Peretz: We won’t stay in gov’t if Trump demands practical steps for peace

Peretz said that Yamina’s new plans to have half a million more Israelis settle in Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – was designed to ensure that Israel would never relinquish the territory.

August 23, 2019 04:20
Peretz: We won’t stay in gov’t if Trump demands practical steps for peace

‘RABBI RAFI PERETZ must remember one of the sages’ most sage advice: “Not everything than can be said, should be said.”’. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

If US President Donald Trump demands that Israel take “practical steps” to help realize his peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians, the Yamina Party will quit the government if it is in the coalition, Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz told The Jerusalem Post.

Peretz said that Yamina’s new plans to have half a million more Israelis settle in Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – was designed to ensure that Israel would never relinquish the territory.

Despite saying that he would reject any practical steps in Trump’s long awaited peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians, he nevertheless described the US president as a “loyal friend to the State of Israel,” and declined to criticize him for his comments this week – which caused outrage among the American Jewish community – that US Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are “disloyal.”

During the interview, Peretz also set out his vision for the role of education in Israel and its importance in molding the values and Jewish identity of Israeli children, describing it as critical to Israel’s security.

The minister also talked about strengthening Israel’s connection to Diaspora Jewry, including through bringing more Jewish youth from the US to Israel, “to strengthen their connection to their Jewish identity.”

Peretz is the head of the Bayit Yehudi Party, which is itself a constituent of the Yamina union of right-wing parties, along with New Right and National Union, headed by former justice minister Ayelet Shaked.

Speaking in his offices at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem, Peretz outlined his perspective on Yamina’s plan, published this week, to build 113,000 new housing units in the West Bank’s western Samaria region.

The minister said that one of the main goals of the program was to ensure that Israel would never need to relinquish the West Bank. “If we bring another half a million people to Judea and Samaria [in addition to the approximately 500,000 Israelis living beyond the Green Line], it will always be in Jewish hands. You can’t move one million people,” said Peretz.

“We want the Green line not to exist. Trains, roads, housing units will all help towards this.

That’s how it needs to be… We will try to get there, to establish [Israeli] sovereignty for these territories, expand the settlements, build new settlements.”

Earlier this month, Trump stated that he intends to unveil some form of a peace proposal after the elections on September 17.

Peretz said he would not tolerate any form of sovereignty for the Palestinians, saying that “between the [Mediterranean] sea and Jordan, there will only be one sovereign: the State of Israel.”

Asked about the potential pressure that could be brought to bear on Israel by Trump regarding his plan, Peretz said that he would not take action during any negotiation period but that he would resist any steps on the ground aimed at assisting the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“If Trump wants to speak, he can speak. If it comes to practical language, we will not stay in a government like this,” said the minister. He said that “practical steps” like the evacuation of settlements would lead Yamina to quit the coalition, and that the party would fight any attempt to freeze settlement construction, but added that “we would not topple the government over negotiations.”

Nevertheless, Peretz described Trump as “a loyal friend of the State of Israel,” and said that he had repeatedly demonstrated “great friendship” to Israel.

The minister declined to comment on Trump’s recent statements saying that Jews were “disloyal” to the Jewish people and Israel if they voted for the Democratic Party. Trump’s comments have been strongly condemned by numerous Jewish organizations in the US for implying that American Jews should vote in accordance with Israel’s interests.

“We have never interfered in the internal issues of the US. As a minister in the Israeli government, I am loyal to that path,” he said.

Earlier this year, Peretz made a comment in the cabinet stating that Jewish intermarriage in the US was akin to a “second Holocaust,” a remark which generated consternation among the US Jewish community.

The minister said in his interview that he believed it was important to improve relations between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel and, in particular, to bolster the Jewish identity of Jewish youth in the US.

He also spoke of the expansion of a joint program with the Jewish Agency, which has brought together principals of Jewish schools in New York with their counterparts from Israel.

The education minister said that 74 Israeli school principals have been trained through this program so far, and that the ministry was also ready to open 26 online courses on the topic of Jewish peoplehood for 13 Jewish communities around the world.

“Strengthening Jewish identity needs to be done through a connection with Israel: to bring as many youths as possible [from the US] through Birthright and similar projects to expose them to the State of Israel, so that they come to the Western Wall, to Yad Vashem; so they tour the country and open a Bible and reveal our history,” Peretz said.

Asked about his position on the 2016 Western Wall resolution to expand and upgrade the prayer section at the southern end for non-Orthodox services, Peretz said he was opposed to the initiative. “We shouldn’t change the status quo at the site. What there is currently is the status quo; we should not expand it,” he said in reference to the current site for non-Orthodox prayer.

Speaking about the controversy he generated in July saying that he believes gay conversion therapy can work – and that he had participated in such therapy – Peretz reiterated the retraction he made following those comments. “When I said that I had done this, I was talking about listening and sensitivity to someone who says they need it – that is what I meant,” adding again that “I am opposed to conversion therapy.”

Asked about anecdotal incidents of religious men who did gay conversion therapy, then married women and subsequently got divorced because of their homosexuality, Peretz said simply that: “We know of cases where the outcome was different.”

Speaking more broadly, Peretz talked of his vision for the education system in Israel. “Education needs to educate toward values… A sense of duty, leadership, mutual responsibility, love of ones fellow man, loyalty to our basic values and to our Jewish roots,” said the minister.

“The security of the State of Israel depends on our understanding of who we are and what our values are – and the better we understand this, the better the security of the State of Israel.”

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