and I think for the benefits of other countries as well. We’ve discussed this at great length. I think the opportunities are astounding, and we believe in our ability to seize the future.
As we do so, we also know that we face radical forces that seek to take all of humanity back to a dark past. We discussed how we can intensify our cooperation against this radical terrorism that reaches deep into every corner of the world, including to Australia. But I believe that we have not only the force of technology, but of conviction to defeat these forces.
I see a change in the Middle East, in many Arab countries, that recognise that they too are being threatened by these malignant forces. That gives me hope that in cooperating with them for our common security, we might also be able to advance the peace between us and them, and ultimately between us and our Palestinian neighbours. And in all these efforts we see you – Australia – as our partner.
I have to say that this is not my first visit, it is my third visit, and when Sara and I and our children came here, we fell in love with Australia. We fell in love with Australians. We admire your camaraderie, your congeniality, your easy warmth. It reminds us of home. So after braving the distances – which we think are not a barrier to strengthening our friendship – I will borrow a leaf from Douglas McArthur and dare to say: “I shall return”. But first it is your return.
We await you in Israel, not next year in Jerusalem, this year in Jerusalem, and you will be welcomed with open arms.
Prime Minister, thank you, and welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu. If I could bring your attention to two former Australian prime ministers who are encouraging Australia to recognise a Palestinian state – that is Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd – what do you say to them about that? And also, Prime Minister Turnbull, as you noted in that OpEd in The Australian newspaper this morning, strongly advocating for a two-state solution, but after meeting with Donald Trump, you seemed to be open to the idea of a one-state solution, so which is it? Prime Minister, if I could get you to answer a similar question along a similar vein, are you open to a one-state solution? During your meeting today, did you express concern about recent settlements.
I prefer not to deal with labels but with substance. I ask both former prime ministers to ask a simple question: What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?
Israel retreated already from Gaza, gave up, took out all the settlements there, gave the territory to the Palestinian Authority. This became a terrorist state of Hamas, backed by Iran. They fired thousands and thousands of missiles against us. So clearly when people say they are ‘for’ a Palestinian state, they are not for that kind of state. What kind of state would they be talking about? Well, first of all, they will have to recognise the Jewish state. It is not conceivable that people should say the Palestinians should have a state and continue to call for the annihilation of the Jewish state, Israel. So obviously asking the Palestinians to recognise a Jewish state is mandatory and people must do that.
Secondly, we know that in the realities of the Middle East, if Israel is not there to ensure security, then that state very quickly will become another bastion of radical Islam.
So this is what I’ve been talking about and I’ve been talking about it for 8 years. I said we have to make sure that the Palestinians recognise the Jewish state and we have to ensure that Israel has the overriding security control of all the territories, all the territories.
Other than that, I want the Palestinians to be able to govern themselves and to have all the freedoms to do so, but not the freedom to destroy the Jewish state. They have to recognise Israel and Israel has to have the residual military control. That’s my view. It hasn’t changed.
Thank you, Prime Minister.
You asked me about President Trump. Perhaps, well – Prime Minister Netanyahu was there – but I think his remarks might have been a bit over-interpreted. Our position is exactly the same as it always has been, and has been for many years. We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side-by-side as a result of direct negotiations between them -that is the fundamental point – and live together in peace and the security that they are entitled to expect.
And you can’t expect – being blunt and realistic about this – you cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where security is at risk, where its’ citizens are not safe. The first duty of every government is the safety of the people. That’s my first job as Prime Minister of Australia, it is Bibi’s first job as Prime Minister of Israel.
Our position has been the same for many, many years. The key is direct negotiations between the parties and I would add Bibi, if I may, that I agree with you; that the circumstances of the times – and in your area, your region, which you clearly have a keener insight into than we do here in Australia – do appear to create the opportunity where perhaps the moons are aligning such that this could be a good time to come back to the table, for the parties to come back to the table and reach an agreement. But, of course, as with any agreement, it needs two to tango.
Prime Minister Turnbull, can you elaborate more on the article that you published today in The Australian about the support in the United Nations that you can give to Israel?
And for Prime Minister Netanyahu, were you surprised with the article that Prime Minister Turnbull wrote?
Well, let me thank you for that question. We do not support one-sided resolutions which condemn or criticise Israel of that kind. We don’t. We haven’t done in the past and we won’t in the future. It is a complex problem. It needs to be resolved by direct negotiations between the parties, and we certainly encourage that.
So that is our position and it has been consistent. We are a very committed friend of Israel. We are a very consistent friend.
Well, I wasn’t surprised by the friendship that was expressed in the article, but I had no advance warning. So when I landed, I was given the paper, I was delighted to read it, but it has been absolutely consistent with the friendship that Malcolm Turnbull and his government has shown us, and that Australia has shown us over the years.
Australia has been courageously willing to puncture the UN hypocrisy more than once, including this absurd resolution that said that the Western Wall – the most sacred site for the Jewish people for thousands of years, thousands of years even before the rise of Islam – that this is occupied Palestinian territory.
So the UN is capable of many absurdities, and I think it’s important that you have straightforward and clear-eyed countries like Australia, that often bring it back to Earth.
This is part of this partnership, this friendship, that we feel with Australia.
You are currently caught up in an investigation involving your own anti-fraud police alleging that you accepted gifts from billionaire James Packer. What did he want, if anything, in return? And what exactly is the nature of your relationship with Mr Packer?
And Mr Turnbull, are you concerned that one of our most successful businessmen is now caught up in an investigation in Israel?
Well, obviously I am not going to comment on details, but I will say that I think nothing will come of it because there is nothing there, except friendship, which is a good thing.
Likewise, I can’t comment and won’t comment on an investigation of that kind, and really have nothing further to add to what the Prime Minister has said. It is an investigation in Israel. It is being conducted by Israeli authorities, I assume, and it will take its course.
Are you worried at all, Prime Minister Netanyahu?
It is a pretty serious investigation. It has moved up to a criminal investigation.
PRIME MINISTER OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL:
No, I’m not at all. Not at all.
Prime Minister Turnbull, were you surprised, or maybe insulted while you had a non-diplomatic phone call from the new President in the White House, Donald Trump? And was it, do you think, because of the friendship between Netanyahu and Trump, maybe, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister could help to repair the relationship between Australia and Israel?
PRIME MINISTER OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL:
I said that there is so many similarities between Israel and Australia, and you’ve just had a perfect demonstration of that. With a question levelled at me from the Australian press and a question levelled at you from the Israeli press.
We are really very much alike.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: :
Look, let me say, you shouldn’t really believe everything you read in the newspapers, number one.
I agree with that.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: :
Number two, as far as the call between myself and President Trump and I’ve said this many times before, I’ve got three points to make.
First, the call was frank and forthright, it was courteous.
It was alleged in that Washington Post article that he had hung up, that is absolutely not true. It was conducted courteously and ended courteously and as you know, we thanked him for his commitment to the arrangements that had been entered into by his predecessor.
So it was a very frank, forthright and courteous call.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, can I ask, is a one-state solution a possibility? What would it look like? What rights would Palestinians have? And should your allies including Australia, support it?
And Prime Minister Turnbull, you have condemned the boycott Israel movement. Can you tell us why and how you address the concerns that continued settlement building puts at risk any possibility of a two-state resolution?
Look I don’t want to incorporate two million Palestinians as citizens of Israel. Nor do I want them as subjects of Israel. I want them to have all the freedoms to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten us. That is the essence of what we’re suggesting. Let them govern themselves but let them not have the military and physical power to threaten the State of Israel which, as you know is a tiny country. It is, I believe, half or a third of Tasmania.
A third of Tasmania, in Australia.
We are not even a per cent of Australia, so just imagine compressing Australia to a tiny fraction of its size, being surrounded by very hostile elements. You would understand why it is we insist on maintaining the security control which is the essence of our policy.
There is a question that you ask, you ask certain things to the Prime Minister and let me just say that I think the settlements issue is way overblown.
It is an issue, but it is not the issue.
The core of the conflict between us and the Palestinians is their persistent refusal to recognise a Jewish state in any boundary. Once they recognise a Jewish state, once they recognise the permanence of Israel and the right of Israel to be there as the nation state of the Jewish people, in our ancestral homeland, once that happens, everything else will fall in place.