Israel is interested in establishing ties with as many countries as possible, including with Sudan, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan said Tuesday.
“We don’t have to be different than the entire Western world. The Western world — the US and Europe — have relations with Sudan, and with Saudi Arabia and other countries. I don’t think we need to be any different,” Ben Dahan told The Times of Israel. “The State of Israel can contribute a lot to Sudan, in many areas.”
Ben Dahan’s comments mark the first response from an Israeli official to possibility, surprisingly raised last week by the Muslim African state’s foreign minister earlier this month, after decades of open hostility between Jerusalem and Khartoum.
“We don’t mind to study any such proposal,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said on January 14, according to local reports, referring to an American to demand for Sudan to normalize ties with Israel as a precondition for lifting sanctions on the regime. Israel’s Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on the matter.
Led by President Omar al-Bashir since 1989, Sudan has been a vicious enemy of the Jewish state and a staunch ally of Iran, but recently had a falling out with Tehran over the latter’s involvement in Yemen. Earlier this month, Sudan cut diplomatic ties with Iran, following Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other Sunni states. In 2009, Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for atrocities committed in Darfur.
Jerusalem’s foreign policy should be based on national interests and realpolitik, and disregard a potential ally’s political regime or human rights record, he indicated.
“We don’t get involved in what happens in other states,” said Ben Dahan, a member of the religious-right wing Jewish Home party. Israel rejects criticism from other countries regarding controversial legislation and so it doesn’t interfere with happens in other countries, he added. “Our foreign policy is not such that we tell other countries what kind of government they should have and how they deal with their citizens.”
Jerusalem is also keen on normalizing ties with the Arab world, Ben Dahan said, rejecting, however, the often-made assertion that such a scenario is dependant on the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. “Israel’s contribution to the Arab world could be enormous. The Arab world loses out by not having ties with Israel and by not receiving everything the State of Israel has to offer. But it’s entirely unrelated to a Palestinian state.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long hailed the unspoken alliance between the Jewish state and many moderate Sunni Arab countries. Last week, he went as far as calling on the European Union to abandon its current policies vis-a-vis Israel and replace them with the moderate Arab world’s position, a statement Ben Dahan said he fails to comprehend.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Netanyahu said he requested of his European friends that EU policies “merely reflect now the prevailing Arab policy to Israel and the Palestinians.”
In a subsequent meeting with the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the prime minister reiterated this message. “Netanyahu told Mogherini that the US has to adopt the moderate Arab states’s policies vis-a-vis Israel because the improvement in ties with them leads to an improvement with the Palestinians,” his office said in a statement.
“I really don’t understand what the prime minister said,” Ben Dahan said. “It’s not clear to me.” While Israel’s relationship with the EU has been rocky in recent years, due to the union’s unabated desire to push Israel toward a two-state solution, it is still “very important,” he added. Ties between Brussels and Jerusalem are “not at all like [our relationship] with the Arab states: [in Europe,] we have diplomatic relations, there are ambassadors, there is dialogue, and cooperation and many areas.”
The Europeans “dream that they can build here a Palestinian state. And that doesn’t really work out. It’s not happening, so they are in a difficult situation,” the deputy minister added. The EU’s frustration over the stalemate leads them to initiate punitive steps such as the labeling of settlement goods, which caused tensions, he said. “But still, it is impossible to compare the relations we have with them to those we have with the Arab countries. We have no diplomatic relations with Arab countries besides Jordan and Egypt. It’s not at all similar.”
‘We are all in emergency mode. These are no ordinary days’
Speaking to The Times of Israel in his Knesset office, Ben Dahan also discussed his proposal to stop the current terror wave and his vision for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel, he said, should start deporting the families of Palestinian terrorists to Gaza, which he insists would immediately bring the current series of attacks to a halt.
“The only way [to stop the terrorists] is to deter them. To explain to [potential terrorists] that at the end of the day, if they carry out an attack, their families will be greatly damaged. I don’t think there is a greater damage than to expel them.”
Acknowledging that such measures would likely be opposed by the Supreme Court and might violate international law, Ben Dahan nonetheless said that he sees no issues with expelling family members of terrorists, since they were usually implied or had previous knowledge of his or her deeds.
As opposed to previous popular uprisings, or intifadas, the wave of terror attacks currently raging in Israel and the West Bank is not organized by a central terrorist group, but is the work of unconnected individuals “who get up in the morning one day and decide to attack Jews,” Ben Dahan said. Thus the only way to effectively combat this phenomenon is to increase deterrence, he argued.
The government has already introduced harsher penalties for the parents of minors caught throwing stones and stepped up efforts to speedily destroy the houses of terrorists, the deputy defense minister said.
“In addition to all of this, I saw we should expel the family [of an attacker] abroad. That does not yet exist in Israel,” he said. Israel used to do this but stopped due to the courts’ intervention.
“There is no law in Israel that bars the deportation of terrorists’ families, therefore implementing his proposal would merely contradict “a decision of the court,” he argued.
“I think that the court also needs to understand that this is a time of emergency,” the 61-year-old ordained rabbi said. “Just like the army, the police and the border police are all in emergency mode — we are all in emergency mode. Everyone understands that these are no ordinary days.”
Ben Dahan, a former deputy religious affairs minister, said he was unfazed by the possibility that his proposal could be considered collective punishment, hence constitute a violation of international law. “Killing Jews is also illegal. To kill a woman in her house is also illegal. Attacking a pregnant women is also illegal,” he said, referring to recent terror attacks in Otniel and Tekoa, respectively.
‘You would go up to them and say, Mister, your son has killed a woman in Otniel so you and your children tomorrow morning will go on a truck, we will give you entry ticket to Gaza’
According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank and Gaza are one entity, and therefore it should not be seen as dramatic to deport a Palestinian family from, for instance, the South Hebron mountains in the West Bank to Rafah in Gaza, he added.
“You would go up to them and say, Mister, your son has killed a woman in Otniel so you and your children tomorrow morning will go on a truck, we will give you entry ticket to Gaza,” he said. “I am telling you that it’s enough to do it once — it’ll be enough. It won’t take more than that. The terror will stop.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu and even Ben Dahan’s own party leader, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, have so far not called for the expulsion of terrorists’ family to Gaza — apparently they believe it impossible due to international pressure or legal constraints, Ben Dahan surmised.
He also acknowledged that his Jewish Home colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, says that there is no chance that the legal establishment would agree to such a proposal. “Therefore it is not advanced. I trust in Ayelet that when she says that this is [the party’s position.] I think we should change [that position].
Prospective criticism by the international community is a legitimate concern, the deputy defense minister allowed, but maintained the expected benefit would justify it. “If we do it once and it’ll prevent the next terror attack — then i think it’s worth it.”
Dismissing expected criticism of his plan, Ben Dahan accused the international community, including the United States, of “hypocrisy” and a “double standard.”
“If the Americans want, they go [for their enemies] in massive way, kill civilians, they don’t care about anything,” he said, mentioning instances in which US troops accidentally killed scores of civilians.
Ben Dahan, like other members of his Jewish Home faction, rejects Palestinian statehood and calls for the annexation of the West Bank to Israel. But while party leader Bennett’s plan sees Israel annexing only Area C, which makes up about 60 percent of the West Bank, Ben Dahan advocates applying Israeli sovereignty over the entire territory.
“I think the part of our problem is that the Palestinians here are not sure that we want to stay here,” he said. Soon West Bank Palestinians will have lived under Israeli control for 50 years, and still yearn for independence, which “means they are thinking maybe it’s not clear, maybe we [the Jews] will be here [forever, or] maybe not.”
‘The two-state solution is a dream that nobody really dreams anymore’
Arabs stopped calling on Israel to return the Golan Heights to Syria soon after Israel’s annexation, added Ben Dahan, who was born in Morocco and came to Israel as a child. “Nobody talks about it anymore. If only we said today in all clarity that we will stay here in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] forever, it’s ours, the Arabs would understand [and ask themselves,] if this is the reality, what’s do we do? Either we deal with it, or we go to a different place, or we fight. But things would be different. As soon as you know exactly what the second side wants, the dreams start to fade away.”
The vast majority of Israelis no longer believe in a two-state solution — even opposition leader and Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog admitted that it is currently not attainable, Ben Dahan said.
Herzog “understands very well that this dream will certainly not come to pass in the coming years.” While it is hard to openly abandon the two-state solution, which he clung on to for so long, he does not really believe in it anymore, Ben Dahan posited. “It’s a dream that nobody really dreams anymore.”
If Israel were to annex the entire West Bank, Palestinians living there should be encouraged to emigrate, he said. “I think the government should help Palestinians [leave], offer them $50,000 so that they go.” Whoever wants to stay could apply for Israeli citizenship — but only after a decade and if they pass some sort of loyalty test, Ben Dahan said. All Western countries today require such tests before allowing foreigners to obtain citizenship, he argued.
“I say we don’t have to be better than the Americans,” he said.
Ten years after Israel’s annexation, the state would assess each applicant’s conduct and decide whether he or she were eligible for Israeli citizenship, according to the deputy minister’s proposal. “Let’s see how you act. Let’s see if in your family there are terrorists or not. Let’s see what your attitude toward the state is, whether you understand that this is the Jews’ country or not. We will test you after 10 years and see. If yes, you’ll obtain Israeli citizenship. Why not?”
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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