Translated from Spanish
Q: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a much anticipated speech this Sunday. What do you think he will say?
Deputy FM Ayalon: I don’t know, but I’m sure he will speak about what is best for Israel and for the achievement of peace, which, let’s keep it in mind, does not depend solely on Israel.
Q: Just now, there is intense diplomatic movement in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Is Israel being pressured?
Deputy FM Ayalon: There is pressure, but on everybody. We too have pressure. Peace is of crucial interest to us. We left the Gaza Strip believing that there would also be peace, but unfortunately, power there lies in the hands of Hamas, with a strong Iranian influence. That’s why we must be more cautious now.
Q: Don’t you think that there might be a head-on collision with the United States, either on the issue of the settlements or that of an independent Palestinian state?
Deputy FM Ayalon: No, there is no head-on collision and neither will there be one. I believe that now is the time to put aside slogans on the settlements and see how we can move ahead in the field.
Q: The Palestinians do not consider them slogans but rather a key issue to be solved to achieve peace.
Deputy FM Ayalon: I don’t think settlements are the central issue or that they are the obstacle on the path toward peace. Before 1967 there were no settlements, but neither was there a day of peace or a day without terrorism. We dismantled settlements in the Sinai to make peace with Egypt. We dismantled the settlements in Gaza before the withdrawal. We understand that settlements are a problem, but they are just one of many.
There are also problems on the Palestinian side, such as the fact that they still do not recognize Israel as the Jewish state. They still demand that Palestinian refugees come to Israel and not to Palestine, which is very strange and makes us afraid that what they want is to take over Israel demographically.
Q: The Palestinians say that the "original sin" lies in the construction of settlements on occupied territory, something forbidden by international law.
Deputy FM Ayalon: If we start discussing history, we’ll never end. For us, Judea and Samaria, i.e., the West Bank, is the birthplace of the Jewish people. And from a legal point of view, Jordan had annexed that area in 1950. Therefore, that territory is not necessarily occupied by us. Its legal status is unclear. I don’t want to discuss history, but rather affirm that we look towards the future.
Q: Do you mean that you distinguish between history and current reality? In other words, should Israel reconsider partitioning the land?
Deputy FM Ayalon: Of course. When we talk about the Road map, the peace plan promoted by the government of George W. Bush, which will eventually lead to two states, that is partition. But remember that the goal is not to have two states, but to achieve genuine peaceful coexistence. The means to accomplish this will be the physical and political separation between us and the Palestinians. We are agreeable to that proposition. But we must remember that a Palestinian state or a Palestinian entity that may be created should not be a terrorist state.
Q: With this, you are actually accepting the vision of the creation of a Palestinian state, as is Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister and head of your party, Israel Beiteinu. But will not that lead to a clash with other right-wing members in the coalition?
Deputy FM Ayalon: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has said from day one that Israel is obliged to honor the international commitments of previous governments. This includes the May 2003 decision to accept the road map – a plan that must eventually lead to two states. But it should be clear that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, without an army, unable to introduce foreign armed forces in its territory, and without the possibility of forming military alliances with others.
Q: What do you expect the Palestinians to do?
Deputy FM Ayalon: At this time, the responsibility of Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is to continue to build up security forces to operate in earnest against terrorism. He must prepare his people for peace; educate them towards peace, which means, for example, not instigating the destruction of Israel. Palestine appears instead of Israel in their study books, and they even demand Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa in Tel Aviv… If the young generation is not educated towards peace and towards an attempt to bring an end to the conflict, there will never be peace.
When we talk about the Road map, which will eventually lead to two states, that is partition. But remember that the goal is not to have two states, but to achieve genuine peaceful coexistence. The means to accomplish this will be the physical and political separation between us and the Palestinians. We are agreeable to that proposition.