Likud ministers concerned peace moves could split party

PM pushes for a two-state solution while Likud MKs oppose it; Elkin: Not every plan is preferable to the status quo.

June 27, 2013 19:28
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin at Settler conference, June 17, 2013

Zeev Elkin370. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAORFF)


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If the Palestinians agree to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s conditions for statehood, it would create a fissure inside the Likud, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin told The Jerusalem Post this week.

Elkin, widely expected to win chairmanship of the Likud’s Ideological Committee on Sunday, said that going to negotiations “is not a game” for Netanyahu.

“He really believes it is possible under certain terms to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state,” he said. “But under the conditions that he sets. I don’t think the Palestinians will be able to say ‘yes.’ But if they do, there will be a deep rift inside the Likud,” Elkin said in his office at the Foreign Ministry.

Netanyahu has said the terms that would be necessary for reaching an agreement include a demilitarized Palestinian state and a longterm Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

Like other high-profile Likud MKs – such as Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon – Elkin has come out publicly against a two-state solution. He said his opposition stems from the negative experience of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and in view of the current volatility in the region. However, since his current job in the Foreign Ministry is to represent the position of the prime minister, Elkin declined to answer what he suggested instead.

Relating to the growing impression that Netanyahu’s support for a two-state solution places him in a distinct minority in his party, Elkin said that this need not be seen as something that weakens the prime minister.

This type of internal strife may be helpful, he said, “because it gives the world the understanding that the steps the prime minister is taking are very difficult, since he has to deal inside the party with people like me who think differently.”

Elkin, who switched to the Likud in 2008 after first being elected to the Knesset in 2006 as a Kadima MK, said he was keen on reviving the Likud Ideological Committee as a place where party policy on everything from diplomatic to socioeconomic issues would be hashed out and decided.

“This is a vital party body, in my eyes no less interesting than the procedural bodies, because it deals with substantive issues,” he said. “There has not been a discussion on substance for a long time in the party, because this body was dead and people forgot about it.”

However, Elkin said that the two-state solution was one issue the bureau would not have to discuss since, in 2001, Netanyahu pushed through the Likud central committee a resolution against the idea in order to tie the hands of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. That resolution still stands.

“Nobody nullified that, or tried to do so,” Elkin said, adding that he did not think a motion to change that resolution would now pass.

That assessment raised an interesting question: Is it not an absurd situation where Netanyahu, who came out in favor of two states for two peoples in his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, is not supported by his party on such a cardinal matter?

“There has been disagreement in the Likud over this for many years,” Elkin said. But, he added, there is no compelling reason right now to turn this into an all-out fight in the party, because the issue continues to be only a “theoretical” one.

At this point, he commented, it is only a matter of debate “among the Jews.” The Palestinians, Elkin argued, are not willing at this time to consider anything short of a state along the pre-1967 borders with a divided Jerusalem as its capital.

While there has been sharp disagreement between the Right and the Left on whether a state with those parameters is desirable, “all of the Likud is unified on this in saying ‘no.’”

Netanyahu, Elkin said, is also unwilling to accept a Palestinian state under those conditions, though he is “willing to reach an agreement.”

With US Secretary of State John Kerry currently in the region trying to push negotiations, Elkin said that he himself was also in favor of restarting talks.

“The question is where they lead,” he said, adding that it was not because of him, or others who think like him inside the Likud, that there were no talks with the Palestinians.

“The negotiations have not started because the other side is not willing,” he said. “When you go to negotiations you have to give something, and not only take. And [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas is not politically in a position where he can or wants to give anything.”

As a result, Elkin said, Abbas favors a unilateral track because that way “you don’t pay any political price, and get symbolic things.”

While these symbolic achievements, such as moves in the UN, are not substantive and do not change anything on the ground, “it is possible to sell them as achievements.”

“If the Palestinians did not have the hope that they could move forward on the unilateral track, then maybe they would have been more eager to return to the negotiations,” he said.

Elkin said Kerry was “putting a great deal of pressure” on the Palestinians to restart the talks, and added that Israel had many demands on the Palestinians, but was not making them preconditions for talks.

“They continue to pay terrorists in our prisons salaries much bigger than what they are paying their security officers,” Elkin said. According to the deputy foreign minister, a “serious terrorist” in an Israeli prison gets a NIS 12,000 salary a month, while Palestinian security officers make from NIS 3,000-4,000 monthly.

“That is a very problematic message,” Elkin said. “But we are saying something simple, let’s sit and talk about everything, about the accord and mutual grievances. But to have preconditions is a mistake.”

The deputy foreign minister warned about buying into what he described as the fallacy of believing that new diplomatic initiatives must be put forward because the status quo with the Palestinians is unsustainable.

“Not every plan is preferable to the status quo,” he said. “The disengagement [from Gaza] is a perfect example.”

Those who pushed the disengagement forward argued that something dramatic was needed because the status quo was not good, he said.

“So they did something, and it made our situation worse.”

The same could be said of the Oslo Accords, argued Elkin. “If you take an Israeli citizen and ask him if his security situation was better in 1991 [before Oslo], or today, I think the answer will be clear.”

While before Oslo, Israel had to worry about a few hundred rockets from Iran and Iraq, today it has to be concerned about tens of thousands of missiles in Gaza and South Lebanon, he said.

“From that perspective, it is clear that our security situation in the 20 years since Oslo has gotten worse.”

Rather than just initiating a move to try and break the status quo, Elkin said that at times what was needed was just patience and staying power.

Asked if this attitude did not make him akin to Yitzhak Shamir, the late prime minister known for advocating a “sit and do nothing” approach to the Palestinians, Elkin responded that Shamir was “unequivocally” one of the country’s best prime ministers, and called him a “very important model” who was “under appreciated.”

Not only did he pull the country out of the grips of socialism and into the arms of a liberal economy, Elkin said, but he also absorbed massive amounts of immigrants from the Soviet Union – including Elkin himself – in a short period of time.

Regarding Shamir’s attitude toward the Palestinians, Elkin rejected the idea that Shamir did nothing, pointing out that he agreed to attend the 1991 Madrid conference.

Palestinian preconditions 'unacceptable'

Likud minister Silvan Shalom voiced concerns similar to Elkin's on Thursday, saying that Likud could face a major upheaval if Netanyahu agrees to a major diplomatic gambit that would propel the peace process with the Palestinians.

In an interview with Israel Radio, Shalom said that any dramatic moves “that contradict the principles of the Likud could cause quite a shock, perhaps even a split within the Likud.”

Shalom said that the government was prepared to begin negotiations without preconditions, though he added “that the ball was now in the Palestinians’ court.”

The minister added that the demand to base the negotiations on the ’67 lines and an Israeli freeze on settlement construction is unacceptable from Jerusalem’s point of view.

Shalom’s statements reflect growing apprehension within the Likud over any new developments on the diplomatic front. This past Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon presented a formidable challenge to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is due in Israel Thursday afternoon in an effort to move talks forward. Danon told his loyalists that from next week onward, diplomatic plans must pass a vote in the hawkish Likud central committee.

Danon, who is considered a Netanyahu rival dedicated to thwarting any potential moves toward a settlement with the Palestinians, won the ceremonial title of Likud convention chairman in Tuesday’s race, with an overwhelming majority of 86% of the vote.

“The party has been in a coma lately,” Danon told his loyalists at a muscle-flexing rally in Tel Aviv. “We will help lift up the Likud with energy like it had was when I was a child. We will restore the party’s soul.”

Danon said he was more committed than ever to the goal he set when he entered politics: preventing Israel from giving up land in Judea and Samaria. He mocked the Left’s ability to stop him from achieving that goal.

“The weak Left doesn’t know how to deal with ideas, principles or ideology,” Danon told the activists. “To maintain the Land of Israel, we need to do it with political work. We cannot afford to sit on our hands.” staff and Gil Hoffman contributed to this story.

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