Interview: 'The Right is not emotionally mature enough to realize and understand the importance of diplomacy'

MK Benny Elon plans to promote his initiative from outside the confines of the Knesset.

December 25, 2008 20:23

'The Greeks have their tragedies, but for me there are just challenges," MK Benny Elon said this week. The prominent hawkish chairman of the Moledet faction of the National Union/National Religious Party - who entered the Knesset in 1996, during the heyday of the failed Oslo Accords - is taking a "break" from parliamentary life. This comes on the heels of his having been given an unrealistic slot on the list of the newly formed right-wing party, Habayit Hayehudi, despite his popularity among party voters. "On a public level, it saddens me to see politicians fighting instead of unifying," Elon said in an interview in his Knesset office this week. The 54-year-old rabbi-turned-politician, who is known for thinking big and out of the box, said that he was not willing to end his 12-year political career - which included unifying the Rightist bloc under a single umbrella before the last elections - as a result of splits in a small party or Knesset faction. "For me, the point is not remaining in my [Knesset] seat," Elon said. "That is not what I came here for." He claimed that the rifts within the Right, which he believes are likely to hurt the national-religious camp in the February 10 elections, could serve as a new and totally different platform for unity among conservative voices in the coming years. Down but nowhere near out, Elon said he plans to continue the work he has been doing all along, but now from outside the confines of the Knesset. This includes promoting his diplomatic initiative - the "Elon Plan"- according to which Israel would recognize Jordan, instead of the Palestinian Authority, as the official representative of the Palestinians and as the vehicle for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in lieu of UNRWA. "The Right cannot simply say 'no;' it must offer an alternative," he said. "It cannot be that only [recently retired Meretz MK] Yossi Beilin travels around the world with his Geneva Initiative," he added, referring to the unofficial peace plan which advocates dividing Jerusalem and ceding the West Bank to the Palestinians. Elon said that even though he is leaving party politics, he is convinced that his diplomatic initiative is now closer to realization than ever before. "We have an historic opportunity with what is happening among the Palestinians to convince the Americans that Jordan is our partner," Elon said. He added that with Hamas ruling Gaza, the coming years will provide the chance for the country to "internalize and externalize" that the vision of two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side - (which he called a "ticking bomb") - is finished. It was, he said, a major mistake that only led to bloodshed and to the escalation of Islamic extremism in the region. Aside from furthering his plan, Elon - who spearheaded Israel's relations with the evangelical Christian world - intends to continue to gather the support of all Christian friends of Israel around the world. This is something he has been doing in his role as chairman of the Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, the foreign arm of the Knesset's cross-party Christian Allies Caucus, which he has headed since the death of the lobby's founder, Yuri Shtern."Laying the groundwork for a real alternative and true peace based on Biblical values is a full-time job, even outside of the Knesset," he said. Ironically, much of Elon's frustration is with the leaders and rabbis of his own camp, whom he sees as "myopic" and lacking in long-term vision. "The Israeli Right is not emotionally mature enough to realize and understand the importance of diplomacy," he asserted. "Their mindset is: one settlement and another settlement, one dunam and another dunam, but in the meantime, the establishment of a Palestinian state will destroy the whole settlement enterprise in the West Bank, just as disengagement did in Gaza," he said. He explained that their focus on the day-to-day protests over one West Bank hilltop or another blurred the long-term picture. "The Right always think that they are the ones who are creating 'facts on the ground,' while the Left is operating in a virtual world," he said. "But what they don't realize is that the Left's settlement is Haaretz; their outposts are in the High Court of Justice; and their communities are in the Foreign Ministry." Elon said that he has come to realize that the NU-NRP, with nine Knesset seats, had reached its peak. In order to influence the government, he said, he would need to be part of a more American-style, Republican Party-like political vehicle that would include divergent voices among the Right. "I will return to the Knesset in the future as part of a new entity that will not be built on the shards of small parties which destroy each other - one that will be able to make a real impact," he said. He remarked that the "hostile takeover" of ultra-nationalist Moshe Feiglin in Likud was "the right idea, but childish," suggesting that he could see himself joining Likud in the future, if the party agreed to be open to all voices on the Right. He said that Netanyahu's thinking that he needs to be center-Right and assumption that the right-wing parties will join him anyway is flawed. The power of Likud has risen and fallen over the years, he said, which constantly changes the Likud leader's outlook. "When he is down in the polls, he wants us in; when he is up in the polls, he doesn't," Elon said. ELON'S FAILURE to have persuaded his own public of the importance of having a diplomatic initiative ("What do they care about resettling the Palestinian refugees?") while in the Knesset is, perhaps, indicative of the hurdles he will face on the outside. But Elon, who overcame a battle with cancer, is not one to give up. "I am not in a break-down, but rather in a break-out," he said. "This break is a means to an end. I do not deny the difficulties that lay ahead, and therefore I am sorry about this reality. But in difficulties there are challenges, and I am not alarmed by challenges. The Lord has his way of doing things."

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