Ya’alon: Palestinians will have autonomy, not statehood

Defense minister says he is ‘managing the conflict,’ rather than resolving it; stresses there are ‘no shortcuts’ to peace

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Painting a bleak picture of future Palestinian relations, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Wednesday that he is focused on “managing the conflict,” rather than resolving it. The defense minister said that Israel is striving to create a situation of Palestinian autonomy, but not necessarily full statehood, and insisted that there is no indication the Palestinians would be satisfied with a state on the 1967 borders.

“I’m not seeking the solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and the relations in a way that strengthens our interests,” Ya’alon said in an interview with Israel Hayom. “We need to free ourselves of the conception that everything will enter the framework of a state. From my perspective, let them call it the Palestinian empire. What do I care? It’s autonomy — if it ends up being a demilitarized area. It’s not the status quo, it’s creating a tolerable modus vivendi that will serve our interests.”

Asked about the phrase “two-state solution,” Ya’alon said: “Call it what you will.”

“The political separation has already been made, and this is good. We are not handling the [Palestinians’ day-to-day] life, not in Gaza and not in the West Bank. This separation is important. I would encourage and strengthen the governance, the economy, and the citizens’ ability to live there with dignity,” he said.

For peace, “there are no shortcuts,” he maintained. “Our attempts at shortcuts in the past two decades — from Oslo until today — have failed. We know how to live with this. There certainly is no need to control them [the Palestinians], but rather to allow them political independence, as they have today.”

Israel will maintain air control over any land the Palestinians get in the West Bank, Ya’alon also said, adding that he thinks Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of coming to a peace deal, but rather plans on just “managing the conflict.”

The defense minister said that a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines wouldn’t necessarily bring an end to the conflict. “The other side doesn’t think the ’67 lines are the end of the story, and they never said that it’s the end of the story. To them it’s just a stage,” he said. “What they are busy with is not creating a state but destroying ours and making sure it does not exist,” he said.

The defense minister, in a separate interview, told Walla news he was concerned that IDF officers would be branded as war criminals for their actions during the summer campaign against Hamas.

“It’s certainly worrisome. I experienced it myself. There was a time when I couldn’t visit London, and when I arrived in certain countries, there were lawsuits against me. It’s probably part of the price we have to pay in a hypocritical world,” he said.

“We, as the leadership, need to deal with it in a way which will allow the world to understand our situation better,” he said.

In comments to Haaretz, Ya’alon lashed out at Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, accusing him of taking undue credit for IDF action during the summer’s war. The two often clashed during cabinet meetings at the time, according to the report, with Bennett trying to portray a situation in which had he not stepped in, Israel would not have taken any steps to destroy Hamas’s tunnels.

As for Israel’s northern challenges, the defense minister said he estimates that the regime of Bashar Assad today controls a mere 25 percent of Syrian territory.

“The rebels are already doing away with his control on the border with us on the Golan. The east of the country is controlled by [Islamic State], and in the northeast the Kurds have autonomy,” he told the paper.

The entry of Islamist rebel groups into the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, like the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front, worries Ya’alon but the situation is under control, he said.

Some groups in the area indirectly benefit from Israeli humanitarian assistance, he added. “It’s no secret that they benefit from the humanitarian assistance that we provide to the residents of the villages in the area: medical care in our hospitals, food for infants, equipment and blankets in the winter. That happens on condition that they don’t allow the more extremist organizations to reach the border,” he said.

Joshua Davidovich and Ricky Ben-David contributed to this report.

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