Andrea Mitchell to Netanyahu: Congratulations, Your Victory is 'Costing You'

Starting off her interview with newly reelected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell acknowledged his win – then told him how bad it was: "Prime Minister, congratulations on your victory. But – there's always a but – critics and analysts here and around the world are saying, 'At what cost?' Your hard turn right on the Palestinian issue, what you said about the Arab voters coming out in droves, they say, are costing you, costing you support around the world."

Netanyahu pushed back on her assertions: "Well, neither one is – the premises in your questions are wrong. I haven't changed my policy....What has changed is the reality. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, he's made a pact with Hamas that calls for destruction of the Jewish state."

Moments later, Mitchell cited a series of liberal pundits bashing the Israeli leader:

Words have meaning. Tom Friedman wrote today, "They must have been doing high fives in Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran's behavior?" Joe Klein in Time magazine called it "bigotry." Jeffrey Goldberg said that it would be "calamitous," the way you talked about Arab voters and they way you talked about not going for a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu dismissed the nasty the accusations: "First of all, I'm very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel's citizens, Arabs and Jews alike." Mitchell interrupted: "That's not the way it sounded on election day." Netanyahu continued: "Well, if you hear what I said you might reconsider what you just said and what you quoted."

Mitchell attacked the Prime Minister's credibility: "Why should President Obama trust you when you came to Congress to lobby against his negotiations with Iran?"

After Netanyahu reiterated his objections to the nuclear deal, Mitchell fretted: "Are you counting on Republicans in Congress to kill a deal if it's a deal you don't like?"

He explained: "I'm counting on having people hearing my view and considering the dangers to Israel, and I think not only to Israel, across the broad spectrum. This is not a partisan issue. I received very good feedback from both Democrats and Republicans in the United States..."

Here is a transcript of Mitchell's questions to Netanyahu in the March 19 interview, as aired on MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports:

12:00 PM ET

ANDREA MITCHELL: Prime Minister, congratulations on your victory.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Thank you.

MITCHELL: But – there's always a but – critics and analysts here and around the world are saying, "At what cost?" Your hard turn right on the Palestinian issue, what you said about the Arab voters coming out in droves, they say, are costing you, costing you support around the world.

NETANYAHU: Well, neither one is – the premises in your questions are wrong. I haven't changed my policy. I never retracted my speech in Bar-Ilan University six years ago, calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. What has changed is the reality. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, he's made a pact with Hamas that calls for destruction of the Jewish state.

(...)

MITCHELL: But you were reelected on a mandate. Certainly Israeli voters, your supporters, believe you were reelected on a mandate against a two-state solution. That is the way the White House is interpreting. The White House says this is divisive. And it's so divisive that now the administration is saying that they will not stop the U.N. from conferring statehood. They will not block – or at least they're strongly considering not blocking a vote for statehood for Palestinians.

NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, that state would become a terrorist state. Iran says that they will arm the West Bank the way they armed Gaza.

(...)

MITCHELL: Words have meaning. Tom Friedman wrote today, "They must have been doing high fives in Tehran when they saw how low Bibi sank to win. What better way to isolate Israel globally and deflect attention from Iran's behavior?" Joe Klein in Time magazine called it "bigotry." Jeffrey Goldberg said that it would be "calamitous," the way you talked about Arab voters and they way you talked about not going for a Palestinian state.

NETANYAHU: Well, I explained on the Palestinian state what it is we need. We need a demilitarized state that recognizes a Jewish state. But...

MITCHELL: And tell your supporters-

NETANYAHU: ...on Arab voters I think it's important. It's very, very important. First of all, I'm very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel's citizens, Arabs and Jews alike.

MITCHELL: That's not the way it sounded on election day.

NETANYAHU: Well, if you hear what I said you might reconsider what you just said and what you quoted. I'm very proud of the fact that Israel is the one country in a very broad radius that – in which Arabs have free and fair elections, that's sacrosanct, that will never change. I met a few days ago with the Arab supporters, many Arab supporters of Likud. I met them in the north of the country. And I said, "Look, I'm concerned with a massive foreign-funded effort, massive foreign money"-

MITCHELL: Which foreign money, U.S. money?

NETANYAHU: Big NGOs that are coming in here with foreign money, and it's all over the place.

MITCHELL: You said tens of millions of dollars.

NETANYAHU: Well, definitely millions, and I said it looks like maybe tens of millions of dollars that are coming in to try-

MITCHELL: From America?

NETANYAHU: Among other places. Foreign fundraising, that's important. But what has happened is that I said that they would try to get out votes for a specific party, an amalgamation of Islamists and other anti-Israel groups. And I said when that happens, make sure we get out our vote. I wasn't trying to suppress a vote, I was trying to get something to counter a foreign-funded effort to get votes that are intended to topple my party. And I was calling on our voters to come out. And by the way, quite a few of them, we got quite a few Arab voters for the Likud and I'm very proud of that.

(...)

MITCHELL: I want to ask you about Iran. Why should President Obama trust you when you came to Congress to lobby against his negotiations with Iran?

NETANYAHU: I think there's an unbreakable bond between Israel and the United States. The President has said that, I've said that.

MITCHELL: But what about between you and Barack Obama?

(...)

MITCHELL: Has he called yet to congratulate you on your victory?

NETANYAHU: Secretary Kerry called me yesterday and I'm sure I'll speaking to President Obama soon.

(...)

MITCHELL: On Iran, the draft agreement reportedly would permit Iran to have 6,000 centrifuges and that it would last for ten years or more. Why isn't that better for Israel – to freeze their program and have inspections – than the other option, which would be a military option, which would only set them back a year or two?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think there are other options as well. I think you can get a better deal. And I think the one that I would have is to reduce Iran's nuclear capabilities so you increase the breakout time. I mean if I had a vote on that negotiating team, I would say zero centrifuges. I don't have a vote there but I can only ask-

MITCHELL: You're willing to accept some nuclear enrichment?   

NETANYAHU: I would say that that is something that, you know, a smaller number would be something that Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn't love, but they could live with.

(...)

MITCHELL: Are you counting on Republicans in Congress to kill a deal if it's a deal you don't like?

NETANYAHU: I'm counting on having people hearing my view and considering the dangers to Israel, and I think not only to Israel, across the broad spectrum. This is not a partisan issue. I received very good feedback from both Democrats and Republicans in the United States and from many other places in the world and from many countries in the Arab world. And the only thing that I would say, Andrea, is when Arabs and Israelis agree on something, I think it's worth paying attention.

MITCHELL: And your message to Iran?

NETANYAHU: For the people of Iran, we want peace with them, but they've been taken over by a regime that calls for destruction, I think suppresses and brutalizes them as well. And the most important thing is that we prevent this regime from having atomic bombs to carry out their designs on destroying Israel and their mad fantasy of becoming – taking over the Middle East, and from there to the world. You don't want the formal sponsor of global terrorism armed with atomic weapons. That's bad for everyone.

MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Prime Minister.

NETANYAHU: Thank you, Andrea. Thank you very much.

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