We are approaching Prime Minister Netanyahu's 100 days in office. How do you sum it up?
Well I think that the Prime Minister has succeeded beyond my expectations on the domestic front. He's in the process of finalizing a budget that will be a two-year budget that will hopefully bring stability to the political front, and also provide an economic policy that will help Israel both prevent a further deterioration of the economy and put it on a path towards long term growth.
I'm pretty confident that that's what will happen. He's shown himself to be an excellent steward of the economy as Finance Minister and I think it will be the same as Prime Minister.
I think that on foreign policy issues, the Prime Minister, in his speech at Bar-Ilan University, was very successful at expressing the broad consensus that exists today in Israel. I would argue that he's the first prime minister who has actually expressed a vast consensus in Israel.
The Prime Minister succeeded, I think, [in] expressing policy decisions that are supported by over 70% of the public, maybe even higher that that.
I think that for the first time in 15 years, you have a consensus within Israel, and I think that consensus is not only reflected in the policies of the Prime Minster, it's also reflected in the composition of the government.
The other two issues that he put on the agenda were the education issue and the issue of crime. On the education issue, I think the most talented politician [Gideon Sa'ar] was appointed Education Minister, and I think he brought in a real experienced director general, and I think we'll hear more of them in weeks and months to come about implementing a real serious education plan.
And the other issue has to do with crime, and the Prime Minister is working on that and making sure that the ideas that he expressed before about increasing the severity of punishment, community policing, and basically policies that have been very effective elsewhere, will be instituted in Israel, because violence represents a major problem here and hopefully we're going to address it.
Do you think he's getting a fairer shake from the media this time around than he did the last time he was Prime Minister?
The first time I met the prime minister was in the 2000, after he was Prime Minister. When he first asked me if I was interested in working with him, I said to him, 'I don't know you, I only know you from the press, and the picture the press paints is not good. I was in this country before you were prime minister and after you were prime minister. And I saw your predecessors and successor, and it seemed to me it was quiet in their offices, and there was chaos in the country. And with you it seemed the opposite. And what concerns me is the country.' I can tell you from what I remember that I think the press here has been more fair than it was in the past.
I think we now have quiet in the country. When the Prime Minister was in his first tenure, he succeeded in restoring quiet. We forget that fact.
And I think he succeeded in bringing a level of security to the country [and] that people forget that it was only a few months ago that we were fighting a war, or very large military operation, in Gaza. It seems like years ago because of the quiet that you've had in the last three months.
To what do you attribute the quiet? Can Netanyahu take credit for that?
I think that it's too early to make an assessment.
I can look at his first term as Prime Minister, and people remember every single terror attack that occurred when he was Prime Minister precisely because there were so few of them. I remember three.
And I think then the reason there was quiet was that he essentially deterred Israel's enemies form taking action. They were convinced that if they were going to engage in terrorism, they were going to pay a heavy price for it. He was the first person to come up with the idea of holding the regimes responsible for terrorism.
The biggest contribution that the Prime Minister made early in his career was convincing the US administration at the time that terrorism is essentially a problem of regimes that sponsor terrorists, and I think those ideas penetrated the American policy as well and led them to take very strong action against Libya after the bombing of the nightclub in Berlin.
Netanyahu's idea was to hold the regime responsible for the terrorism that emanates from the territory under its control. I think that idea made it clear to the Palestinian leadership at the time - Yasser Arafat -- that they would not be able to get away with terrorism with Netanyahu as prime minister.
I don't know why its quiet now, and I don't know exactly how long its going to last but I do believe the Prime Minister has made it clear on a number of occasions that he won't have any tolerance for attacks against Israel. Not only will he not accept a hail of rockets, he will not accept a drizzle of rockets on Israel's citizens. And I think people on the other side get that message.
There was a time here when it seemed like if only one missile was fired a week, or if it fell in an open space, that Israel wouldn't respond. There was a long period of restraint in the face of the rocketing of Israeli civilians.
And he made it clear from the get go, the first week, in every type of meeting, with diplomatic interlocutors, with all relevant officials, that we're not going tolerate it, we're not going to tolerate even a drizzle, those were the exact words he used at the time.
Now, has that convinced Hamas not to take action? I don't know the precise reason, their capabilities may have been diminished after the last operation, but obviously their intentions are the same.
And they have to know that they'll pay a very heavy price. That's what the principle of deterrence is. The cost has to be very, very high that it deters them for taking action to begin with. And I think with this Prime Minister, we seem to have deterrence for the time being
You said that when you first met Netanyahu there was chaos in the office, not outside. That is still the impression - that the office is chaotic
There's all sorts of speculation, there are all sorts of people on the outside and they are always looking for stories to paint the Prime Minister's Office in some kind of negative light.
I have to tell you I get along very well with my colleagues. I think we get along very well together.
Listen, a lot of people have said a lot of things about the Prime Minister over the years, but I know him. I've known him for nine years, and I don't see what they see. I've seen situations where I've been with him physically, where I was at meetings and people reported things that didn't happen, or things that he didn't say, or present him in a different light.
How do you see the settlement issue playing out with the US?
I don't know, I think if people want to reach an understanding, they can reach an understanding on the issue.
Can Netanyahu freeze settlement construction?
We're trying to figure out what various things mean because people use words like the freeze, and what exactly does that mean? What does it mean? You know there's never been an Israeli government that has agreed to zero construction in the settlements. It's never happened.
And I don't think it will happen because it's impractical. And while this has been played out in the press many times, the previous governments which agreed to a freeze, including for natural growth, [had] a clear definition of what that meant. And there were clear understandings that we had with the previous US administration on theses issues.
You say there were clear understandings, but US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and former US ambassador Dan Kurtzer say there were not.
These are the facts: fact number one is that Israel's government never agreed to zero construction, and that is understood.
Fact number two is that a framework for understanding was agreed upon. The detail in terms of implementing that was never agreed, and that was what former ambassador Kurtzer must have been talking about.
Israel's previous government operated according to these understandings with the previous administration. The person most responsible for that was [former US National Security Adviser] Elliott Abrams. And he was very clear about that.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu came into office, this was an issue put on the agenda. It has nothing to do with him, it's not his policy, and he hasn't been prime minister for 10 years.
The Prime Minster said that he's not interested in doing anything to pre-judge previous negotiations and he said he's not interested in expropriating additional lands for settlement or for building new settlements, but there are people who live in these communities, and he wants them to have a normal life, normal development, and that's what he's talking about.
Now whether or not that can be agreed upon with the US, I don't know. I don't think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace. I think that idea is fundamentally flawed. They are not the reason for this conflict; the prime minister said that better than I could possibly say in his speech in Bar Ilan.
Look, Israel in Gaza uprooted 17 settlements there, and another four in Samaria, and that was for nothing, meaning Israel had the internal will to do this in the hope that maybe this would lead to some positive step. And that was for nothing. And you mean that in exchange for peace, a peace to end all wars, where Israelis have been fighting for over 60 years, that [the settlements] are going to be in the way of peace? It's an absurd idea for me.
On a personal level, I have a problem with the idea of a Jew not being able to live wherever he wants. A Jew can live in Paris and they can live in Muncie, but they can't live in Hebron, where Jews have been living for 3500 years until the community was massacred 80 years ago? The whole concept that peace demands an area be cleansed of Jews is very problematic for me, and the world just kind of accepts this. And this is a separate problem, and I'm not expressing the policy of the government, but for me it makes no sense.
I actually think that when the Palestinians are prepared to live with Jews among them they are much more likely to be prepared to live with Jews alongside them.
Were you surprised by how hard the Americans are pushing this issue?
Well, it has been a consistent policy of the US for 40 years. I mean the letter of the law was always that the US position for any kind of building over the 1967 line was something that they were opposed to â€¦ In a sense the [US's] primary focus on this issue was something of surprise particularly given the events that transpired over the last few years.
I don't think there are many people in Israel who believe that the settlements are a great obstacle to peace. I think in the wake of the disengagement in Gaza, that kind of argument has lost all of its resonance here. It may resonate in other quarters; they may feel this is an important issue that affects credibility.
The reason I want to speak about the understandings that were reached by the previous government is there is an impression that Israel was somehow hoodwinking the United States and other parties, and were making obligations and not abiding by them, and that is just not true.
But the road map says in black and white, no settlement construction, even for natural growth
Yes but the US Administration knew what exactly Israel meant, and that when they passed that government decision on the roadmap it was based on an agreement that was previously reached [on settlement construction].
There were meetings [between Israeli and US officials] â€¦ over the 14 reservations [Israel had to the road map], and there were meetings to deal with the 15th [reservation dealing with settlement construction], one that wasn't put as a specific reservation of Israel; it was put as a kind of a side understanding, if you like, with the US. But that was understood. It was understood with the US that they were working on that issue. And when Sharon went in December 2003 to the Herzliya Conference, he laid out exactly what the understandings were.
But now the US is saying they are no understandings, Clinton said that
Look, Israel is a country that relies not just on written agreements but also on understandings that we have, that affects the decisions that we make. And when a prime minister and a president have an understanding together, it has meaning. And it affects the decisions that the Prime Minister of Israel will make afterwards. That's why for instance, Bush's letter [in 2004] that he gave to Sharon was very important.
Now Sharon went to his vote [on disengagement in the cabinet] after receiving the letter, and said, 'We received certain assurances from the United States. And he told the ministers, 'you can vote against the disengagement. But if you vote against the disengagement, what you are basically doing is voting against those assurances. The assurances have to do with the settlement blocks in a future agreement, with the issue of Palestinian refugees, and not being able to return to Israel. And these are important achievements. And if you are voting against me now, you are voting against those things too.'
Now that affected the decisions the Israeli government made. Israel's government in good faith was relying on those understandings. Israel was operating in good faith on the settlements the entire time.
But the US is now saying those understandings are invalid?
Look, I think this administration is very reasonable. They don't want to see a situation where under this or that definition, the facts on the ground go in a different direction than what was understood between the parties. And I believe on the basis of good will that it is possible to reach an understanding. I do. I think that reasonable people can understand that when you build within the construction line [in existing settlements] you are not prejudicing negotiations.
There was a poll in the Post recently saying that only six percent of the Israelis think US President Barack Obama is pro-Israeli. If you were asked that question, what would you say?
I have had the opportunity to be in four meetings with the President. And I have to say that the President has expressed at every opportunity his complete commitment to Israel's security. He has said things about Israel, about the relationship between Israel and the US, that were as strong as previous presidents said. He went to Cairo and said that the bonds between Israel and America are unbreakable.
Because the relationship between Israel and the US is so strong, any type of disagreement you have is a lot of time blown out of proportion. But as to the President's commitment to Israel's security, I think he has been very clear and very consistent on that the whole way.
Has this dispute had a trickle down affect in any other areas in the relationship with the US?
A. I have not seen that. I think that you have seen many different things in the US. Whether support for the Arrow Missile that came out of [Netanyahu's] previous visit to Washington, a restatement of the historic commitment that the US has made toward Israel. You have seen that renewed.
I think that at almost every single facet you have seen a continuation or strengthening of the relationship between the two governments. There is a disagreement on this [settlement] issue. But I believe there is common ground that can be achieved and we must wait and see.
In the Prime Minister's Bar-Ilan speech he discussed international guarantees to make sure a future Palestinians state is demilitarized. What was he referring to?
What the Prime Minister is talking about -- and this is not understood we found out subsequently, because a lot of people think that he was talking about foreign troops, and that is definitely not the case -- is guarantees over the demilitarization of a future Palestinian state. He would want international guarantees on the elements of demilitarization -- not only an agreement by the Palestinians that the state would not have an army, and would not make a military pact with Iran, and that they wouldn't have control over the airspace or import heavy weapons, or missiles and rockets into the territories.
What type of guarantees, what does that mean?
It means that they will give international legitimacy to the few restrictions on Palestinian sovereignty that are essential to Israel's security, so that in the future there will be no disagreement regarding these elements. You may not be aware of this, but occasionally in the past the Palestinians have violated agreements, it has happened once or twice. It may very well happen again. And if it does we have to make sure that we have clear guarantees from the international community, and that there is no confusion down the road.
The more those international guarantees clarify the situation for the Palestinians, the less likely the agreement is to be violated.
Are you talking about a UN Security Council Resolution?
Whether it is a Security Council resolution, what he did in the speech was to turn to Israel's friends in the intentional community, led by the US, to do it [provide these guarantees].
There were certain security arrangements that the previous government, when [Ehud] Barak was also Defense Minister, insisted would be necessary in any future state. And that was presented to the previous administration, and was also presented to this one, and we will have to work with them to make sure the secure guarantees are there in any kind of agreement.
Obviously first and foremost it requires backing from the US. I can't understand why people who support the construct of two states for two peoples, who support that formulation, and are committed to Israel's security, wouldn't support it.
Palestinian self determination does not require an army. It does require a police force, and a security force that can effectively fight terror, but it doesn't require tanks, artillery or missiles.
Palestinian self determination doesn't require that they control the airspace. Because that could be a big danger to people flying into Ben Gurion Airport, and you go off course 500 yards, and someone has the right , because you encroached on their air space, to take action.
I don't think the Palestinians' self determination gives them the right to import Grad rockets and heavy weapons, and we have to have an effective mechanism to prevent that.
And I don't think it gives them the right to make military pacts with the likes of Iran. So there are a handful of powers traditionally associated with sovereignty which have to not be given to the Palestinians in a final agreement, and these restrictions have to be backed by international guarantees.
Are you looking for guarantees that would give Israel the right to take action if the demilitarization is violated?
Yes. I think it would make it clear that if any potential leadership on the Palestinian side would think that over time these certain restrictions on sovereign powers necessary for Israel's security could break down, and they could try to add sovereign powers dangerous to our security, I think that clear international guarantees would send a powerful message that that is not possible, that what you get in a peace agreement is what you get.
Also it is important that an agreement includes that they have no more claims, and that this is the end of conflict. So we know that if we reach a peace agreement we are actually making peace, and that it is not the start of a new round of conflict.
What the Prime Minister did [in his Bar-Ilan speech] was outline principles, because he was asked to deal with the issue of two states for two peoples. He outlined principles of how he sees the end game.
That doesn't mean that nothing else is important. He didn't make preconditions, he didn't say that recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a precondition, or demilitarization is a pre-condition [to negotiations].
He said they will be essential for an agreement, but that we can begin talks immediately. And he wants to see that in the process we see the Palestinians building, and essentially earning their sovereignty: building a security force that is effectively establishing the rule of law and fighting terrorism and not just a security force that is a revolving door - one morning you are in a terrorist faction, and the next day in the security forces, and then it goes back again.
[The Palestinians] have to have an effective force, and most people, from what I've heard, have been very pleased with the efforts of [US General Keith] Dayton to train and to vet the people in these forces. And that process will now take another year and half to two years until they are up to the level they want them to be.
Netanyahu will need the Palestinians to come into the negotiations, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he is in no hurry, and said in a recent interview in the Washington Post that things in the West Bank are not that bad, and he can wait until Obama brings down the government?
Maybe given what he said - the situation in the West Bank is quite good and he's got noting to worry about -- we should make him our communications director.
The Prime Minister has called on the Palestinians to negotiate immediately
You have a coalition - though a unity government - that is two to three steps to the right of the previous coalition. And not only is Abu Mazen [Abbas] not keeping the same demands he had before, he has actually raised the stakes and added a new demand. He never demanded of [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert a total freeze. This is a new demand, and there is a question of whether the Palestinians are really committed to entering into a process with us.
We hope they start changing their mind. The best way to change their mind is to have people around the world, who are sometimes not hesitant to say what they demand of Israel, to be equally forceful in telling the Palestinians to stop playing these games and get into negotiations, and to start building an infrastructure of peace from the bottom up. They have to be equally forceful in that.
But until there is a settlement freeze, you won't hear that from the world, and instead Israel will be blamed for intransigence.
I went with the Prime Minister to Europe, and the sense was not that Israel was being blamed for intransigence. I was in six and seven hours of talks in the two countries [Italy and France]. And the issue of settlements came up - my guess - is four minutes.
Then what did they talk about the rest of the time?
First of all the principles outlined in his speech, and secondly the situation in Iran, which everyone wants to discuss, and what that means for the region.
With the settlement issue there is a huge gap between the conversation that takes place in the press, and what is said in the diplomatic arena on these issues â€¦ There are a lot of things that people are concerned about, and this is not he only thing.
What will bring the Palestinians to the negotiations?
That is a very good question. I think more and more people saying, 'guys, it is time for you to sit down and have discussions. The more they are called out on the issue, the less intransigent they may be.
Do you see that happening?
It might, it very well might. I don't know. We are still in the wake of the Bar Ilan speech, and there were many questions about how the Prime Minister saw the end of the process and I think those questions have been resolved. I think the Prime Minister said he was surprised about how powerful the response was to his speech - the depth of support, the intensity of support for the speech, and that it [crossed] such a broad ideological and political spectrum, and restated most basic things.
The Prime Minister has said that [Menachem] Begin used to say that sometime you have to restate the obvious. And he was restating the most obvious things to people, but it really struck a chord with them. The issue of a Jewish state is not new, the issue of demilitarization is not new. But no one has put it front and center before.
The Palestinians said that the recognition of a Jewish state is new, and that it threw a new wrench into the works.
It is definitely not new, but something the PM will stand on, and there will not be a way to get out of this. This is important because it gets to the core of the conflict.
In 1947, there was a proposal from the UN, and they said we support two states for two people, a Jewish state and an Arab state.
And at the time there were no refugees, no settlements pAst the 1949 armistice lines, and Jerusalem wasn't on the table. None of the issues that are seen as core issues to this conflict were issues. There was only one issue. Do you accept Jewish sovereignty in [any part of] the land of Israel, in the territory between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea? Do you accept Jewish sovereignty? And the answer of the Arab world was 'no.' And that resulted in a war and the conflict.
The other issues came in afterward. The Prime Minister, in stating this principle of recognition of the Jewish state, have put this to the Palestinians again: 'are you willing to say yes.'
The world is saying two states for two peoples, are you will to accept it, a nation-state for the Jewish people, of course with full rights for its minority. A nation-state, a Jewish state not in the religious sense, but where you have collective self determination for the Jewish people, and that is reflected in our symbols, in our calendar, in the law of return - basic things that affect the identity of the state.
And they have not accepted that. And that is the Rubicon that for 61 years the Palestinians have not crossed. Sharon was not a person anchored deep in the ideology of Jabotinsky, he doesn't come from that world. The Prime Minster does, coming from the family he comes from. He comes purely form that world -- his father, grandfather, his great grandfather come from that that line. So for Netanyahu to accept, in any term, a Palestinian state, and to recognize that they have rights that entitle them to certain things was an enormously difficult step for him to take, but he took it. He crossed that Rubicon.
So in that sense he becomes maybe the last leader in Israel to make that [step], but you haven't had the first person among the Palestinians cross that Rubicon. And once they do it, the effect will be very dramatic.
Because the core of the conflict is that the Palestinians think that we stole their house. That's what they think. So if you are dealing with a thief, no matter what agreement you are going to make, if you think that someone stole your house you are not going to make peace, because you are not going to feel that that peace is legitimate.
The fact is that we didn't steal their house, and that we are historically connected to this place, as the Prime Minister said quite well in his speech, and that should actually be a source of optimism. Because if this place were Uganda, I'd say there would be no chance of peace, because the other side would not recognize a claim that doesn't exist.
But precisely because this is a land where the Patriarchs prayed, the prophets preaches, and the Kings of Israel ruled, this is the land where we have had Jews living for 3000 years, and where Jews were dreaming of and saying next year in Jerusalem. We have a real claim, and that claim is the hope for peace. When Arafat said there was no Jewish temple on the temple mount at Camp David. He was wrong. He was lying.
When the other side recognizes that you are not a thief, they can say, 'Okay, you have a claim, and yes we have rights. We have rights because we were here for many centuries, and we have families we can trace back.'
But then you can find mutuality. You can find a reciprocal recognition of rights. But until you have that you won't have peace.
It is the most basic things for the Palestinians, to say 'yes the Jewish people have rights to a state in this land.' Once they cross that Rubicon, all the other issues, that were not the original sources of the conflict, all of those can be resolved, because they will say your presence here is essentially just. If the world tries to get a way from this issue you are never going to resolve it.
But if it holds a mirror up to the Palestinians, and says the Jews are here by right, the Jews have a claim, stop educating your children that we are foreign invaders who stole your land, stop educating your children that there is no historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, start education on truth and peace, then it is possible.
What about the events in Iran? What, if anything, do they change?
I think they unmasked the regime for a lot of people. I personally was under no illusions about this regime, and I believed, as Natan Sharansky taught me many years ago, how to see societies that are not free for what they really are - there was little support for this regime, the vast majority of people were against it, and I think you needed a trigger to bring that disaffection to the surface.
I THINK the Iranian people's desire for freedom is very, very powerful. It is very courageous. We go to protest here, on the left or right, and don't get shot. These people may get shot, thrown into jail, and it is very important to make a clear distinction between the regime and the people.
I think the people in Iran are certainly ready for democracy, they have no conflict with Israel. We had a great relationship with them in the past, we can have a great relationship in the future. They are the basis of hope that the region will move into a different direction. The problem in Teheran is the regime, that is the problem.
How will this help slow down Iran's nuclear march. Do you think the US will go ahead with engagement?
I'm sure they are thinking about these issues. This took a lot of people by surprise because no one was expecting that this would spark the type of furor inside the country that it did. I'm sure they are doing reassessments, we have to see how it will play out.
This definitely unmasked the regime, and the world recognizes what it is dealing with - that the regime that not only sponsors terrorism all over the world, is brutally repressing its own people and doesn't have legitimacy.
Do you think the world will now take a more formidable stand on the nuclear issue because the regime is brutally suppressing their own people?
Yes. I think that the danger becomes more apparent for people. The Prime Minister has said that nuclear proliferation is bad, but it makes a difference if Holland gets nuclear weapons, or Teheran. We understand that, and now I think more and more people understand these dangers.
The Prime Minister has said that the greatest danger facing the world is the marriage between nuclear weapons and militant Islam. Either militant Islam is going to acquire nuclear weapon, and that is the case of Iran, or nuclear weapons acquires militant Islam, and that would be the case of Pakistan
Is there pressure right now on Israel for an international peace conference?
A. I don't think so. What I've noticed in this job is that the number of ideas that are floated in any 24-hour time period, and variations on ideas, are almost endless, and people are throwing out all kinds of ideas to try and advance the process.
I think that the most important thing is that we do not repeat the same mistakes of the past. The previous 15 years of peace making did not lead to a good result, not for the Israelis or the Palestinians. It hasn't worked, to repeat the same mistakes of the past, hoping to achieve a different result, is what Einstein defined as insanity.
What we are trying to see is how we can create a process that will lead to a successful outcome. I think that there are elements in place to do that. I think the Prime Minister's idea of a triple track approach can create that process and can give a chance for an agreement to be realized.
Will that necessitate a peace conference?
It might, or might not. You have to see what the substance is. You don't just have a conference to have a conference; you have to see if it is advancing a different approach to making peace.
I do think we have been here for three months, and it would have been very nice to use these three months to have worked very aggressively to change the situation on the ground. Now things are happening anyway. You see recent report of security forces and Israel being able to somewhat pull back and allow for more movement and access, to release things slowly to allow things to develop on the economy, and that is only a fraction of what could be achieved. But we are wasting a lot of time in a sense dealing with the side issues that don't get to the heart of the end game or the peace process, and I think that is unfortunate.
If we sat down with the Palestinians, Abu Mazen and Salam Fayad tomorrow - lets say there are ten projects they want to do, like a major tourism initiative that could start bringing tens of thousands of tourists within a year, then you could create hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of jobs that could do more to improve the situation here than 15 conferences. And this is the Prime Minister best suited to advance that process.
He is someone who actually takes pleasure in busting through the bureaucracy. It is one of the few things he enjoys in his job, the ability to get bureaucrats in a room and to tell them: why is this not happening, to hear their answers, and figure out pragmatic solutions to their answers. In that sense, he is the Prime Minister best suited to change the situation.
And if the Arab world would come, put their money where their mouths are, and actually invest in the Palestinian economy, it would improve the situation on the ground. If they would bring their entrepreneurial initiatives here, you could fundamentally transform the whole region in a very short amount of time. Is that going to make peace inevitable? I don't know. But it definitely is going to make it much more possible.
We've been in an approach that is an all or nothing approach for so long, either you get the deal to end all deals, or everything collapses. What you want to do, if I could use a football analogy, is to move the ball down the field, ten yards, 15 yards, to create a situation that is much more stable, where there is much more prosperity, where the Palestinians can build institutions, establish law and order, de-toxify an educational system promoting hatred. I think that every month that goes by without doing those things, in that sense, is wasted.
Why can't you start?
A. We can do a lot of things ourselves. But you can't do joint industrial projects, joint tourism projects, because they have to be joint. If Abu Mazen is sitting with his hands crossed, we'll wait and see what will happen. We are only tapping a fraction of what we could be doing. I think the US can be vital to that. I think President Obama, who definitely believes in a wider participation of Arab world in the peace process, can be very effective.
I think the US administration can be very vital at getting many more forces participating in this initiative. You got to get a partner, someone willing to work with us.
How does it make you feel when you read articles highlighting in a negative way that Netanyahu has a number of native English speakers and religious people around him. Does that make you feel like an outsider.
No. It makes me feel sorry for the people who write it. I think they are pathetic. It doesn't create any insecurity in me, because I am very proud of who I am. And when people question it, it shows how superficial and shallow they are. And I think it is sad that in the Jewish state it should be a topic of conversation that there are religious people who work for the Prime Minister.
I also think it is sad that some Israeli leaders, certainly not this Prime Minister, are squeamish about speaking in the historic language of their own people, not just the Hebrew language.
It is commonplace for the President of the US to quote Isaiah. In Israel, in the Knesset, it is quite rare for an Israeli politician to quote Isaiah. I think that is a tragedy, in the Israeli body politic, and not just in politics. You have had few secular leaders who understood and appreciated the treasures of their own people.
So they are looking all over the world to be like everyone else, when the uniqueness is right here. I don't think that Israelis will ever be able to compete - you are never going to out New York the New Yorkers, or out Paris the Parisians.
But what we have here is something that is completely unique that all the world treasures and some of our own people don't treasure. You had a leader like David Ben Gurion who was a secular person but deeply knowledgeable of his own history and his own culture. Many of the elites in Israel, not all of them, many elites are very educated people but ignorant when it comes to their own heritage. And I think that is a tragedy.
Shakespeare is wonderful, and I think every home in Israel should have a Shakespeare. But the greatest book ever written was the Bible. And the difference between Shakespeare and Bible for the Jews, is that Shakespeare was English, but the Bible is ours, and to not understand what that means, and how powerful that is when you are sitting on those assets [is unfortunate]. They say that Israel has no natural resources except for the talents and minds of its people. That is true, but we have this unequaled heritage in this country, and you have very few leaders who in the past have tapped into it.
And when I see a senior journalist write about a few people who are surrounding the Prime Minister who have kippot on their heads, I feel sorry for that person. Because I know that he is the product of system that had actually detached him from his roots. Instead of saying that it is valuable that the Prime Minister has people like that around him, he can't see any value in that. And that speaks to a deeper problem that he or she has, rather than a problem that we have.
And for the Prime Minister it is interesting. I think he is rare in that he does tap into and take great pride in his heritage. He is a secular person. I think every Shabbat, I don't know if I am giving away state secrets, he reads from the prophets with one of his sons. His second son is apparently quite the biblical scholar. On Sarah's side of the family they have apparently some very serious Biblical scholars, and the second son is apparently continuing in his mother and her family's footsteps, and I think the son has brought the Bible alive for his father.
How about the Anglo angle that is also often mocked?
A. Once someone said that Netanyahu is surrounded by people who are religious, English speaking and neo-cons, so definitely the only one who might fit all three categories is myself, and I don't know if I am a neo-con.
The Prime Minister is someone who has a great affinity for the US, I think a great love for America. He sees it as the embodiment of certain ideals. The old clichÃ©s of carrying the torch of freedom around the world. If you know history, you know it is not a clichÃ©, very real. I think he connects to it.
I think the people who were born and raised in the US and came here, are very different then a lot of the immigrants who came from other countries. Because we were not running away form anything. Those from the US tend to be some of the most idealistic immigrants. Not that the others aren't, but you don't face anti-Semitism in the US. I don't know if you did, but I didn't. I felt at home in the US.
So when you come here you are doing it because you are very idealistic and trying to contribute something and be part of this collective destiny of the Jewish people taking place in Israel.
Two or three years ago was the first time in some 19 centuries that the largest Jewish community in the world was in Israel. Sometimes miracles happen. It is very hard not to see what has happened in the State of Israel, to turn a blind eye to it. When the state was established, five percent of the world's Jews lived in Israel. Today, 45 percent of world's Jews live here. It is the single largest Jewish community in the world. So this historical process is happening, and we are in it. We are part of that historical process.
I think the Prime Minister may see that people who have come here from the US feel that it really is all about the country, not about them. That a lot of them were giving up great opportunities in the US. But they came here because they wanted to be part of the process of building this country, building this society, I think that is something that this Prime Minister, or any Prime Minister, can admire in immigrants from the US.
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