Politics: ‘The only MK in a caravan’

Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin is pushing his party to the right, speaking out against pre-’67 lines and building freezes in Judea and Samaria.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 1, 2011 17:32
Likud MK Zeev Elkin

Zeev Elkin 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

 
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Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) seems to have undergone a political transformation from Kadima MK to someone whose views “match those of the Likud much more than [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu’s,” as he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week.

After winning election to the 17th Knesset in 2006 with Kadima, he quit two years later for the Likud, won a seat in the 18th Knesset, and has become a major power player as the chairman of the Likud faction and the coalition. His current role allows him to determine the coalition’s agenda, and work toward passing the bills the government approves.

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As Elkin explains it, he began his political career on the Right, and is “the only Knesset member who lives in a caravan” in Gush Etzion. He didn’t change, he says – Kadima did.

“Kadima went through a dramatic process,” he elaborates. “They began as a Center-Right party based mostly on former Likud members. Then they moved from Center-Left to hard Left. [Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni removed the right-wing DNA of most of the MKs in Kadima.”

Elkin cites examples of political bullying by his former party’s leadership, saying that Livni “talks a lot about democracy, but there is no democracy in Kadima.”

The Likud MK also questions Kadima’s internal politics, saying that Livni’s defeat of MK Shaul Mofaz in the party’s last primary “was never properly investigated.”

“The party’s legal authorities conspired with Livni’s people and prevented a fair decision from being made,” Elkin said. “It’s no wonder that a bill establishing a comptroller to monitor party primaries was sponsored by Kadima MKs.”

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In addition, Elkin – who, according to a study by hawkish organization Mattot Arim from earlier this year, is the Knesset’s most right-wing member – says that “there are a lot of right-wing bills that were backed by Kadima MKs, but when there was criticism on the Left, Livni forced MKs to remove their names or abstain from votes they initiated.”

One example is the Boycott Bill, which Elkin cosponsored.

The law, which was discussed in the Knesset by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee this week, allows citizens to bring civil suits against people and organizations that call for boycotts against Israel.

“When the bill was more extreme, and made calling for a boycott a criminal offense, Dalia Itzik and other Kadima MKs sponsored it,” Elkin explains, “but when there was criticism from the press, especially Haaretz, Livni made them remove their signatures.”

He adds that “there’s a lot of hypocrisy surrounding this bill,” and cites Kadima MKs who charged that it would limit freedom of expression.

“I am for freedom of expression, but individual freedoms don’t give anyone the right to harm someone else. Boycotts harm people,” he asserts. “I fight for the right of people to say what they think, even if they are criticizing our policies in Judea and Samaria, but it’s different if they say to harm someone because they live in Judea and Samaria.”

The boycott bill is just one of many instances in which Kadima “is competing with Meretz,” Elkin says. “A lot of Kadima MKs complain about it in private.”

He notes that “when I joined Kadima, they were opposed to dividing Jerusalem. Now we know that both Livni and [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert negotiated the division of Jerusalem.”

Elkin adds: “According to Kadima’s platform, they’re against going back to the ’67 borders, but when the prime minister was in the US, Livni and Mofaz attacked him” for opposing US President Barack Obama’s calls for negotiations based on pre-1967 lines.

“Livni has come a long way from preaching about keeping Jerusalem united and leaving all the [settlement] blocs in Israel,” he says.

Before he left Kadima, Elkin himself faced the wrath of its leadership over his right-wing views: “I ran into problems with Olmert on diplomatic issues immediately. I also opposed [Kadima candidate] Shimon Peres for president, because of the Oslo Accords. The director-general of Kadima was sent to attack me, which isn’t legal.”

The Likud MK has continued to face off against party leaders when it comes to the peace process.

These days, Elkin, who is one of the leaders of the Knesset’s Land of Israel Caucus, says Netanyahu should remember his past views.

“Everything Netanyahu said in the past about why there shouldn’t be a Palestinian state is still correct. His speech to the Likud central committee [in 2002] against [then-prime minister Ariel] Sharon’s plan for a Palestinian state was brilliant,” he says.

“My views match those of the Likud MKs and platform more than Netanyahu’s,” he adds.

“There is a wide majority in the Likud against a Palestinian state.”

However, he says that despite disagreements over Palestinian statehood, the most important issue at hand is the pre-1967 lines and dividing Jerusalem, which “Netanyahu and the entire Likud” oppose.

“Anything else is theoretical,” Elkin contends. “The Palestinians would never accept less than pre-’67 borders with minor adjustments, but how could we give up on settlement? The idea is awful. Israel must stand up to international pressure for pre-1967 borders.”

That international pressure includes the United States.

“I am sure [President Barack] Obama’s people did not think a foreign leader would speak out against him the day before a meeting, but the fact that Netanyahu did led Obama to moderating his position.

It was important that Netanyahu’s line was clear,” the coalition chairman says, referring to the prime minister’s last trip to the US.

“Obama made mistakes from the start, due to his own ideologies,” he adds. “Obama tried to impose his views and did not respect the decision of Israeli voters,” in insisting on a settlement construction freeze after a right-wing government was elected.

ELKIN SAYS the current government’s election can be seen as a referendum on the Annapolis conference, with which the public clearly did not agree.

“On the one hand, the Obama administration abandoned its ally Mubarak because it claimed this was what the people wanted – even though there weren’t any elections in Egypt. Here, in a fair election, the people chose the Right, and he tried to force leftist policies on the Israeli people,” he asserts.

“Obama showed lack of experience and madea rookie’s mistakes,” he continues. “The current lack of a peace process is because he demanded a building freeze, even though there was no such thing in 16 years of talks.”

At the same time, Elkin doesn’t see the Likud as intrinsically linked to the Republican Party in the US.

“On the economy and Islamic terror, our views are closer to the Republicans’ in recent years,” he says. “While there are Likud MKs tied to Republican politicians or donors, we also have a lot of ties to Democrats.”

He cites Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, saying that “the proof that we’re bipartisan is that both parties applauded him. When there is pressure on Obama to defend Israel and not take the Palestinians’ side, it often comes from Democrats.”

Elkin would like Israel to be more like the US in at least one way: He and fellow Likud MK Yariv Levin submitted a bill that would enact a five-day work week with Sundays off.

“It’s natural for me, because I come from a place where we had Sundays free,” the Kharkov, Ukraine, native says. He adds that the bill has the support of many immigrants from the former USSR and English- speaking countries.

Whether the bill passes before the current Knesset session ends or not, Elkin is confident that the change is unavoidable.

“As the population changes, Shabbat-observant people will eventually be a majority among the Jews in the country,” he says. “The fact that they are not participating as consumers in the shopping, cultural and sports events that take place on weekends could harm these economic sectors in the future if Sundays do not become a day off. I think it’s inevitable that this will pass, if not now, then in a few years.”

Elkin notes that Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Likud MK Yuli Edelstein initiated the idea as members of the now-defunct Israel Ba’aliya Party. Vice Premier Silvan Shalom has garnered support for the bill from business leaders and religious parties, Elkin says, but Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz have yet to give an official position on the issue.

In other economic issues, Elkin presents a two-part vision of increasing competition in the market while helping the weakest members of society.

In reference to the issue of cottage cheese prices, which has dominated Knesset discussions in recent weeks, Elkin scoffs at “political hypocrisy on this matter.”

“Kadima never checked who was responsible for the rise in prices. A quick Google search proved it was [former party MK Avraham] Hirchson who removed the regulation of cottage cheese prices,” he says. “This just proves how amateurish Kadima MKs really are.”

Elkin explains that “in Israel, two or three companies control everything. They may not be an actual cartel, where the bosses call each other to set prices, but the fact that there are so few choices ends up having the same effect.”

The coalition chairman recommends raising production limits, and supports Netanyahu’s and Steinitz’s suggestion of opening the dairy market to imports.

Acting on the second part of his economic vision, Elkin is working on the prime minister’s housing bill, which Netanyahu has deemed his priority for the Knesset’s summer session.

The proposed bill is an emergency building plan that would bypass bureaucracy to allow for the speedy construction of apartments. The increase in housing options would lower prices, so young couples would be able to affordably buy homes, Elkin explains.

“It won’t be easy for Netanyahu to advance his emergency plan, but it’s very, very important to stop housing prices from continuing to rise. I will work to pass it by the end of the summer term [August 7],” he states.

“This bill affects me personally, because the government authorized the building plan for my community [Kfar Eldad in Gush Etzion]. Maybe I won’t have to live in a caravan anymore,” he says. “My house’s construction was frozen. I’ve been waiting 10 years to build it.”

Elkin recalls with a smile the times that he has shown American politicians his caravan, and asked if any Congressmen lived the way he does.

If the housing bill passes, it will increase construction throughout the country, but Elkin says he hopes it will help the West Bank.

“There is hardly any construction in the cities and local councils in Judea and Samaria. We need to build,” he says, adding, “I never understood why it was considered an important gesture to the Palestinians for us not to build homes and schools.”

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