Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon (Likud), former head of Israeli Intelligence in the West Bank and the IDF Chief of Staff during the Second Intifada, told Arutz Sheva that he does not believe that peace talks will be possible with the current Palestinian leadership. He insists that Abbas is not someone Israel can deal with in good faith because he refuses to accept the existence of a “Jewish state,” a demographic definition that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders have failed to agree upon. Ya’alon ultimately hopes that a new leadership will arise in Ramallah that accepts this condition, and also drops demands for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction. He did not offer any hints as to how this might come about, noting only that Israel would not turn aside such leaders if they arose.
Ya’alon says that since 1995, he has clearly seen that the Palestinian side of the peace process is “a Trojan horse that will allow them to enter ‘Palestine’.” When pressed that “it appears from what you are saying that you do not really believe there are any prospects to these negotiations,” Ya’alon replied:
“In this situation facing this leadership there definitely are no prospects, and it’s better that all of us know this. It’s important that an Israeli majority that recognizes reality take shape, without illusions of peace now or disengagement. When we are united, the world opinion will be with us.”
The controversy these remarks will engender will not be anything new for “Boogie.” Referred to as “the true face of Netanyahu” by some Israeli leftists (and as “the Butcher of Qana” by those who brought a civil suit against him in the U.S. over his alleged role in the IDF shelling of a UN outpost in Lebanon that killed over 100 Lebanese civilians), Ya’alon is first and foremost an outspoken supporter of West Bank settlement expansion. He opposed the withdrawal from Gaza that led Israel to evacuate 25 settlements in that territory. During a 2009 tour of West Bank settlements with members of the Jewish Leadership Movement, Ya’alon referred to the activist group Peace Now’s ideology as “a virus.” And he said he regarded “the [Israeli] elites,” (i.e., the “leftist” media, liberal politicians and the judiciary) with similar disdain. PM Netanyahu subsequently asked Ya’alon to make what Carlo Strenger calls a “semi-retraction” of these publically expressed views, and Ya’alon complied.
But, as Strenger points out, it is hard to imagine that this retraction has dissuaded Ya’alon from his earlier bombast, given his assertions that the withdrawal from Gaza only emboldened “Arab nationalism,” and that Jewish individuals have an “unassailable right to settle anywhere, particularly here, the land of the Bible.” This statement was made during celebrations marking the founding of Eli, a small West Bank settlement of 3,500 people.
Ya’alon does, at least, offer an answer to the question of why recognition of a “Jewish state” is not something that was asked of Egypt and Jordan. His answer is that “because they have no claim on Sheikh Munis, Haifa, Akko and Ashkelon.”
With rumors of Abbas threatening to dissolve the PA, and the Israeli right urging Netanyahu to formally annex the West Bank (Arutz Sheva, being a pro-settlement news outlet, manages to ask Ya’alon the rather leading question of “And given all this, when will the Likud government fulfill its nationalist platform and finally build after so many years in Judea and Samaria?”), Ya’alon may just get his wish for regime change in the Occupied Territories.
A regime change that forces Israel to take over the duties of the PA, that is, although this not a scenario Ya’alon says he would welcome:
“We say that we do not want to rule over them. They have political independence and we are ready to strengthen it in those areas for which they are responsible, but if they do not respect our right to exist, why should we start talking with them about territory? We are ready to have them conduct their lives in their area of autonomy.”
Israel is “ready” for peace, Ya’alon concludes, and it is – always has been, he says – the Palestinian leadership that stands as an obstacle to peace.