Editor's Notes: Telling the truth, eloquently

By
September 9, 2011 17:08

An interview with Gilad Erdan.




Steve Linde

Steve Linde 58 NEW 58. (photo credit:Courtesy)

Gilad Erdan has it all.

He’s young (turning 41 this month), handsome, savvy and charming.

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And he has the gift of the gab, in Hebrew and, it turns out, in English too.

Ahead of a trip to the US next week, he has been taking intensive English lessons, something that became abundantly evident in an hourlong interview I and Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov conducted with him – in English – in his Tel Aviv office on Wednesday. He also reads The Jerusalem Post every day, and has a copy on his desk.

Erdan, the Likud minister of environmental protection who has a law degree from Bar-Ilan, is scheduled to fly to Washington and New York to meet US and Jewish leaders, and explain Israel’s opposition to the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood at the UN later in the month.

As I glance out his office window at the spectacular view of the Azrieli Center, I ask him how views this PR mission? He smiles, saying that he had taken it upon himself to fight in the international arena for Israel’s case and “tell the truth.”

I ask him whether there aren’t different versions of the truth within the Israeli government, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s on the one side and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s on the other.

“I’m not sure that Lieberman is saying something else,” he says, in a deep, calm voice. “The music is different, but I’m not sure that the content is different. I think that it’s important to stress first of all that Israel wants peace and educates for peace. Since this government was established two-and-a-half years ago, we have made big concessions and compromises, compared to our Likud ideology, and some of these were gestures which the American administration asked us to make towards the Palestinians.

“But today it’s very clear, and Prime Minister Netanyahu said it in his speech: Israel recognizes the right of the Palestinians to an independent state, but the only way to achieve peace is by negotiating.

We want to negotiate. The Palestinians want to run away from the compromises which are needed to achieve peace and try to use the biased organization of the UN to impose something on Israel.

“On that issue, we are standing together with the American administration. President Obama and Secretary Clinton said that this is not the way to achieve peace. The only way is to negotiate on a just solution, and Israel is willing to do that anytime.

“Peace is something you have to do together; you cannot go only on a unilateral path and force the other side to make peace with you.”

Erdan concedes that Israel still doesn’t know what the wording of the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN will be.

“Maybe it will, like everyone suspects, be based on the pre- ’67 borders, maybe it won’t,” he says. “But first of all, when you want to achieve mutual compromise, you cannot do it on a unilateral path.

“Secondly, Israel has very good and strong claims to Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians present Judea and Samaria as ‘occupied territories,’ which they should now get back. This is not the truth.

“I think we need to talk about the right of the Jews to live in Judea and Samaria.

Everyone forgot because this was the policy for many years of the Israeli government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“The Arabs lived there for dozens of years, maybe hundreds of years, but we lived there for thousands of years, and the most popular book in the world, the Bible, said so, and everyone knows this in the United States.”

“In Judea and Samaria, Jews have historical, moral, biblical and legal rights, not to mention that before the ’67 war, there was never a Palestinian state. Everyone forgets it.

Judea and Samaria were occupied illegally by Jordan, and we released them from Jordan,” Erdan says.

“Also, according to UN Resolutions 242 and 338, Israel is not obliged to withdraw from all the territories to achieve peace; they also recognize Israel’s need for defensible borders, and everyone knows that the ’67 borders are indefensible.

I can show you how small Israel will be if we lose all of Judea and Samaria. [He takes out a book of maps and shows it to me.] “Another thing that I will say is that those who support a unilateral declaration won’t be promoting peace. It will make achieving peace much harder, because the moment the Palestinians will think that they can get whatever they want without a commitment to dismantle terrorist organizations or compromise on the demand for the refugees to return, they will be on a high tree from which it will be very hard to bring them down in the future.

“So anyone who supports the UN declaration will cause huge damage to the peace process.”

I interrupt. “You once famously said that ‘Israel does not take orders from Obama.’” He laughs. “Usually I’m more polite.”

“Are you sure the Americans are going to support Israel all the way, with a veto if necessary in the Security Council?” I ask.

“Yes, I think they will,” he answers, emphatically.

“Because President Obama – and not only him – asked the Palestinians to put aside a unilateral declaration, and they got a refusal. And it’s not the first time. Hopefully, they won’t be the only ones who vote against or veto the resolution.”

Leaving Erdan’s office, I feel encouraged. He is a dynamic example of the new generation of politicians in Israel, the political leaders of the future. Israel needs people like him to present its case at this critical time. He will, no doubt, be a star on Fox News.

If one could choose anyone from the Netanyahu government to woo America with his words, Erdan is the man for the job.

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