In a combative speech issued as world powers surge toward a preliminary deal with Iran and peace talks with the Palestinians flounder, Israel’s defense minister brushed aside all talk of a third Palestinian uprising and warned against the dangers of concessionary diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program.
“We’ve reached a stage where Iran is crawling on all fours toward the West and asking: remove the sanctions or we’ll collapse,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Thursday at an annual meeting of Israel’s CPA institute. If those sanctions are lifted before the program has been decisively dismantled, he added, “the Iranians will laugh all the way to the bomb.”
Ya’alon was equally blunt about the prospect of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within US Secretary of State John Kerry’s allotted nine-month time frame. “We are handling an open-ended and ongoing conflict, which from the Palestinian perspective does not end with the 1967 borders,” he said.
Depicting Palestinian society as unwaveringly attached to Sheikh Munis and Majdal – the Arab names for the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Ashkelon – and Palestinian youth as educated to believe that Akko and Haifa are Palestinian ports, he said, “There’s an incident here that does not have a solution now, but in the long term. We’ll handle it wisely and there’s no need to worry about threats of yes a third Intifada or not a third Intifada.”
Ya’alon spoke hours after a seemingly fatigued, frustrated and petulant Kerry, visiting Israel and the West Bank to push the two sides closer together, sat for an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News. Speaking with correspondent Udi Segal, he called settlements “illegitimate” rather than the more commonly used “unhelpful,” lashed out at Israel for its entrenched — but possibly well earned — pessimism, and issued forecasts of widespread violence in return for a lack of progress on the peace track.
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “I mean does Israel want a third Intifada?” he asked. “Israel says, ‘Oh we feel safe today, we have the wall. We’re not in a day to day conflict’,” said Kerry. “I’ve got news for you. Today’s status quo will not be tomorrow’s…”
Ya’alon, however, speaking as the nuclear talks in Geneva moved close to an possible agreement that would provide sanctions relief in exchange for a freeze in the nuclear program — terms that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “grievous historic error” — depicted the Middle East as a region governed not by good will and optimism undaunted, but rather by interests and large sticks.
“We judge every sector based not on wishful thinking but on interests. And in the Middle East interests are a thick club and carrots.”
This stance, in a Middle East that Ya’alon described as neither black nor white, pessimistic nor optimistic, but rather “far more colorful,” explained why Hezbollah was deterred from striking Israel despite the 70,000 rockets at its disposal, he said.
Characterizing the Iranian regime as possessing sincere goals of global hegemony, he said that the regime had to be pushed further to the brink, to the choice between the bomb and survival, and that such a position could be held through “tough, non-conciliatory diplomacy.”
Finally, in a direct jab at President Barak Obama’s new streamlined Middle East policy objectives, and a long held belief among many in the Pentagon, he ridiculed the notion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was related to any of the other regional conflicts.
“Unfortunately, [some] tie the Iranian issue to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “They tie anything to this conflict. We say, ‘enough, this region is unstable not on account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'”
And though he said it was in Israel’s interest to maintain a peace process, “there are those who know and explain to us what the solution is, and they know how to reach it in a short period of time. There are some who say this conflict is only territorial, that it began in ’67 and will end along the ’67 lines, but I haven’t heard any Palestinian leadership, including [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's], say that it is willing to consider any territorial concession as an end to the conflict and a culmination of claims, and to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”