by Erez Linn, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
At foreign policy panel in London, PM Netanyahu says that once free of the 2015 deal's limitations, Iran "will have enough [fissile material] for a hundred bombs"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with British Prime
Minister Theresa May in London, ThursdayPhoto: Kobi Gideon / GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against the Iran nuclear deal at a panel on Israel's foreign policy priorities at London's Chatham House on Friday. The prime minister is in London to mark the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, which officially recognized the Jewish people's right to a national home in the land of Israel.
Asked if the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is the best possible option for reining in Iran's nuclear, Netanyahu replied that "Iran bought a few years" with the agreement. He said that once the restrictions placed on the Islamic republic as part of the deal are removed, Iran "will have enough [fissile material] for a hundred bombs within weeks if it decides to break out."
He said he appreciates U.S. President Donald Trump's statement saying he believes Iran is the problem in the Middle East, calling that a "big shift" in U.S. policy.
On the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu said he hopes a U.S. peace initiative will work and praised Trump for taking a fresh approach to bringing the Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations.
Asked if he felt that, given Trump's involvement in peace efforts, now is the moment for peace in the region, he said: "I hope so."
"What's being discussed now is an American initiative. Obviously, we make our interests and our concerns known to Mr. Trump. He's coming with a sort of refreshing 'can-do' [approach]. ... They're trying to think out of the box," Netanyahu said.
Speaking with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Thursday, Netanyahu said he was looking forward to discussing "concrete ideas" with her for correcting the Iran nuclear deal.
"The goal I have in mind is not keeping or eliminating the deal, it's improving the deal and correcting its main flaws. And I think those who want to keep the deal should cooperate in correcting the deal," he said.
"There are great things that are happening in the Middle East because many Arab countries now see Israel not as an enemy, but as their indispensable ally in the battle against militant Islam. The threat we all see is a resurgent Iran that is bent not only on dominating the region, but bent on developing nuclear weapons."
Meanwhile, British and Israeli leaders commemorated the Balfour Declaration's centennial with a banquet in the gilded halls of London's Lancaster House on Thursday.
May and Netanyahu addressed guests at the dinner, which was hosted by the descendants of Lord Arthur Balfour, then Britain's foreign secretary, and the recipient of his declaration, Jewish community leader Baron Walter Rothschild.
At the dinner, May rejected Palestinian calls for the U.K. to apologize for the declaration.
"When some people suggest we should apologize for this letter, I say, absolutely not," she said. "We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the State of Israel. We are proud to stand here today, together with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and declare our support for Israel. And we are proud of the relationship we have built with Israel. And as we mark 100 years since Balfour, we look forward to taking that relationship even further."
May rejected the BDS movement, saying, "There can never be any excuse for boycotts, divestments or sanctions; they are unacceptable." She called for "renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. There will need to be compromises from each side if we are to have a realistic chance of achieving this goal – including an end to the building of new settlements and an end to Palestinian incitement too."
Netanyahu thanked May for inviting him to mark "with pride" a great historical event.
"The history of modern Zionism is intertwined with the history of Britain, the actions and words of Britain," he said. "It was the Balfour Declaration that galvanized international support for Zionism as never before and paved the path for Zionism's entry on the world stage. Now, a once stateless and powerless people have found their rightful place among the nations.
"Prime Minister May, the Balfour Declaration put Britain on the right side of history. In marking that declaration today, you are keeping Britain on the right side of history. On behalf of the government of Israel and the people of Israel, I thank you."
He also thanked May for her "unequivocal denunciation" of anti-Semitism.
Netanyahu also said, "While we mark with pride the Balfour Declaration today, Palestinian leaders call it a tragedy. But the real tragedy of the Balfour Declaration is that it took three decades to fulfill its promise – too late for one-third of the Jewish people who perished in the Holocaust. Had Israel been established in 1928 or 1938, and not in 1948, millions could have been saved. Some people mistakenly believed that there is an Israel because of the Holocaust. In fact, it's only because there was no Israel that the Holocaust could occur, because there was no sovereign Jewish power to protect the Jewish people or to provide refuge for the 6 million murdered by the Nazis. "
Netanyahu said that now, a century after the declaration, "Our two countries, our two democracies – Israel and Britain – are strong allies and partners. We cooperate closely on intelligence. We cooperate closely in the battle against terrorism. And we’ve saved, through this cooperation, countless lives – British lives, Israeli lives. We cooperate in cybersecurity, in technology, in business and enterprise. We share the values of freedom and democracy and peace. Israel is committed to peace, I’m committed to peace.
"A hundred years after Balfour, the Palestinians should finally accept the Jewish national home and finally accept the Jewish state. And when they do, the road to peace will be infinitely closer. In my opinion, peace will be achievable."
Netanyahu's call appeared to fall on deaf ears though, as Palestinians across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip staged protests against the centennial celebrations on Thursday.
Protests in Ramallah and Jerusalem were also attended by a group of British activists who marched from London to Turkey where they boarded a flight to Israel to present to the British Consulate General in Jerusalem with a 67-word "new Balfour Declaration," which they said calls for equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.
In Jerusalem, protesters briefly clashed with Israeli police in front of the British Consulate after a Palestinian flag was raised.
Erez Linn, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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