The State of Israel is not yet at the stage where it can consider supporting any kind of a Palestinian state, Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last week.
“I do not see a situation now in which establishing a Palestinian state will solve our security problems, end the ongoing dispute over Jerusalem, or the debate on the history of Judea and Samaria,” said Katz. “It’s important that we think [about how a future agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will look], but I believe that the steps taken so far were unrealistic and thus they have failed. And that was not a coincidence.”
Israel must develop regional security stability to keep Iran from gaining strength and control in neighboring countries, he said. Then it needs to create a strong economic base – with European-style transportation infrastructures – and promote regional economic initiatives.
Only then should policy revisions be made on whether a Palestinian state, or some sort of autonomy, could exist side-by- side with Israel.
Netanyahu: Iran is responsible for more than 80% of Israel's security problems (credit: GPO)
Katz, a member of the security cabinet, has formulated a three-part regional concept. In simplest terms, those steps are: Israel builds stable protection; prospers economically; and opens a channel for peace.
In more detail, the first part concerns Iran, especially its proxies in the region. Katz said Israel’s top priority is blocking the Islamic Republic from forming a “Shi’ite crescent” – from Yemen in the south through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon in the north – in which Iran could threaten Israel while evading international responsibly for activities. “This poses a real viable threat to Israel. You have forces with Iranian capability right here, and Iran is not being accounted for,” he said.
“I believe that we will see great progress in this sphere, in light of the approach the new US administration has adopted toward Iran,” said Katz. “We should keep these channels open – along with cooperation with moderate Sunni countries in the region with which we share common interest – and form a stable bloc against the expansion of Iran and push them back from our borders.”
He stressed that Israel has cooperated with Arab countries, despite lacking official diplomatic relations. “I would not state their names, but this common interest is strong and deep. This change in the American approach and its defining Iran as an enemy – and also its proxies such as Hezbollah – unified Israel with almost all Arab countries and the Arab League.”
The second part of Katz’s concept concerns economics. He believes that with American support, Israel should advance regional and global economic enterprises, and establish new, high-quality transportation infrastructures. Those enterprises, he said, should involve the Palestinians, so they also benefit from that progress.
“We could see these kinds of actions throughout history, like the Ottomans did here,” said Katz. “They have constructed railroads all over the country and connected it with the rest of the region. Although now we have new borders, this is a great opportunity to create new ties with our neighboring countries.”
Israel has already situated itself as a central route for commodities from Turkey on their way east, because of the ongoing war in Syria, he said.
Katz promotes building an artificial island 5 kilometers off the coast of Gaza with a port and civilian infrastructure installations. Such an initiative could ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza; strengthen Israeli oversight of products coming into the Strip; and might prevent the next round of violence with Hamas, he said.
“We have reached an absurd situation after the disengagement [from the Gaza Strip in 2005]. We are sending supplies in a thousand trucks every day into the Strip, and they are threatening us with their rockets,” he said.
“On the one hand, we cannot allow them to have an airport and a seaport, from understandable security reasons. On the other hand, closing them in gives us the responsibility [for their situation]. This is why the island program – which would allow us to separate from them – is our best path.”
Katz envisions Israel as the security authority of such a port along with international forces, and stressed that construction of the island would not change any existing agreements with the Palestinians.
He expects that the project will garner worldwide support and advance Israel internationally.
“In this case, I combined my authority as transportation minister and my diplomatic-security role as intelligence minister, and I found that giving the people of Gaza an outlet is our only way to ease the situation there, reduce our responsibility and improve regional security.
“There is large support to this measure all over the world,” Katz added. “This also includes Arab countries that expressed willingness to assist with building the island, also Western countries, and China and Russia.”
Katz said that the Trump administration has also expressed interest in the initiative.
“All that is needed now is for the prime minister to start the move in the cabinet and we could advance it.”
The final part of the regional concept is political peace. But only with the first two in place can Israel move toward a viable peace with the Palestinians, Katz warned, reiterating that it is useless to discuss peace without including all three parts.
“We shouldn’t deal with the impossible; we should advance the possible,” he said. “When we are safe here and the infrastructures are modern, we will be more like Europe – then we can reassess. There is no use doing that when the gaps are this big.
“When we will reach our first two goals, it will provide the necessary potential to achieve the third one.”
Katz emphasized that under any future agreement, Israel will still be in control in Greater Jerusalem – including its surrounding settlements – and will have the right to continue construction in the existing settlements.
“But my opinion does not matter here,” he said. “Going directly to the third layer is wrong. It will be yet another failure that will lead to more bloodshed. When the expectations are rising and things aren’t happening, violence erupts.”
Katz will speak at The Jerusalem Post annual conference in New York City on May 7.