'Whoever is elected in US will be Israel's ally'

Former Ambassador to US and four-time MK Zalman Shoval is running in Likud primary at age 82.

Zalman Shoval at Likud Central Committee 370 (photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)
Zalman Shoval at Likud Central Committee 370
(photo credit: LAHAV HARKOV)
Zalman Shoval worked the room at the Likud central committee meeting Monday night like a pro. Activist after activist approached the diplomat and politician asking: Zalman, remember me? Shoval, who is one of the Likud’s founding members, shook hand after hand, never tiring.
“In 1972, the idea to form the Likud Party was thought up in a small café in north Tel Aviv,” Shoval recounted. “I was there with [then-MK] Yigal Hurvitz and [former prime minister] Ariel Sharon. You could say I’m the only surviving founder of the Likud Party.”
As the conference room in Tel Aviv buzzed around Shoval following the approval of the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu merger, the two-time ambassador to the US pointed out that he is no stranger to such political maneuvers. After all, after that fateful meeting in 1972, Likud was formed by combining Gahal, Shoval and Hurvitz’s National List, the Free Center and the Movement for Greater Israel.
“I’m hopeful that the new list could get 50 seats, and we can form a government without giving in to particular demands,” Shoval said.
“There’s a precedent for such mergers working, like when the Likud was formed. They tell the electorate that there’s a possibility for change. There’s a psychological element that could bring many people to the ballot box.”
As for differences between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, Shoval expressed confidence the two sides will stay together and set a joint course.
Shoval, 82, a member of the seventh, eighth, ninth and 12th Knessets, began his political career in 1965, when he joined former prime minister David Ben-Gurion’s Rafi party.
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He entered the Knesset in 1970, replacing Ben-Gurion when he resigned. Shoval also served as ambassador to the US in 1990-1993 and 1998-2000.
In recent years, Shoval has served as special envoy for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, representing him to American think tanks and media.
With Netanyahu’s support Shoval is running in the Likud primary once again, after reaching the 49th slot in the previous election. The former diplomat says he plans to campaign more intensely this time, and focus on online resources and social media.
“I’m personally computer ignorant,” he quipped, “but I have people doing that job for me.”
If Shoval makes it to the Knesset, he hopes to “further Israel’s standing on the diplomatic front” in years when the country will face “unprecedented issues.”
“I’m not just talking about Iran, because I am confident, more confident than most, that it will soon be dealt with by or with the US,” he explained. “Israel and the US will have to deal with Islamization of the Arab world. They look at the world differently, and do not share values the US and Israel cherish.”
As for US-Israel relations, Shoval is optimistic, saying the allegiance between the two countries is strong and built on joint interests.
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“Whoever is elected in the US presidential election will be Israel’s ally,” Shoval said. “Our interests are so close, that personal chemistry is less important.”
Shoval pointed out that when he was ambassador, former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and US president George H.W. Bush’s relationship was much worse than Netanyahu’s with US President Barack Obama, “but in the Gulf War and Madrid Conference, everything was fine.”
“I don’t think Netanyahu supports one side more than the other. I think one side is trying to paint that picture,” he added. “Netanyahu and I met with three Democratic senators last week, and they said they don’t feel there’s a divide.”
The diplomat recounted reading an editorial that regardless of who wins the US election, the next administration will have to “reset” relations with Israel, and said Netanyahu should do the same after November.