Politics: The opposition leader’s peace plan

Ahead of PM meeting with Palestinian counterpart, Kadima leader Mofaz presents himself as an alternative.

Shaul Mofaz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shaul Mofaz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz called a press conference in November 2009 to announce details of his new diplomatic plan for peace with the Palestinians, the Hebrew media ignored the plan’s content and focused only on his willingness to negotiate with Hamas.
The press disregarded the fact that Mofaz had conditioned talking to Hamas on the terrorist organization changing its spots and accepting the Quartet's conditions of renouncing violence, accepting past agreements with Israel and recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Instead, they scandalized the former IDF chief of staff's willingness to talk to those he had ordered killed.
When Mofaz tried to present his plan to the Kadima faction in the Knesset, then-party leader Tzipi Livni prevented him from saying anything, interrupting him constantly with the word “nifla” (wonderful).
Fast-forward two-and-a-half years. Mofaz is now the head of Kadima, the leader of the opposition, and one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s main political challengers, making what he says in an interview with The Jerusalem Post more relevant than ever before.
The timing of the interview is also significant, coming days before a key meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Unlike interviews with the Hebrew media that he has given since his March 27 election, here Mofaz focuses on diplomatic issues and not the socioeconomic matters his political strategists have told him to talk about.
Mofaz attempts in the following interview to present a credible alternative to Netanyahu on diplomatic issues – in a message intended not just for potential voters in Israel but also for the Palestinians and for the White House. He speaks positively about US President Barack Obama on the Palestinian issue, criticizes him on Iran, makes his first-ever statement about Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard and reaches out to world Jewry.
Which side is to blame for the current diplomatic stalemate: Netanyahu, as your predecessor Livni repeatedly suggested, or the Palestinians?
Both sides are to blame. Unfortunately, over the past three years, the current Israeli government has not taken steps to advance negotiations. It was a huge mistake of the government of Israel to not accept Obama’s plan [that he presented at the State Department last May].
The negotiations are stuck because of the lack of trust between the two leaders. As prime minister I could repair this.
An agreement with the Palestinians is in our clear interests because it will guarantee that Israel will remain a Jewish and democratic state. Israel and the PA should accept the quartet statement [released Wednesday] and advance negotiations. Time is not on either side.
The biggest danger for Israel is not the Iranian threat but Israel becoming a bi-national state. Losing the Jewish majority endangers Israel more than anything. I will not let it happen.
Why is your plan, which calls for a two-stage withdrawal from 60 percent of the West Bank and then from 100 percent via land swaps, the answer?
An agreement cannot be reached in one step, so it is important to have an interim agreement to build trust, give the Palestinians a state and guarantee Israeli security along the way to a permanent agreement. Then, in a year, we can reach agreements on borders and security because the gaps are not wide.
I would guarantee the Palestinians territory the same size of the pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza Strip with land swaps. In any agreement, we will keep the settlement blocs. They will be part of Israel as our eastern border.
I am very pragmatic and ready for historic concessions but I will insist on security arrangements. The Palestinian state will be demilitarized and will not have an army that can threaten Israel. It can have security forces to defend their people. But no air force, tanks or missiles that can threaten us. I understand security.
You presented your plan in 2009. The region has changed a lot since then. Do you still advocate implementing stage one now?
Especially now. The dramatic changes in our region require us to set our strategic goals for ourselves: Strengthening our peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.
How do you get to 60% and then 100%?
In the interim agreement, we will give them Areas A and B, which make up some 40% of the West Bank, plus another 20% from area C to make the land contiguous from Jenin to Hebron with 99.8% of Palestinians inside and without evacuating settlements. After the land swaps, my settlement blocs will enable 250,000 Jews to stay. We will keep Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. The Jordan Valley can be leased for 25 years, and Hebron’s Jews can stay as a special case.
Giving the Palestinians 100% via land swaps sounds like former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s plan. Have you endorsed it?
No. He wanted to already make decisions on Jerusalem, refugees, water and electromagnetic fields. The Olmert plan could not have worked.
Why do you think Israel should have accepted Obama;s plan, which was seen as very controversial?
Obama’s idea of deciding borders and security first, and Jerusalem and refugees later, was part of my plan. I presented it to his advisers Dennis Ross, Jeffrey Feltman and Dan Shapiro in 2009. I do not say he adopted my plan in its entirety. But as prime minister, I will persuade Obama to accept my entire plan.
If borders are decided before the refugee issue, and Israel already made its concessions in the West Bank, why would the Palestinians have an interest in conceding on refugees?
The refugees are a clear red line for me. Not a single Palestinian refugee will go into Israel’s final borders. In negotiations, you start with terms of reference before stage one. That is when we will be clear that there is no compromise on refugees. Reaching an interim agreement will build trust for the final status agreement, create a new atmosphere with the Palestinians and Arab states, and dramatically improve economic ties with them.
But can it be reached with the current Palestinian leadership, or should we wait for the Palestinian election that has been delayed so many times?
For my plan, the world will be a partner and the Palestinians will not have a choice. I have gotten support from world leaders and I have met with senior Palestinian officials who have called the plan pragmatic and rational but cannot say so publicly. Any Palestinian leader elected who accepts the Quartet conditions can be a partner.
Do you see yourself as leader of what was called the peace camp? Would you expect to be the main speaker at Yitzhak Rabin memorial rallies? What do you think about former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin’s calls for dismantling the PA?
I am the head of the pragmatic camp that wants to reach peace, fix our electoral system, make sweeping socioeconomic changes and equalize burdens of IDF service. I am against the Geneva initiative and I disagree with Beilin’s ideas that would lead to a bi-national state, which is the worst thing possible for Israel. If they invite me to speak at Rabin rallies, I will.
You praise Obama’s diplomatic initiatives on the Palestinian issue. Do you also agree with his handling of Iran?
I believe the Obama administration is committed to stopping the Iranian nuclear program. But I do not endorse [Obama’s idea this week] to allow Iran to have a civilian nuclear program. It would be too hard to monitor. Iran has military ambitions and abilities, so we cannot close our eyes. Allowing Iran to obtain a even nuclear capability would change the balance of power in the Middle East. America realizes why Israel cannot accept this.
Has Netanyahu handled the Iran issue smartly?
His government has made progress. But it should not have dealt with the issue so publicly and spoken about it in such an operative way. The world will take steps to prevent a nuclear Iran. Now is the time to advance sanctions to stop the program. I am also in favor of regime change in Iran, but preventing nuclearization must be the top priority.
If sanctions and all other nonmilitary options fail, could you order the bombing of Iran, the country where you were born and your childhood home?
There is no connection. The military option is the last option and Israel must be ready for it. This is not the time yet. There is time for sanctions and for the world to do its part on Iran. If we see Iran getting closer to a military nuclear capability, the US acting against its own interest and allowing a sword on our neck, I will be the first to support Israel taking action. On this there would be no coalition and opposition. But the sword is not there yet.
Do you think Obama will release Jonathan Pollard from prison?
Time will tell. The time has come to release him. He no longer poses any danger to American security. His fate should not be connected to the US election. He should be released for humanitarian, reasons and because he paid his debt to the legal system in America.
The time has come to put this issue behind us.
Do you see Livni staying in politics with so many key issues up in the air?
That is her decision. I have said that her place is in Kadima but that everyone has a replacement. The election results were clear. The party will be run differently now.
If you get elected prime minister, would you also see yourself as the leader of world Jewry?
Any prime minister must see all of world Jewry as part of us, take responsibility for all of them and maintain connections with them. Their connection to the land of Israel is deep and nothing can change that.
I spoke at last year's Jewish Federations of North America general assembly in Denver and I was very impressed by the commitment of American Jewish leaders to Israel’s future. They are the flesh of our flesh. Israel is the home of all the Jews in the US and the world.