There is no connection between the instability in the Middle East and the Israeli-Arab conflict, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Saturday.
Ya’alon’s comments in an interview with The Washington Post come one day after it was revealed that the Obama administration snubbed the Israeli Defense Minister and denied him meetings with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Unfortunately, we find the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by too many misconceptions,” Ya’alon said when asked about Kerry’s recent linking of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the rise of jihadist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS).
“We don’t find any linkage between the uprising in Tunisia, the revolution in Egypt, the sectarian conflict in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mainly, these come from the Sunni-Shia conflict, without any connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” added the Israeli Defense Minister.
“The core of the conflict is their reluctance to recognize our right to exist as a nation state of the Jewish people — whether it is [Palestinian Authority Chairman] Abu Mazen or his predecessor [Yasser] Arafat. There are many who believe that just having some territorial concessions will conclude it. But I don’t think this is right,” said Ya’alon.
Asked if territorial concessions will bring peace, he replied, “No, they would be another stage of the Palestinian conflict, as we experienced in the Gaza Strip.”
“We disengaged from the Gaza Strip to address their territorial grievances. They went on attacking us. The conflict is about the existence of the Jewish state and not about the creation of the Palestinian one. Any territory that was delivered to them after Oslo became a safe haven for terrorists,” stated Ya’alon.
“Bearing that in mind, to conclude that after the [recent] military operation in Gaza this is a time for another withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is irrational. If we withdraw now from Judea and Samaria, we might face another Hamastan,” he warned.
“We just recently intercepted a terror network in the area of Ramallah. We arrested 96 Hamas terrorists...They were operated and recruited by Saleh al-Arouri from Istanbul. We saved Abu Mazen from them overthrowing him. It might have become a Hamas-governed entity with Iranian arms.”
Asked about the threat emanating from ISIS, Ya’alon said that the group is not just a threat to Israel.
“This is a threat to the free world as they actually claim to [want to] defeat all those who are not ready to follow their religious, Islamic way — whether they are Muslims, Christians, Kurds, Alawites, Shias or Jews,” said Ya’alon. “The idea to confront them by creating a coalition is an awakening. . . . Hopefully the coalition led by the United States will contain them.”
Asked if he sees a breakup in Syria, Ya’alon replied, “Yes. We have Alawistan — an Alawite enclave led by President Bashar Al-Assad, who controls 25 percent of the Syrian territory. We have Syrian Kurdistan in the northeastern part [of the country]. We have many Sunni enclaves. But the Sunnis are divided — we have Muslim Brotherhood Sunnis, we have ISIS, we have Jabhat al-Nusra. We have the Free Syrian Army, which we believe should be supported.”
Israel’s strategy in Syria, he reiterated, is that it is not involved in the war there. “We enjoy a relatively calm situation on the border of the Golan Heights. They understand that if they violate our sovereignty, we immediately respond,” he said.
Asked if he believes in a “two-state solution”, Ya’alon gave a similar reply as the one he gave in a recent interview to Israel Hayom, where he said that the Palestinian Arabs will receive autonomy, but not a state.
“You can call it the new Palestinian empire. We don’t want to govern them, but it is not going to be a regular state for many reasons,” he said, adding, “Autonomy. It is going to be demilitarized.”
“According to the agreement, they should be demilitarized. It is up to Abu Mazen if he is able or if he wants to demilitarize Gaza. Otherwise, we are not going to talk about any final settlement,” he declared.
Abbas, said Ya’alon, “is not a partner for the two-state solution. He doesn’t recognize the existence of the Jewish state...He believes he might get more by what he calls ‘political resistance’ — going to the United Nations or to international bodies to delegitimize us. He prefers it to violence because in his experience, terror doesn’t pay off.”
Ya’alon also said that it is a “misconception” that the West thinks it knows what is good for the Arabs.
“It might be naiveté or wishful thinking — ‘We the Westerners know what is good for the Arabs.’ To believe that you can have democratization with elections . . . it is collapsing in front of us. And part of it is ignorance, yes,” he said.
Finally, he was asked about the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington, amid tensions between the sides, and said, “I can tell you that between the Pentagon and the Israel Defense Forces there is an unbreakable bond.”
He noted that there are sometimes “dispute” between the countries’ leaders but reiterated, “With all the disputes, the United States is Israel’s strategic ally.”