Daily Israel Report

Ya'alon: Leave the Situation in the PA As Is

Deputy PM and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon addresses issues such as the construction freeze and the prospects of peace with the PA.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/4/2011, 5:23 AM / Last Update: 3/4/2011, 5:10 AM

The Besheva magazine published on Thursday an interview with Deputy Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

In the interview Ya’alon addressed a number of issues currently on the Israeli agenda, including the report on the targeted killing of terrorist Salah Shehadeh [in which civilians were killed as well, ed.], morality and war, the continuing freeze in Judea and Samaria, and the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The Strasberg-Cohen committee report on the legality of the killing of Salah Shehadeh was published this week. You were Chief of Staff during that time. Although the report stated that no criminal act was committed, it also says that the event was disproportionate and that there were intelligence failures. This means that there is a moral statement being made here, that had you known about the presence of innocent civilians in the area you should not have carried out the operation. Do you accept this statement?

“This is a complex question. Before the operation we set rules, according to which if he would be with his wife we would perform the mission. A Hamas terrorist was with him at the time, so as far as we were concerned it was definitely legitimate. We did not intend to hurt those 13 children next door. According to the intelligence we had, the home was to be empty that night. There is a moral question here which is legitimate and needs to be open for public discussion. The question is sharpened during a situation where the enemy hides among civilians but has no qualms about hurting our citizens.”

When the enemy reads the report's conclusions, should he reach the conclusion that a terrorist with a baby on his shoulder will be protected?

“No. In the Second Lebanon War, for example, we attacked rocket launchers that were in homes with families, and the launchers were taken out of action in a successful operation which lasted about forty minutes. This operation gave a clear message that anyone who sleeps peacefully at night with Hizbullah rockets must realize that he will wake up in the morning with our rockets.”

How should we understand the words of the report which say that ‘the operation was disproportionate, but lessons have been learned’? What have we changed in our behavior following the incident? What lesson has been learned?

“We did not change anything. We’re not talking about a moral lesson which means changing values, but rather about an intelligence lesson. We admitted that we did not intend to cause the surrounding  damage that was caused. Lessons were learned and we now collect more intelligence. If we can make a strike tomorrow with fewer casualties we would prefer that.”

Another issue is the communities in Judea and Samaria. Does it seem reasonable to you that the authority to approve new construction is in the hands of the Minister of Defense? After all, it is often a political person, like Barak, whose political interest is to prevent construction. Is there no conflict of interest?

“It's no secret that I am not satisfied with the enforcement policy in Judea and Samaria. As a law-abiding citizen I think we need to enforce the law against illegal construction, be it Jewish or Arab. Regarding our right to build and live in Judea and Samaria, I have expressed my opinion more than once: I am not satisfied with the way this right is applied.”

What about the functionality of the Defense Minister?

“Such questions should not be referred to me. I said I am not satisfied with the policy and I have been acting accordingly over the last two years.”

Will I get a similar response if I ask when will the construction freeze end? In practice no tenders are being published.

“First of all, there is building in places where there is no need for new tenders, and I hope that we will soon see construction in places where there is a need for tenders. There are various considerations on this issue, but I am certainly not too pleased about this either.”

As a senior member of the group of seven ministers, you might be able to explain the government's policy on the Gaza Strip. We are at war with them, they shoot at us, they’re holding a kidnapped Israeli soldier, and yet we help their economy and agriculture, allowing them to get millions of dollars into Gaza. What's going on here?

“Our relationship with Gaza is a strategic confusion which is a result of what happened during the Disengagement, which I opposed as you may recall. We disconnected the IDF and the residents from Gaza but we continued to be held responsible for the supply of Gaza’s civilian needs. Some of the recent developments are leading to a strategic change, which does not happen in one day. There's a hostile entity there and as long as they shoot at us we will react accordingly. Until they are able to supply their own electricity and water without being dependent on us we take care to ensure that there’s no a humanitarian crisis there, but we should head towards strategic clarity, which means that if this is a hostile entity we should no longer be providing them with the electricity that produces the rockets that are fired at us. We should strive to complete the Disengagement.”

Why wait? They have a border with Egypt. Why does everything have to fall on us?

“It's a question of managing and implementing the Disengagement. Indeed our desire is that the point of departure from the Gaza Strip will be through the Rafah [to Egypt, ed.] crossing.”

Another question of unclear policy: We’ve heard you before talking about the danger of a Palestinian state. Quite a few Likud ministers have also supported this position. How does this fit in with the Bar Ilan speech and with striving to renew negotiations with Abbas?

“No minister among the seven [inner cabinet members, ed.] believes that an agreement with the PA can be reached in the foreseeable future. We have seen it in their refusal to accept our three conditions - a willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation, a willingness to recognize the arrangement reached as the end of the conflict, and a willingness to accept our security needs, especially in light of the Oslo experience that led to over a thousand dead and to the abandonment of Gaza which became an incubator for terrorists. These requirements have been met with absolute refusal.

The ball is in their court, even if certain elements in Israel and abroad do not see it this way. One example is the leader of the opposition [MK Tzipi Livni –ed.] who experienced the Palestinian Authority’s refusal after the Annapolis conference, and yet says that their government almost reached an agreement but that the elections interrupted the possibility of achieving one. This is a very serious statement that does not reflect the truth or reality. Saying such things hurts us and our interests around the world and causes more pressure on us.”

What you are saying seemingly implies that we are conducting a policy with the PA that relies on their refusal.

“We said that we do not want to control them, and indeed they conduct their own civil affairs. If they do not have a clear willingness to recognize our rights, then we won’t mention even a millimeter of concession. The question is whether there is a willing partner in the process who will prove himself as serious, with an ability to govern, manage the economy and especially educate their youth to accept Israel's existence, or whether they prefer to educate them to explode on us. Now they prefer to educate them to explode, they deny our existence, and their maps [including Israel,ed] are all covered with the flag of Palestine, so there is nothing to discuss regarding conceding space or, G-d forbid, dividing Jerusalem. It is clear that any paper we sign will be lit with the fire of terrorism.”

And what about the vision of a Palestinian state?

“Our intention is to leave the situation as it is: autonomous management of civil affairs, and if they want to call it a state, let them call it that. If they want to call it an empire, by all means. We intend to keep what exists now and let them call it whatever they want.”

Even the Prime Minister is behind this idea?

“As you can see we have already been serving for two years as a government, despite the left opposition parties criticizing us when there is no progress in the negotiations, and unfortunately their perception of progress is an Israeli withdrawal. Our approach is completely different. Our approach is steadfastness, development, construction, strengthening and so on. This is our approach and this is what we do as a government.”