Deputy Minister Urges Israel to Stand Strong Over Role in Talks
Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin spoke to Arutz Sheva about the failing peace talks and postponed terrorist releases on Monday, and stressed that Israel needs to stick to its principles in deciding the proper course of action for both.
Elkin began by emphasizing that despite the media's tendency to blame Israel for talks - on the heels of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which already has - Israel must continue to convey the truth about who is to blame for failing talks.
"It will not be first or last time [the media condemns Israel]," Elkin stated. "This is their natural inclination, but it does not exempt us from the obligation to do everything we must to present the true picture."
Pro-Israel advocacy has become more difficult due to the Foreign Ministry Employee's Union strike, according to Elkin. But he said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was working with world leaders as much as possible to get Israel's side of the story across clearly.
Terrorist releases: an obvious crutch
Elkin also declared that it is obvious the PA is using the terrorist releases as a crutch to gain their side in talks.
"[The PA] is trying to build the whole discourse around freeing terrorists, but to me that's no reason to release murderers," Elkin stated. "I opposed from the outset any idea of releasing murderers to move the peace process along. I do not understand why releasing killers promotes peace and building a kindergarten [in Judea and Samaria - ed.] prevents peace. This logic I could never understand and I do not think I could ever understand."
The Deputy Minister added that advocates for talks - and for releasing terrorists as a means of achieving them - will finally understand what PA chief negotiator Saeb Erekat stated earlier this month: that the PA is not interested in talks, only in regaining dangerous terrorists for their political causes.
Regarding rumors that Israel was willing to release over 400 other Palestinian Arab criminals to advance talks, Elkin did not confirm or deny the reports, but noted that as of now, anything is possible. He expressed hopes that the events over the weekend would finally demonstrate the ludicrousness of preconditions.
"The world and the Palestinians should get used to [the fact]: we do not need to 'pay' to conduct talks," Elkin fired. "It is time to stop this deplorable tradition - but if you already have it, then I would rather release criminals or prisoners who are not terrorists instead of hardened murders."
Israel's Obligation to Jonathan Pollard
Elkin also related to reports that the release of long-held captive Jonathan Pollard was offered in exchange for the fourth batch of terrorist releases, as well as the insistence of the US in denying those reports.
"If, in contrast to the US's denial, we have good news [on Pollard] this could be very important," he stated. "If there is a chance to release Pollard then I am ready to release more terrorists - but not a lot, of course."
"If there is a chance to fulfill the State of Israel's moral obligation to Jonathan Pollard, I'd be willing to give them many terrorists, if it would make them happy," he continued. "I do not understand why Americans are happy over murderers being released, but that's their problem."
Elkin also clarified that his position on Israel's obligation to Pollard, in his opinion, is not the same as its obligation to protect IDF soldiers. As such, he said, he would only agree to such a deal if it were "a one-to-one ratio or close to it," and is opposed to "insane deals like we made with [Gilad Shalit]."
On the Rumored Resignation of Danny Danon
The Deputy Minister also expressed reservations over the actions of Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), who has threatened to resign if the fourth batch of terrorist releases goes through. Elkin said that he is not a subscriber to the idea of public threats, and said that Danon should act instead to help prevent the release from going through - not make wild threats.
"If you want to send a message to the Prime Minister about threats or 'crossing a red line' it is right to do it in private," Elkin stated.
The MK also remained puzzled over why Danon would threaten to "topple the government," as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly stated to the US over the weekend, only after the fourth batch of terrorist releases.
According to Elkin, even Erekat's statement about the PA torpedoing talks after the releases is not enough to make such a threat.
He added that, even if he had supported such a threat to topple the coalition government, he would only support it if it brought a better government - and that is not what he sees, he said, relating to rumors that Opposition Head Yitzhak Herzog has been eyeing the Prime Minister's post.
Building Freezes: Just Say 'No'
Elkin added that for his part, he and fellow Likud MKs - including Coalition Chairman Yariv Levin, whom he mentioned by name - have their own "red lines," including withdrawing from Judea and Samaria and imposing another construction freeze over 1949 Armistice Lines.
He added that he could not understand why Opposition figures - including Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Tzipi Livni (HaTnua), and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin - would prefer to trade a construction freeze for terrorist releases.
"A construction freeze sends the message to the world that 'we are not building here because we want to leave someday,' so I am decisively against it," Elkin noted. "In my eyes a freeze is even worse than freeing terrorists."
"In terms of its strategic implications, freeing terrorists threatens Israel, but we know how to cope with it," he continued.
"A construction freeze, and withdrawing to 1967 lines, endangers all of Israel because every thinking person realizes that establishing a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria risks the very existence of a Jewish state."