”Despite the denials, it seems to me that there is a serious effort on both sides to move towards an agreement,” Knesset Member Isaac Herzog told members of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with Israel on Tuesday (Nov. 5, 2013) during a discussion at the Knesset`s Galilee Hall on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, among other issues.
”If Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and US Secretary of State (John) Kerry met for over eight hours in Rome two weeks ago, they must have discussed serious issues; not only the weather, or sports. They probably discussed the track of the process and where it will go,” said Herzog, who heads the Knesset Delegation for Relations with the European Parliament.
During the meeting, Herzog urged the Europeans to ”apply clear pressure” on (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas. According to the Labor Party member, Abbas ”will not serve the Palestinian interests” should he get the sense that he has something to gain from not advancing the peace process.
David Tsur, a member of the Hatenua party, said Israel must strive for a ”two states for two peoples” solution, but cautioned that Abbas may not be powerful enough to implement such an agreement.
Hatenua is headed by Tzipi Livni, who has been appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu to act as Israel`s chief peace negotiator.
MK Tsur claimed the measures taken by the Europeans against Israel – which, according to him, stem from ”ignorance” – hinder the peace process.
Yoni Chetboun of the HaBayit Hayehudi faction said the conflict with the Palestinians was ideological rather than territorial. ”We are perceived here as conquerors,” he said, adding that the Palestinian leadership views the very existence of a Zionist entity in the Land of Israel as ”problematic.”
Chetboun claimed the establishment of a Palestinian state is ”unrealistic” and suggested an entirely different model: Joint coexistence within one country.
”The state of the Jewish people, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan (River), wants to live in coexistence with the Palestinian public – the Arabs of Judea and Samaria – under a Jewish democratic state,” the young lawmaker said.
Tsur rejected Chetboun`s proposal, saying ”there is not one person on the Palestinian side who will say that he agrees to such coexistence.”
Dov Khenin of the Hadash faction concurred, saying the two-state solution ”remains the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The MK said such a solution was in the interest of both sides. ”Should we fail to reach a solution of two states for two peoples, it means that my children, and the children of my colleagues in the Knesset, as well as the children of the other Israeli citizens – have no future,” he said.
Khenin told the European visitors that a failure to reach a solution to the Mideast conflict would affect their countries as well. ”The Middle East is not located on another planet. If we don`t achieve advancement towards a diplomatic agreement…we may deteriorate towards escalation; and such deterioration in a region where new weapons are entering from all directions – is very dangerous for us, it is very dangerous for our neighbors and it is very dangerous for each and every citizen in Europe`s countries,” he said.
Should the Middle East explode with various unconventional weapons, it will not be only our problem; it will also be your problem, in Europe.” Therefore, Khenin said, ”active European involvement” for the advancement of a peace agreement that would lead to two-states for two peoples should also be an interest of Europe`s citizens.
The MK expressed his opposition to the calls in Europe for a boycott of Israel. ”I believe that anyone who places all of Israeli society in one basket is ignoring the fact that there is a debate in Israel. There are those who support the settlements and the Land of Israel, and there are those who are against this and want to move towards peace and two states for two peoples. You cannot put everyone in the same basket,” he said.
However, Khenin said he backed the new guidelines stipulating that any Israeli institution or organization seeking funds from an EU agency must first submit a statement declaring that it does not and will not operate beyond the Green Line. The European position ”differentiates between Israel and the settlements, which are outside Israel,” he said.
MK Nissim Zeev of the Shas party leveled harsh criticism at the European Union over its policy toward Israel. ”We feel persecuted by the European states,” said Zeev, who is also a member of the Delegation for Relations with the European Parliament. ”See the truth. What Arab country provides to its citizens the services Israel provides to the Palestinians?”
MEP Bastiaan Belder, chairman of the European delegation, tried to allay the concerns over Europe`s Mideast policy, saying ”There is no doubt within the European Parliament and in this delegation that we are standing behind you and backing the existence of your state – the State of Israel.”
Professor Isabella `Susy` De Martini, an MEP from Italy, mentioned the upcoming 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht—the night of broken glass. ”Now the European Union is critical towards Israel, showing no respect and no memory of what happened then,” she said.
The discussion at the Knesset also focused on the Iranian threat, with Herzog telling the visiting MEPs that Israel expects Europe to be ”assertive” and ”uncompromising” during the negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program. Europe, he said, ”must show that (it insists) on the demand that there be no Iranian nuclear program.” Such an approach, Herzog claimed, would ”show the Israeli public that we can count on our allies abroad on this issue.”
MK Israel Hasson claimed that the Iranian threat is rooted in religious Shiite ideology. The Kadima party member noted that Iran`s war with Iraq was dubbed the `Al-Quds (Jerusalem) War.` When the Iranians were asked to explain the connection, they said ”The goal is Jerusalem; Iraq is simply on the way.” According to Hasson, Tehran is seeking military nuclear capability as a means to ”change the regional map.”
Iran`s ”religious and fanatical” goal is guided by ”one man, who is never wrong,” he said, referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. ”His order is a divine order, and the means they are willing to employ in order to achieve this goal are legitimate (in their eyes). Everything is legitimate.”
Hasson said that while he is favor of a political resolution to the Iranian crisis, ”those who wish to resolve it politically must understand what the problem`s starting point is. It is entirely legitimate, from Iran`s perspective, to sit and lie.”
MEP Belder suggested that a regime change could remove the Iranian nuclear threat, while De Martini said the Iranian threat has united Israel with its enemy, Saudi Arabia.
MK Ahmad Tibi of the Ra`am-Ta`al-Mada party shifted the debate to the situation of the Arab minority in Israel. According to him, the State of Israel does not recognize the Arab minority as a national minority because such recognition would grant various rights to the country`s Arabs. ”The State of Israel is defined in the basic laws as a Jewish and democratic state. Notice that the term `Jewish` comes before `democratic.` This is no coincidence,” he said.
”We reject this definition, because there is tension between these two terms. If you define the country as democratic, you assume that all the citizens are equal, but if at the same time you define the country as being ethnically and religiously Jewish, you assume that a Jew is superior to an Arab – Moshe is superior to Ahmad – this contradicts the value of democracy.”
Addressing the proposal to raise the electoral threshold to 4%, Tibi said it would ”terminate Arab representation in the Knesset.”