Politics: Armed and ready to fight

Deputy Defense Minister and president of the Likud convention and chairman of the Likud central committee Danny Danon is focused on stopping the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, whether in permanent or temporary borders.

DANNY DANON attends a drill for IDF reservists370 (photo credit: Ohad Neibrus)
DANNY DANON attends a drill for IDF reservists370
(photo credit: Ohad Neibrus)
One would expect Israel’s deputy defense minister to focus on threats to the country’s security from Iran and Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
But Danny Danon is not your typical deputy defense minister.
His focus is on stopping the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, whether in permanent or temporary borders.
And thanks to his recent election as president of the Likud convention and chairman of the Likud central committee, he now has the ammunition of the party’s institutions to fight.
Danon hopes such a fight will not be necessary, because he would like to think the leader of Likud, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, will not permit Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state.
Moreover, if Netanyahu did endorse the views of the head of his negotiating team, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and the Likud then voted to oppose a deal Livni reached with the Palestinians, Netanyahu would accept the decision of his party.
But Danon must be ready for every eventuality. And he has heard via leaks from the negotiations that Israel is pushing for an interim agreement that would create a Palestinian state in temporary borders.
When Danon told Likud activists in Samaria that whoever would promote an interim agreement with the Palestinians does not belong in the Likud, Netanyahu was not happy. He scolded Danon in a meeting last week in which he did not accept Danon’s explanation that he was not necessarily referring to him.
In an interview over waffles at a Jerusalem cafe, Danon explains what he meant. Chances are the prime minister will not like this either.
“If there is an agreement in the spirit of Tzipi Livni’s views, and Netanyahu decides to support it, and the Likud decides to oppose it, the party’s decision takes precedence,” Danon said.
Asked repeatedly what would happen if Netanyahu does not accept the Likud’s decision, Danon gives increasingly interesting answers.
First, the diplomatic answer that his spokesman sitting next to him probably wanted him to say: “My experience with the prime minister is that he accepts democratic decisions.”
Then Danon noted former prime minister Ariel Sharon rejecting the Likud’s decision against withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and leaving to form a new party.
“We saw where that [not abiding by the Likud’s decisions] led last time,” he said. “I don’t think the prime minister is there.”
Asked a final time about the possibility of Netanyahu being forced out of Likud by party activists, Danon did not hold back.
“It can happen if he decides to endorse Livni’s views,” he said. “A deal giving up most of Judea and Samaria – the current Likud leadership will not accept that. We [who oppose such steps] are the majority in the party.
Something so important [as giving up land] cannot be done via political tricks.”
Danon expressed concern that 20 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the leftists who initiated that diplomatic process are advising Livni to change her negotiating strategy from “there is no deal on anything until there is a deal on everything” to “once an agreement is reached on anything, implement it immediately, even if disputes on key issues remain.”
The ongoing talks with the Palestinians are expected to be the focus of a long-awaited Likud convention on diplomatic issues that will be held in November or December. Danon intends to warn the convention that Israeli concessions must be stopped in their infancy and not allowed to develop.
“I learned from Oslo and disengagement that we cannot afford to rest on our laurels,” he said. “We in Likud have to be careful to make sure we don’t wake up with a grandiose peace plan for a ‘New Middle East.’ Some ministers say nothing will come of it and there’s nothing to worry about, but history proves that complacency on the Right leads to bad developments.”
Danon has become close in recent years to some of the top figures in the US’s Republican Party, especially on its more conservative side. He saw firsthand how the influence of so-called Tea Party activists and candidates on the far Right ended up harming the party’s efforts to obtain the support of undecided voters in the Center of the political map.
When the Likud’s institutions were taken over by hawks like Danon, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Transportation Minister Israel Katz, there was talk that the Likud was following in the footsteps of the Republicans and could become marginalized.
Danon rejected the analogy.
“Our situation is different,” he said.
“The ‘Tea Partyization’ of the Republican party won’t happen in the Likud because of the makeup of our faction, which is solidly Right. We aren’t changing. We are staying loyal to the party’s traditional views. Our views have not moved.”
While Danon acknowledges that thousands of residents of Judea and Samaria joined the party to shift it rightward by voting for more hawkish MKs, he said he knows statistically that without the votes over the Green Line, the party’s Knesset list would have been the same. Candidates who openly favor creating a Palestinian state like former minister Dan Meridor still would not have been elected.
“We will be less of a supermarket party, smaller but more homogenous,” he said.
If Netanyahu thought that by appointing Danon to the sensitive post of deputy defense minister, he would silence him, he has succeeded – but only partially. On the one hand, Danon continues to make his views against a Palestinian state crystal clear. But on the other, Danon has quieted down on US politics.
The man who wrote a book criticizing US President Barack Obama ahead of the American election was noticeably silent when Obama decided to turn to Congress rather than authorize a strike against Syria on his own. Danon knows where much of his ministry’s funding comes from and is acting accordingly.
“I am still loyal to my opinions, and I’m not hiding my views,” he said. “But as Israel’s deputy defense minister, there are statements on security and diplomatic issues that have increased significance and ramifications, and there are sensitive issues that the prime minister asks those in the government to be careful not to speak about.
“Nevertheless, if a foreign government, no matter how close, puts pressure on Israel, I will state my views clearly.”
Danon’s duties in the Defense Ministry include helping reservists and the ministry’s welfare department, which deals with drafting minorities, including haredim, Christian Arabs, and Beduin.
He also is using the post to try to help residents of Judea and Samaria. For instance, he is pushing for more buses to go from the country’s Center to Samaria.
“I’m pushing not for affirmative action but just for equality,” he said. “I would be happy if this would benefit the Palestinians too, but my goal is to help the Jews.”