Meet the Knesset is a new feature from Israel National News dedicated to bringing you Israel's leaders in their own words on the issues Israel faces today.
INN's Gavriel Queenann: Dr. Wilf is a member of Ehud Barak's breakaway HaAtzma'ut or Independence Faction in the 18th Kenesset. She served as a lieutenant with the IDF's 'Shmoneh Ma'atayim' or Unit 8-200 in signals intelligence and decryption, holds a BA in Government and Fine Arts from Harvard University an MBA from SEAD in France and a PhD in Political Science from Cambridge University. She was a foreign policy adviser to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres. She replaced MK Ophir Pines-Paz as the 13th member of the Labor faction of 2009. MK Wilf has found herself at the center of controversy over Ehud Barak's recent decision to break from the Labor Party.
MK Wilf, Shalom
A: Shalom, shalom.
Q: You've been criticized as Ehud Barak's stalking horse to break the Labor Party. How can you respond to that?
A: I have made my own decision, and I've made it for a long-standing reasons... Within the Labor Party there were at least two factions; some would say many more. One that was increasingly turning to the Left, and viewing the cooperation with the Government as untenable, viewing it as a clear opposition, and another faction that viewed it as a proper cooperation with pragmatic and moderate elements in the Likud, and also a better reflection of where they would like to see the Labor Party go, to
something more Centrist, that harks back to its roots as Mapai, the more Centrist, Ben-Gurionist party.
So that was on the kind of ideological gap. In addition, the faction that now remains Labor behaved in a way that was, I would say, unsustainable, every person doing whatever they want, voting however they want, going against the elected chairman, ...in the last few weeks, the feeling was of complete anarchy and breakdown. And when this idea came up, I saw that it was a brilliant way to resolve what was essentially a Gordian Knot. So, to take and cut it with one move, allow the two parts to begin their independent way, ...the more leftist, socialist part and the more centrist, Ben-Gurionist part.
Q: Polls reveal that most Israelis feel that Labor is dead, and that it has abandoned it social agenda altogether. Has the mainstream Labor Party become irrelevant in Israeli politics today?
A: The Labor Party has been in decline for a long time. There are many reasons for it. Even the greatest detractors of Ehud Barak concede that he cannot be solely responsible for that. I think one of the reasons is that is has gone too much to the Left. Not in the sense of looking for a compromise with the Palestinians, or looking for peace, but in this self-flagellation of seeing Israel as the sole responsible party for the fact that there's no peace in the region.
But I think the bigger explanation has to do with demographics, the changing nature of Israeli society, and the failure of the Labor Party to really adapt itself to those changes. From the party that built the state, it became the party of those who felt that the state was taken away from them. And that is not a way that you govern, and that you attract … [cutoff “voters”].
Q: You've been widely quoted as saying Ha'Atzma'ut won't hold a stopwatch to the peace process, but in watching current events, the Palestinians have downgraded their official ties with Israel and are attempting to gain international recognition for a maximalist position outside of the negotiation framework. Doesn't that make Oslo a dead letter?
A: Ultimately there's numerous ways that the Israelis and the Palestinians have been negotiating, non-negotiating, taking unilateral steps, going to the international community. If you look at the sweep of the last twenty years, in that very messy way we're making slow progress. The Palestinians themselves know that they might even be able to get a state declared, or they might be able to get certain countries to accept their statehood, but if they actually want a state, there is no other way [but] to interact and negotiate with Israel.
Q: Does HaAtzma'ut have a peace plan? I mean, a way of engaging Palestinians?
A: We're not changing the parameters and offers that were made by Ehud Barak at Camp David, but it's been ten years since then. All of us have become far more skeptical of the possibility of full, complete, final agreements being in the cards tomorrow morning.
We believe that it has to do with the geopolitics much more than the personalities. And should the possibility open up, I have no doubt that the alliance and the cooperation between the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister is a very strong basis for an agreement that would be acceptable to the vast majority of Israelis. But ultimately we are skeptical, and the question is, is it truly possible?
Q: At Camp David, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an unprecedented 91% of the West Bank. In doing so he was rebuffed, but that included the highlands of Judea and Samaria which oversee the coastal plain and Tel Aviv. Is it really possible to give that territory up, and maintain Israel's security?
A: I'm sure this is something that the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister are talking about. There are arrangements that could be made which will ensure Israel some security, and will not just make it an issue of what, a piece of paper. But that is part of very hard and tough negotiations, and also it's one of the reasons that it raises a question mark on the possibility of reaching an agreement.
Q: Doesn't the pervasive anti-Semitism in P.A. Schools and the media make living side-by-side with the Palestinians a sociological impossibility at this point? Doesn't there have to be a deep cultural change before we can really talk to them?
A: There's no doubt that Israel is an oddity in this region. One of the reasons for the deep skepticism is that especially in the last decade, many people who were willing to go for far-reaching compromises have begun to wonder whether the nature of the conflict is not just about borders, but whether it is a more existential conflict about the very willingness to accept Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people in this region – the only region in which we were ever sovereign. I think the brilliance of the leaders of Zionism in the early days, is that they didn't go for all-or-nothing approaches. They wanted to have a state for the Jewish people, and they took whatever was possible. And I think it's even remarkable to think that the Peel Commission in '37, Ben-Gurion was the only far-reaching person who was able to see that it was important to take it then, and he was forced to refuse because no one else shared his views. But just think what would have happened if we had a state in 1937.
What makes me a little more optimistic is especially the character of Fayyad. He really seems to have that understanding, that first and foremost the Palestinians need to build a state, and the all-or-nothing approach is not going to bring them the dignity of sovereignty.
Q: Recent polls indicate, were elections to be held today, the HaAtzma'ut Party would not pass the threshold to win seats in the Kenesset. How do you plan on securing your party's future?
A: Well, first of all, we're on the threshold... We're only five now. We'll start. The burden of proof is on us. I think it will be clear that we are truly offering new,
original thinking in the Israeli political map. That we are going to be a far more coherent party, coherent group. I think ultimately we will be a challenge to some of the other parties.
Q: Israelis really have no idea what that coherent message is. What does HaAtzma'ut stand for? I know that it's been described as centrist, democratic and Zionist, but that's really more 'buzz' than information. What's new, here?
Well, I think in terms of the information, we will supply it over time, with the initiatives which we will promote, the ideas that we will push forward, to begin to clarify what it means to be, for a country to be independent, in the twenty-first century. These are things that time will tell. We're taking our cue from someone like Ben-Gurion, who was incredibly able to have both vision, but also to adapt to historical changes.