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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu enjoyed a private vacation before his trip to England and Germany, right-wing ministers in his government stepped up the pressure on him to stand firm before any demands made during his August 26 meeting in London with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell.
In the past week, four ministers visited West Bank outposts, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that he - for one - was "not afraid of the Americans," and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz told The Jerusalem Post that US President Barack Obama's policies were borderline anti-Semitic. But while sources in the Prime Minister's Office admitted that all of these things "annoyed" Netanyahu, he received surprising praise from one of the fiercest opponents of territorial compromise - Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin.
While an interview Rivlin gave to Ma'ariv two months ago resulted in a cold war between him and the Prime Minister's Office, an interview that he gave to the Post this week will likely make Netanyahu happy.
"I believe in Bibi and I am sure he will lead Israel in such a way as to guarantee its security and persuade the world to reach agreements without hurting Israel's security and its completeness," Rivlin said. "Binyamin Netanyahu comes from a good home. We just have to remind him of his home every once in a while, his principles on Israel."
Rivlin said that he had faith that "unlike others" - meaning Netanyahu's fellow former Likud "prince," Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni - the premier "will respect how he was brought up."
"You can never forget how you were brought up," Rivlin said. "It's not just tactics, but faith and diplomatic understanding. He suckled ideology from his first meal. I will never escape from my ideology, but Netanyahu is also a statesman. Nevertheless, he cannot and will not escape his belief that Israel belongs to Israel, not just because of Holocaust, but because of the Bible and Jewish history, which prevents making compromises on the Land of Israel."
The veteran MK says that he believes Netanyahu holds a mandate from the electorate to hold his own against American demands. "The people had their word when they found themselves not in a dream of peace, but instead awoke from a nightmare. The people said after Oslo and unilateral disengagement that the gestures of confidence-building had abandoned Israel's security. They said peace yes, but illusions no."
"I don't say I don't have dilemmas," he added. "What will I do when peace comes and we must find the final borders between the two entities?" But even then, Rivlin is optimistic that Netanyahu will stay on message and it is simply the rest of us who misinterpreted his meaning.
"The world doesn't understand. Bibi said two states for two peoples. Another one from a good house - who has forgotten her house - also said it," the Knesset speaker said, in a swipe at Livni. "They are talking about two unequal countries. The State of Israel is a superpower with an army, with an air force, with foreign relations and full freedoms, while the future Palestinian state, according to every definition, whether it is the definition of Madame Tzipi or Mister Bibi, is not a full state.
"The Arabs will never, ever accept a state that is less than ours, but a state that can be interpreted as an invitation to bring in the Iranians or anyone who opposes a non-Islamic authority in the land of Israel - al-Qaida, Iran, you name it. There is some illusion in the world about two states for two peoples. It's not two states - it's two entities. One of them is a state and the other one is an autonomy. This is something that the world must understand, that when we are talking about two states for two people, we are not talking about the same meaning of the word 'state.'"
DESPITE HIS tough talk on the Palestinian state, Rivlin takes pains to emphasize that he is an ardent protector of the rights of Arab citizens. In fact, he argues, it is his very ideology that leads him to guard those rights - and to emphasize his point, Rivlin started out this term as Knesset Speaker by becoming the first speaker to visit Umm el-Fahm.
"Abroad, they must understand what the Right is in Israel. Unfortunately people from the Right, especially from the old community in the Land of Israel, never had the opportunity to be socialists, and could thus never be patrons. In socialism there is no small measure of patronization. Socialists patronize Arabs, and that is why Arabs don't believe them," Rivlin explained.
"They say that there were Arab MKs who voted for me as president. They see me as an adversary but someone who respects them. I say from the speaker's platform, 'Don't say Jews and non-Jews,' because in this country there are Jews and Arabs. There are people in the Labor movement who think that it's not nice to say Arab," said Rivlin, who understands Arabic and whose father translated both the Koran and 1001 Arabian Nights into Hebrew.
"I always said to the Arabs that anyone who tries to kill me, I will try to kill them first, but I was never patronizing, and I never said that 'Arab' was a not-nice word. Because if I were an Arab, I would be very proud to be Arab, but I am Jewish and so I am proud to be Jewish. I have goals to carry out as a Jew, and I am sure that Arabs have goals to carry out as Arabs."
Rivlin takes issue with those who say that Jews and Arabs are "doomed" to live together, believing instead that "we are not doomed. We are living together, and hopefully we will find out in the near future that [...] we are destined to live together. This is engrained in any right-winger."
As the basis for his insistence on equal rights and equal living conditions for Israeli Arabs, Rivlin sites Revisionist philosopher Ze'ev Jabotinsky's seminal 1923 article "The Iron Wall." "Jabotinsky wrote in 1923: 'I swear that I will not kick any Arab out of this land; I swear that in the state we establish, every Arab will have equal rights.'"
But Rivlin - like Jabotinsky - says that "whether they like it or not, this is my territory. Zion is all ours. Whether you like it or not, you have to get used to the idea. I'm not forcing you, but trying to convince you. It is for our best interest - it is the mutual interest of Jews and Arabs to live together, and we have lived together."
To emphasize the point, Rivlin recalled a conversation that, according to him, occurred in Jerusalem in the midst of World War II among three men - Yusuf Freij, a Christian Arab; Yusuf Jabbar, a Muslim Arab; and Yosef Rivlin, his father. The three were friends and would visit each other on their respective days of rest.
"That was during the battle at El Alamein, between Montgomery and Rommel," he explained. "Jabari and Freij said to my father, 'Hawaji Yusuf, listen. Soon Rommel will win, the Germans will win and they will come to Palestine. But you have nothing to be afraid of because we are going to protect the Rivlins.' My father smiled and they asked him why. He answered them - 'Hawaji Yusuf, listen to me; Rommel will not win at El Alamein. The British will win at El Alamein and after the war, we will establish the Jewish state, and in the state of Israel I will not need to protect the Jabaris and the Freijs because you will be citizens with equal rights.' That is the whole difference. There is no dichotomy."