Danon determined to prevent PM from giving in to Washington pressure

MK Danny Danon is convinced PM Benjamin Netanyahu could cave into demands from Washington on the peace process, says his job is to make sure there is counter-pressure.

Danny Danon
There is a time in Israel known as “after the holidays,” when key decisions can no longer be postponed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered that critical period Friday under tremendous pressure; he is feeling the heat from the indefatigable US Secretary of State John Kerry, who wants to begin a new diplomatic initiative, from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited this week, and from Europe, which has started taking action against Israel that can no longer be ignored.
With all that pressure, Netanyahu could tip over and make concessions to the Palestinians. On the domestic political front, there is nothing to stop him. Bayit Yehudi wants to stay in the coalition, there is no serious alternative candidate against Netanyahu in Likud, and in any general election that would be held, another Netanyahu victory is seen as a foregone conclusion.
But inside the Likud, there is MK Danny Danon, who controls the powerful central committee, law committee and chairs the party’s conventions.
Netanyahu detests Danon. He fired him from his job as deputy defense minister during Operation Protective Edge, mainly because he did not succeed in finding an excuse to fire him before.
Nevertheless, the serious pressure Danon can put on Netanyahu from the Right is not necessarily unwelcome from the prime minister’s point of view.
He needs the world to know that there is pressure on both sides.
In an interview at a cafe in Jerusalem’s Cinema City complex, Danon aims to show that his worldview is no fantasy.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has given signs that he will soon take steps to advance the next Likud leadership race. If so, would you join MK Moshe Feiglin in challenging him?
I will have to decide if I support advancing the primary and then whether to run. It won’t be easy for Netanyahu to pass a proposal to move up the race. I might work to prevent elections. The central committee can decide it does not want quick elections. It’s important to see what the next general election’s agenda will be before deciding our candidate. There is a large ideological camp in Likud that’s not excited by Netanyahu’s path. Some fear that if Netanyahu is already elected Likud leader again now, he will advance diplomatic steps that can be problematic, along the lines of Secretary Kerry’s proposals.
What would be the point of running against him or preventing the race?
The goal has to be preventing him from giving in to demands from Washington. It is enough to see that he accepted Gaza receiving large contributions this week without Hamas being demilitarized, after he said that was a condition. We saw from his settlement freezes and terrorist releases that pressure from Washington on Netanyahu works. My job is to make sure there is counter- pressure and that Netanyahu does not give in.
Do you regret going too far in protesting Netanyahu’s cease-fires during the operation in Gaza and getting fired?
I have paid a price for my principles. In the long run, I think people appreciate that. I was not happy to leave my position. I enjoyed what I was doing. But sometimes you have to take a stand. From the information I was privy to as deputy defense minister, it was clear to me that the tunnel threat was serious and imminent. The approach of ignoring the threat or postponing dealing with it was unacceptable to me. The minute the cabinet approved this poor decision – the current government’s worst – I decided to speak out strongly in order to change it.
Netanyahu has said he only accepted the cease-fire proposal because he knew Hamas would violate it, and that would give Israel international legitimacy for the ground incursion targeting the tunnels.
I decided we could not take such a gamble. What would have happened if Hamas would have accepted the cease-fire and 100 fighters would have entered Israel through tunnels on Rosh Hashana? They would have kidnapped dozens of Israelis into Gaza. It wasn’t an impulsive decision. I felt I had to take action, so I went to the media. I felt being quiet was irresponsible. Yes, maybe I went too far. But I went with my beliefs.
But in the Likud, which has a party membership that is more right-wing than its voter base, didn’t it win you points?
I am sure I lost support politically in the party. People say I used the war to gain points. Not true. I lost points. One day the tunnels will be investigated and people will have to give answers about what they knew and when. My mistake was not sending the resignation letter in the morning when the cabinet approved the cease-fire. I don’t think firing a deputy defense minister during a war is a responsible decision.
Netanyahu said Hamas was encouraged by my criticism.
I think they were encouraged by the deputy defense minister being fired during the war. The public wasn’t presented all the options that exist between conquering Gaza and a limited operation against only the tunnels. What we did at the end of the operation – knocking down towers in Gaza – we should have done at the beginning. I think I will be remembered as being on the right side of history.
With Netanyahu’s No. 2 in Likud, Gideon Sa’ar, leaving soon, is the party in trouble?
Sa’ar leaving is bad for Likud. It shows you have capable young leaders who can’t advance in the party. The prime minister needs to do some soul searching. He should create a mechanism for ministers to speak to him regularly. I hope the prime minister comes to the next Likud conventions. It’s wrong for Netanyahu to prevent there being alternative leaders in the party. Having clashes is essential for democracy.
People forget that Netanyahu clashed with then prime minister Ariel Sharon in the central committee in 2002 when he passed a resolution against a Palestinian state.
Can a Palestinian state still be prevented?
Most people realize the two-state solution is finished, even if they don’t want to admit it. My vision is a three-state solution. Gaza can be part of Egypt and use its airport. The West Bank will be linked to Jordan.
There will be Palestinian settlement blocs. No one has to move. There is no connection between the West Bank and Gaza anyway. That’s my vision.
You can say it’s unrealistic but a lot has happened in the Middle East that no one predicted. People want a fast solution today. It’s not politically correct to say you oppose a two-state solution. They say how dare you? I think we should dare. People who heard Abbas speak at the UN thought it sounded like it was coming from Islamic State, not a Palestinian state.
Whose fault is the deterioration in Israel’s relations with the US? Today people understand that it’s not about what Israel was willing to do. The prime minister was willing to move forward in the peace process; the Palestinians were not. Obama likes to have every conflict in the world on one A4 piece of paper. That page had pre-1967 lines and a divided Jerusalem. Kerry tried and failed to push those ideas. Now they should be off the agenda. The US is also not promoting the Iranian issue enough and that’s a problem.
But can Israel afford to risk losing its alliance with the US?
The US is the best friend of Israel, and its strongest ally. As deputy defense minister, I saw the level of cooperation with the Pentagon, and you can’t doubt it. But Obama and Kerry’s approach was the wrong approach. We have the right to say this is not the way to advance peace in the region. It’s legitimate.
We just finished the high holidays. Has Obama repented for his past mistakes with his air operation against Islamic State?
Obama has finally understood that you can’t avoid the evil forces by making concessions or by forcing your allies to make concessions. When you face evil forces like Islamic State, Hamas and Hezbollah, you have to confront them. The only way to deal with radical Islam is to fight it. It is clear you have good forces and evil forces. I think today Obama realizes Hamas is among the evil forces.
Did Israel win the war?
Netanyahu got enough time at the start of the operation to win it, but the cabinet took its time in taking serious steps. I would have attacked the tunnels from Gaza immediately. There are too many times when people go into a room and have a point of view and don’t say it. The cabinet is a dream team, with people like Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. But when you look at the results of the war, many people were disappointed, including myself. When you go into a war and draft 80,000 reserves, it should have been clear who won.
What if there are tunnels dug into Israel from the North?
If we know someone is digging a tunnel, we should attack immediately, whether it’s Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, or even Islamic State.
Now that you are just a regular MK, what will you do in the Knesset when it returns from its extended summer recess in 10 days?
Focus on preventing Balad MK Haneen Zoabi from returning to the Knesset. The attorney-general indicted her for attacking police, not for saying the kidnappers of the three boys are not terrorists. I appealed to the Supreme Court against his decision not to indict her for that. There will be a decision in a few weeks.