Gilad Erdan has it all.
He’s young (turning 41 this month), handsome,
savvy and charming.
And he has the gift of the gab, in Hebrew and, it
turns out, in English too.
Ahead of a trip to the US next week, he has
been taking intensive English lessons, something that became abundantly evident
in an hourlong interview I and Knesset reporter Lahav Harkov conducted with him
– in English – in his Tel Aviv office on Wednesday. He also reads The Jerusalem
Post every day, and has a copy on his desk.
Erdan, the Likud minister of
environmental protection who has a law degree from Bar-Ilan, is scheduled to fly
to Washington and New York to meet US and Jewish leaders, and explain Israel’s
opposition to the Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood at the UN later in
As I glance out his office window at the spectacular view of
the Azrieli Center, I ask him how views this PR mission? He smiles, saying that
he had taken it upon himself to fight in the international arena for Israel’s
case and “tell the truth.”
I ask him whether there aren’t different
versions of the truth within the Israeli government, with Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s on the one side and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s on
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“I’m not sure that Lieberman is saying something else,” he
says, in a deep, calm voice. “The music is different, but I’m not sure that the
content is different. I think that it’s important to stress first of all that
Israel wants peace and educates for peace. Since this government was established
two-and-a-half years ago, we have made big concessions and compromises, compared
to our Likud ideology, and some of these were gestures which the American
administration asked us to make towards the Palestinians.
“But today it’s
very clear, and Prime Minister Netanyahu said it in his speech: Israel
recognizes the right of the Palestinians to an independent state, but the only
way to achieve peace is by negotiating.
We want to negotiate. The
Palestinians want to run away from the compromises which are needed to achieve
peace and try to use the biased organization of the UN to impose something on
“On that issue, we are standing together with the American
administration. President Obama and Secretary Clinton said that this is not the
way to achieve peace. The only way is to negotiate on a just solution, and
Israel is willing to do that anytime.
“Peace is something you have to do
together; you cannot go only on a unilateral path and force the other side to
make peace with you.”
Erdan concedes that Israel still doesn’t know what
the wording of the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN will
“Maybe it will, like everyone suspects, be based on the pre- ’67
borders, maybe it won’t,” he says. “But first of all, when you want to achieve
mutual compromise, you cannot do it on a unilateral path.
Israel has very good and strong claims to Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians
present Judea and Samaria as ‘occupied territories,’ which they should now get
back. This is not the truth.
“I think we need to talk about the right of
the Jews to live in Judea and Samaria.
Everyone forgot because this was
the policy for many years of the Israeli government and the Ministry of Foreign
“The Arabs lived there for dozens of years, maybe hundreds of
years, but we lived there for thousands of years, and the most popular book in
the world, the Bible, said so, and everyone knows this in the United
“In Judea and Samaria, Jews have historical, moral, biblical and
legal rights, not to mention that before the ’67 war, there was never a
Palestinian state. Everyone forgets it.
Judea and Samaria were occupied
illegally by Jordan, and we released them from Jordan,” Erdan
“Also, according to UN Resolutions 242 and 338, Israel is not
obliged to withdraw from all the territories to achieve peace; they also
recognize Israel’s need for defensible borders, and everyone knows that the ’67
borders are indefensible.
I can show you how small Israel will be if we
lose all of Judea and Samaria. [He takes out a book of maps and shows it to me.]
“Another thing that I will say is that those who support a unilateral
declaration won’t be promoting peace. It will make achieving peace much harder,
because the moment the Palestinians will think that they can get whatever they
want without a commitment to dismantle terrorist organizations or compromise on
the demand for the refugees to return, they will be on a high tree from which it
will be very hard to bring them down in the future.
“So anyone who
supports the UN declaration will cause huge damage to the peace
I interrupt. “You once famously said that ‘Israel does not take
orders from Obama.’” He laughs. “Usually I’m more polite.”
“Are you sure
the Americans are going to support Israel all the way, with a veto if necessary
in the Security Council?” I ask.
“Yes, I think they will,” he answers,
“Because President Obama – and not only him – asked the
Palestinians to put aside a unilateral declaration, and they got a refusal. And
it’s not the first time. Hopefully, they won’t be the only ones who vote against
or veto the resolution.”
Leaving Erdan’s office, I feel encouraged. He is
a dynamic example of the new generation of politicians in Israel, the political
leaders of the future. Israel needs people like him to present its case at this
critical time. He will, no doubt, be a star on Fox News.
If one could
choose anyone from the Netanyahu government to woo America with his words, Erdan
is the man for the job.
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