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Gideon Saar, Jerusalem, Syria and his return to politics. Interview

In September 2014 Gideon Saar, who served at that time as Minister of interior and was one of the most influential leaders of «Likud», suddenly declared that takes a time-out from politics. In recent months he has criticized the government’s policy on the issue of the steps in the security sphere and countering the wave of terror. In an interview with Saar spoke about how, in his opinion, the government should do, and called the conditions of his return to politics.

Mr. Saar, before we start talking about problems, let’s «get acquainted». With whom I talk: with a private person, with the Institute for research on national security issues, with a politician embarking on a return to activity? Who are you today?

I am a citizen of Israel who cares about the future of the country, which for 20 years he held public positions, raising their children here. Abandoning seats in the government and seats in the Knesset, I did not give up their beliefs. I have experience, I have knowledge in various fields, and when I think it is important to comment on one issue or another, I’m doing it and doing it. I understand that my every statement leads to various insinuations. This is normal, and yet not enough so that I ceased to speak, when I consider it necessary.

In other words, you are today in the status of a private person, an observer. So?

As I said, today I hold no positions, consciously abandoning those held previously. I know this is an unusual step for a politician, but I came to the conclusion that at this stage of my life, I want to take a timeout, I want to spend more time with my family, I want to do other things. By the way, it helps to look at the political system, to much to look at from the outside. And as a member of the Institute for the study of national security issues, I have the opportunity to get acquainted with the strategic issues, regional issues.

In your present job you get more information than when you were a Minister?

The fact that the pace of political life does not always leave open the possibility for an in-depth study of the problem. You cover what concerns your immediate posts may be a little wider. Today I have the opportunity to explore issues more deeply. A year ago I was perhaps the first who said that the only real solution to the Syrian issue – the Syrian. No one spoke, and this idea today in one format or another considered major powers. So there are benefits in staying out of the political system. As for the timeout, he, as any timeout, naturally come to an end, and I never rejected the possibility of returning to political life.

I’m afraid that you won’t tell me the date of the completion of this timeout.

No. But I can tell you the criteria of my possible return to politics. I’m not interested in this or that post by itself. I’ll be back in public life only if you feel that you have the ability to make real change, from my point of view, necessary. I’m talking about changes at the national level. If you feel that such a perspective is, seriously weigh the possibility of returning to politics.

You know, I saw in politics a lot. I was in the Knesset, was in the government, was the Secretary of the government, 20 years was there, where were made a momentous decision was the head of two largest civil ministries. I feel very well today, outside of politics, I earn by their labor, skills and knowledge, pay the usual, as almost any citizen of the country enjoy hanging out with family. In my private life is good. But I care about what is happening in the country, sometimes I hurt from what I see, and if I can influence what is happening in accordance with the criterion I mentioned earlier, we might return to politics. But believe me that the political game itself doesn’t interest me.

How far will I be from the truth if you rephrase what you said as follows: «I will return only if there is a real opportunity to become Prime Minister»?

First of all, your interpretation of my words is far not the only possible one. But I don’t think indulging in innuendo. I don’t have today or tomorrow morning to make a decision. When the time comes, I will weigh and decide. But for those who asked, I answer: my decision will depend on the opportunity to make changes necessary to the society and the political system of the country.

Today, being in the status of a «concerned citizen», you are quite sharply critical of the government on many issues.

I not only criticize. The easiest example. When the government decided to declare the «Islamic movement» outside the law, I publicly supported the decision, and the Prime Minister, who took him. But when you criticize and approve of it very few people are interested in, and therefore where little is published. But my criticism is always essentially reasonable and usually contains a concrete proposal.

This is what I would like to talk. Speaking in January at a conference of the Institute of research on issues of national security, you said, «the Initiative of Israel in recent years has served us bad service». What do you mean?

I really believe in the importance of activism. We must, as far as possible, to decide their own destiny and not be limited only to reaction. In very many situations, we merely responded. Not initiated, was not trying to offer unexpected solutions, did not abandon the old concepts, and as a result do not achieve their strategic goals.

A classic example is the «protective edge». For 50 days we waged war with Hamas in Gaza, giving the terrorist organization the right to dictate the pace and limited only by the reactions. I think, and talked about it in the appropriate forums that we have had to act differently, and by the way, it may very well be, if we acted otherwise, the conflict would continue for 50 days. We cannot allow the not-too-strong terrorist organization dragged the whole country into an armed confrontation two months, including ongoing rocket attacks on the territory where lives the vast majority of the population. It had a huge impact on the economy.

That should have been done differently?

Throughout the surgery it was obvious that the aim of Israel is a ceasefire. There was no time during those two months when Hamas actually feared for its existence and for the survival of its leadership. It was possible to act in accordance with quite different parameters. I’m not talking about the occupation of the entire Gaza strip, but may not be so for 50 days, Hamas acted without fear for their future, as an organization, knowing that it can achieve a ceasefire, when it would be beneficial. It is impossible to call on huge power reserves and leave them idle, and taking this decision is not retroactively, but initially without the use of these forces. And I say this not in order to settle scores or get back to what was said already then, in the summer of 2014. The fact is that our opposition to the current wave of terror reminiscent of what happened then.

In what way?

The government’s policy in relation to the current wave of terror is to try to experience it and hope that it will subside by itself.

But it is necessary…?

And you need to fix in the mind of the second party the feeling of defeat. The enemy should know that he was defeated. This cannot be achieved, when you say that this «intifada of individuals», that terrorists are «lone wolves». These «lone wolves» know very well what most likely die in the time of the attack, it is a kind of suicide bombers. And the deterrent can be achieved only in opposition to them. There is a struggle between the two national groups, Israeli and Palestinian. This struggle is changing shape, and we must act in a much wider context than today. I gave a few examples…

You speak of «consolidating awareness of the victory».

I’m talking about «fixing the consciousness of defeat.» The other party needs to feel and realize that she was defeated.

Tell me, how such awareness can occur? Incidentally, the term «consolidation of the feeling of defeat» was used during the Second Lebanon war.

In any situation when we have achieved strategic success, changed the rules of the game. After operation «Defensive wall» the situation has changed dramatically. We returned to site A, not done for years, deformed the terror infrastructure. It is clear that today the situation is different. But you need about this particular situation to think at the strategic scale.

What can be done? Three things. First of all, to seriously address the issue of Arab illegal aliens residing in Israel. At any given moment in the country there are 100 of thousands of Palestinian Arabs without our permission. The lion’s share of terrorist acts are committed by illegals. The first thing the government should have done – not today, but six months ago is a large-scale operation on search, detention, prosecution or return them to the territory of the Palestinian authority. A week ago we reported that work has begun on the elimination of gaps in the security fence. Them discovered only now, after six months of terror? The solution to the problem of illegals will be immediate and tangible effect with regard to the situation in the security sphere.

Secondly, we cannot solve the problem of terror only against the terrorist, his family, even destroying his house. All agree that the driving force of the intifada is incitement. This means that we need to deal with the instigators. Any of them in mosques, on TV, on the radio, and sometimes on social networks – should be detained and sent to Gaza. From a legal point of view to use such a sanction against the instigators is much easier than against the members of the family of the terrorist. Instigators must understand that their actions have a price they have to pay. This does not happen in the first six months of the current intifada.

And the third thing I’d like to say is the whole issue of national scale, element of the national struggle. We are losing Jerusalem. We’re losing this town, as there is almost no housing being built for Jews, and I’m talking about Eastern and Western parts. In the Western part of Jerusalem, the construction suffers from various problems of planning, which also can be solved, but now we are talking about something else. At the moment the situation is such that people leave Jerusalem. 68% of the population of the capital of the Jews, and 32% of the Arabs. After the six day war the ratio was, if I remember correctly, 73% of Jews and 27% Arabs. If the situation will continue to evolve in the same direction at the current pace, in 15 years the majority of Jerusalem’s residents are Arabs. To prevent this, it is necessary to begin intensive construction in the Jewish neighborhoods of the capital. The Arabs actively and with impunity conduct illegal construction in the Eastern part of the city. If we maintain the current trends, then just lose the city. It is necessary to act not only on tactical but also on a national level. There is a struggle of two national collectives, the answer should be on the national level. The construction in Jerusalem is necessary, and it is a task of national scale.

In this context, how do you feel about the ideas of «opt-out» several villages inside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem?

When it comes to the transfer of territory to the Palestinian authority, then I am against it. There are different formulas which now makes no sense to discuss, but the transfer of the territories of the Palestinian authority, I believe a gross mistake, even when it comes to territories populated by Arabs.

And yet, what are the formulas to solve this problem? Or Shuafat, Beit Hanina, Jabal Mukaber is an integral part of our capital?

There is a village Acab. She is on the other side of the security fence. You can select it as a separate municipal administrative unit. That is, it will remain part of the state of Israel, but will cease to be part of Jerusalem. This is the case, for example, with Abu HaShem. But I am categorically against transferring the property, located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to the Palestinian authority.

If you’re talking about strategic thinking and about the analysis of the conflict from the point of view of our strategic interests, say where are we going? To Binational state? Long-term interim agreement? To something else?

First of all, a Binational state will not. We got out of Gaza, and it is no longer part of Israel. Yes, Judea and Samaria, we act within the framework of political agreements. I don’t know any Israeli who would like to Annex Nablus, Jenin or Gaza.

Let’s leave for a second party in Gaza. Isn’t the annexation of Judea and Samaria said, for example, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin?

I don’t think he was talking about annexation. The territory on which the Palestinians live, not a sovereign part of Israel. We espouse the defence of necessity. We monitor checkpoints, airspace, but it is only defensive measures. As for long sentences, unfortunately, today with the Palestinian side there is no one who can be a partner in this transaction.

Your long-term proposals do not involve, as I understand it unilateral steps.

No, I don’t think the unilateral path is correct. First of all, it does not exempt us from claims in the spirit – «the occupation continues». As we continue to control checkpoints, to control the airspace. So it was after our unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. So I’m against the refusal of the territories without agreement.

And as part of the agreements?

Today it is not. But speaking theoretically, I have always advocated a regional model. Moreover, when I talk about regionalism, we mean the countries of the region participate not only in the process, but in the very formula of agreement.

I mean, you talk about various confederations.

This is one of the possibilities. I think, for example, that the Jordanian-Palestinian construction is much stronger than the Palestinian. An independent Palestinian state created in the territory of small, unviable, even if we imagine that Israel fully retreated, against which I strongly object. It will continue to seek to destroy the state of Israel and the continuation of armed conflict. So I think the Federal model is more accurate and viable. There are other models, such as those suggested at the time, the General-the major of a stock by Giora island, the so-called regional exchange of territories.

That is, we exchange only on territories with the Palestinians, but also with countries in the region.

So. Key to these ideas is Egypt. At the time it was proposed to expand the Gaza strip, extending in the direction of Egypt, to the Egyptian Rafah, Egypt to compensate for the areas located near its borders, and thus to come to an agreement, the responsibility for which will be borne by not only the Palestinians, but also the States of the region. While it is only ideas, since apparently the Palestinian side has no partner for an agreement. It is necessary to check, but I think it is extremely important to free ourselves from the captivity of the concept, according to which, there is only one way – the way of the Oslo accords and the pursuit of two States. This concept led us to a dead end.

I don’t think the present government wants to retain the concept of Oslo.

But it doesn’t offer anything else.

Maybe it’s just like you, came to the conclusion that today no one with whom to enter into such a deal. Ideas can be very different, but if there is no partner…

Sometimes it makes sense to put forward suggestions even if at the moment there is no partner. These issues need to lead a quiet, behind-the-scenes interviews with Jordan and Egypt, all the time you need to check what opportunities there are, and certainly not to close eyes to reality and not to bump into the illusion. Not everything depends on us, from our desire and from our actions. We must understand that Palestinian society has changed a lot in recent times, has become noticeably more radical, it can be seen in all public opinion polls. Today, it is not ready to any agreement involving an end to the conflict with Israel. Sorry, but that is the reality.

A few words about Syria. You have repeatedly expressed themselves on the subject of what is happening there. The chief of staff of the IDF stated that the decision on the withdrawal of Russian troops was for the army by surprise. What about you?

I should say that Russia’s actions’m not very surprised.

The deployment of troops or the conclusion?

I’m talking about the output. Can’t say that foresaw the introduction of troops there. But as for output, it seems to me that everything is very logical. Russia backed the Afghan and different experience, wasn’t interested in a deep and prolonged stay in Syria. Russia’s intervention changed some settings. The position of Bashar al-Assad has strengthened a bit, there was a shift towards negotiations on a ceasefire, at least partially. For Russia it was a very good moment to announce the withdrawal of troops, or rather of redeployment as some forces still remained.

Speaking on the topic of Syria, you see it in the foreseeable future? It is possible that this is the scenario, but its implementation may take many years.

First, de facto it is what has already happened. During the civil war, the people sought in those areas where the lives of their ethnic group, they feel more secure. Generally, speaking about Syria, we must remember that it is an artificial entity that has arisen, like some other, as a result of the Treaty Sykes-Picot, which will soon be 100 years old. These heterogeneous, multi-ethnic, inter-religious States could exist only under the authority of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria. Moreover, they could only exist in that period of time when national identity was a dominant force in the Arab world. Today, the national took the radical Islam. Ethnic strife has always been very strong, and they only escalate. These forces shape the reality of today. The state of Syria exist on the map, but in reality it is not and the whole question is, will the situation de facto in the agreement de jure. In my opinion, the choice will not be simple. Remember Yugoslavia. As a result of all processes occurring there, have any new lesions, but Yugoslavia as such, no. The same will happen here. I think that sooner or later those who today inhabit Syria, are organized primarily along ethnic and confessional principle. Kurds, alawites, 12% in Syria, the Shiites, of which not more than 1%, Sunni majority and the small Druze community, which will receive some form of autonomy. And from the point of view of the interests of Israel and the international community that development is extremely positive. Iran continues to seek to establish a single territorial space to the Mediterranean sea, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon. The ability to counter this, the ability to block the creation of radical Islamic unions – Shiite or Sunni – is incorporated in the splitting of these States at a small public education.

Let’s return from Syria to Israel. From the moment you started to criticize the government, the answer was quick to follow, and from your own party. It is unpleasant to hear in his address «the talker», «the man who never made any decisions». Were you surprised by the severity of attacks, or something like that you would expect?

Think to hear in his address «a failure in ensuring the security of citizens» is even more unpleasant. But I can tell you this. I don’t think the message of which you speak, was formulated by the speaker of the «Likud». The one who framed it, or rather who stands behind it, knows that I three times was part of the military-political Cabinet. Twice as Cabinet Secretary – first term Netanyahu, while we were still in Lebanon, in the first cadence of Sharon, when the operation «Defensive wall» – and the third time as Minister from 2009 to 2013. In addition, I was part of a classified government forums on security issues, about which I have nothing to say. The one who is attacking me, knows this well. He knows as well that I participated in the discussion of the most serious questions concerning Israel’s security, and had access to classified information. And I haven’t said a word about what you are doing today as part of their work in the Institute for the study of national security issues. Check the service record of Ministers of the present government. You will be very difficult to find someone with greater experience of participation in security discussions than mine. So I think this attack is a reaction, panicked. I have already said and will repeat. Hysterical reactions in response to business, criticism can’t be a solution to the problem of terror.

And yet, what do you answer those who say: «He withdrew from politics for their own reasons, enjoying life, and sitting in the stands, criticizing those who are doing what they can in an extremely difficult situation»?

First of all, let’s not forget that this wave of terror started half a year ago. I think that was very restrained, if I’ll do the first interview only six months later. The criticism that I voiced, is of a purely business character, but it is unrealistic to expect from me that, refusing the post of Minister and Deputy, I’ll cease to comment on matters of concern to me. Perhaps someone would like this, but such expectation is not only unrealistic, but also unreasonable. I will continue to Express my opinion. However, I try never to criticize specific people and to always speak exclusively about the case, in contrast, by the way, from the hysterical reaction to my words that you mentioned. And if you say that «they are doing their best», I can say that in this case this is not enough.

Was recently published a survey according to which only 8% of Israelis believe that the government successfully acts against the intifada. To put it mildly, not an impressive figure. I propose specific steps, and by the way, the issue of illegal immigrants we are starting to see the first steps in the right direction. I hope that the government will be more efficient to resist the terror, and then I’ll be happy to strongly endorse and bestow compliments the government. By the way, when the decision was made to declare the «Islamic movement» outside the law, I immediately published a text, congratulating the government and, note, the Prime Minister with the right solution. I remain a member of the «Likud» before the last election and urged all to vote for Likud, although he was not in the electoral list.

Since we’re talking about «litude», the question that occupies many…

Let’s leave political issues aside.

One question.

We talked on these topics at the beginning. It seems to be going about me personally, but all I had to say about the possibility of returning to politics, and about the conditions under which I can return, I said in the beginning, and I have nothing to add. I don’t want to comment on all the possible insinuations that appear in the last year. Was a dozen different insinuations, and now it makes no sense to talk about them.

Let us leave aside insinuations. What you tend: to return to the framework of the «Likud», to the establishment of his party?

I can only repeat what I said before. I will not return to politics at any cost. I would seriously weigh the possibility of returning to public life only if I am confident in the ability to implement reforms for the benefit of the state and its citizens. And I tell you honestly. Even if I take off my jacket, you won’t find a secret trick up his sleeve. I am very glad that a year and a half after I announced the time-out, there are those who want to see me in politics. For me it’s a compliment.

One personal question. A few years ago there was a post about your approach to Jewish tradition. What can you tell us about that today?

Publications that were not always reflected the reality. I’m not a religious person. Two years and three months ago, when my son was born, I decided to keep the Sabbath. I observe her. Anyone can take from the world the tradition that close to him. For me, topics Jews, Zionism is vital, and I live according to your values. I’m not a religious person and not a candidate for the transition into the religion, but I can say that today get much more fun Saturday than ever before. Can be with family, phone off.

Your family accepts this way of life?

We have no compulsion. My wife and daughter secular, Saturday they watch TV, and I did not interfere. When we go to my dad’s for the Sabbath meal, the wife’s coming with me. Everyone in the family is free to lead a lifestyle that considers proper. I’ve made my decision, respect it, and I respect the lifestyle of my household and, as already said, get much more pleasure from the Saturdays than ever before.

Last question. You mentioned Jewish Zionist values. In stay by the Minister of education you all paid considerable attention to this issue. How do you assess what is happening in the Ministry after you.

I don’t like to give points to those who succeeded me in office. I can say that the current Minister of education is closer to my beliefs and positions, rather than Shai Piron, who succeeded me in the Ministry. Naftali Bennett repeatedly asked me for advice on various issues related to Ministry, and I willingly shared their experience, genuinely wanting him to succeed. Education is the key to success of every individual and society as a whole, and I said Naftali Bennett, that always to its services. Something one of his moves I like, something like less. As I said, the issue of Jewish identity and values education I’m much closer to his position than Shai Piron. Anyway, I wish him good luck.

Interviewed Gabby Wolfson

Gideon Saar, Jerusalem, Syria and his return to politics. Interview 26.03.2016

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