Likud Prime Ministerial Hopeful: Two-State Solution Is Dangerous Idea, Israel Has No Palestinian Partner for Peace
After nearly four years away from the Knesset, Gideon Sa’ar wants back in. The former education and interior minister — who held the No. 2 spot on the Likud party list from 2009-2014 — plans to return to politics ahead of the next election (currently scheduled for November 2019), and he is a leading candidate to succeed Benjamin Netanyahu should the prime minister’s legal woes end his decade-long grip on power.
The 52-year-old Sa’ar sat down this week with The Algemeiner in New York City at a time when Israel’s security situation has perhaps never been more complex. Just an hour before the interview, Netanyahu held a press conference in Tel Aviv at which he revealed evidence of Iran’s efforts to deceive the world about its nuclear program.
The following interview with Sa’ar has been edited for length and clarity:
Q: What is the top threat facing Israel right now?
A: In terms of security, the number one challenge is Iran. When I’m speaking about Iran, I’m speaking also about Iranian proxies, like Hezbollah. Iran is challenging Israel today in Syria and in Lebanon, trying to build leverages for a possible future conflict, trying to build long-range, accurate missile factories in Syria and in Lebanon for Hezbollah, and trying to bring advanced weapons systems into Syria that would change the strategic equation with Israel.
And, of course, the number one issue is Iran’s effort to gain nuclear capabilities. Israel’s policy was always, and remains, to keep enemy states in the region from possessing nuclear capabilities, and I think, with the extremist regime in Iran, it’s even more important to stick to this principle.
Q: What should Israel’s red lines in Syria be?
A: There are two red lines — to prevent and block the Iranian effort to build long-range, accurate missile factories in Syria and in Lebanon. We’re talking about missiles that can be targeted not only to a city, but also to a certain building or installation, which could be an army base or an energy installation. We’re a very small country, and if they will reach these capabilities, the next conflict will look totally different.
The second thing is certain advanced weapons systems the Iranians are trying to bring to Syria that will change the equation.
Q: With the May 12 deadline approaching, what do you hope US President Donald Trump will do regarding the future of the Iran nuclear deal?
A: I think it is crucial that America stay with the principle that President Trump set — which is fix the agreement, or America will withdraw from it. And until now, the Iranians have not shown any willingness to change the agreement. It is very important that the agreement be changed, in terms of better inspections and in terms of the ‘sunset clause.’
Q: What do you think will happen the day after a US pullout from the deal?
A: There are a few possibilities. Of course, we must be prepared for a situation in which the Iranians try to break through to a bomb. I’m not sure they will do that. One must not forget that they might want to stick to the agreement, with regard to their relations with Europe, with China, with Russia, to enjoy the benefits of the agreement economically.
So I’m not 100% sure what they will do. They have a lot to lose themselves from quitting the agreement, because their economic situation is not so good. There is a lot of frustration among the Iranian people. But we must be prepared for an Iranian effort to break through to a bomb, in all the relevant aspects.
Q: Do you believe peace with the Palestinians is possible?
A: I don’t see peace with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. I don’t think there is a leadership in the Palestinian Authority that wants to go towards this direction. We can see that they continue to pay salaries for murderers, to allocate a huge amount of their budget to terrorists and terrorists’ families, according to their internal laws. They are paying for killing Jews. At the same time, they are inciting. They are inciting in their education system, they are inciting in their media. They’re already poisoning the next generation. So I don’t see the prospects for peace under these circumstances.
The last elections there were 13 years ago, there is no leadership with a mandate from the Palestinian public to do something serious. So as much as we want peace, and we yearn for peace, we must recognize the situation. We don’t have a partner for peace and we shouldn’t go forward creating a Palestinian state in the heart of our land. It’s a very dangerous idea — in terms of our national security and in terms of the demography in our land. And I think that today Israel must be very clear that we are not going forward with this dangerous idea.
Q: If you woke up one day and the Palestinians had suddenly become like the Swiss, would you be willing to make concessions for peace?
A: Wake me up at a time when we have different neighbors in a different neighborhood, and I might answer you differently. But, as things are now, we must be realistic and we must stick to our national interests.
Q: What are your thoughts on Trump’s attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
A: Until now, the Trump administration, which is very friendly to Israel, has acted wisely. Trump has been every cautious not to define the parameters for a final-status agreement and he didn’t fall into the trap his predecessors did of putting all of their political credit on a specific deal that couldn’t be implemented. As far as I understand, the Trump administration is trying to see what is achievable, they are checking with the parties what is achievable. And very quickly they discovered the Palestinians are not constructive, to say the least. We are also hearing the statements of Palestinian leaders against Trump, and against America, so I believe even though the president wanted to promote peace in the region, he realized that with the current Palestinian leadership it will be, to say the least, very hard, if not impossible.
Q: Does it concern you that Israel appears to have become more of a partisan issue in the US in recent years?
A: Of course, we have friends among Democrats as well. We have many Democratic friends. But I also see the polls, among American public opinion, and you can realize from there that we have higher support among Republicans than among Democrats. I think we should do our utmost to have good relations with Democrats as well, to create connections, to create dialogue. It is very hard, maybe it’s impossible, for us to get support from the radical left-wing. But a lot of Democrats are not there. We should try our utmost to ensure that in the future supporting Israel is a bipartisan issue, as much as we can.
Q: How would you explain to an outside observer the events on the Israel-Gaza Strip border over the past month?
A: We are doing what any other normal country would do under the circumstances, and maybe we’re doing it more cautiously. There are continuous provocations, continuous terror actions, just today we had three different incidents on the border. Our soldiers are at risk there. And still we are doing our utmost to deal with it with the most proportional methods, because we are not looking for escalation.
But one week after another, the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip is working very hard to bring terrorists and young people to the border to confront us. Why are they doing so? I think to divert the frustration of the people in the Gaza Strip from their leadership who spent all their money on tunnels and missiles, rather than investing it in the well-being of the people of Gaza. So it’s very important for the Hamas regime, while the frustration against it is growing, to try to change the stream of the frustration, towards Israel. That’s what they’re trying to do, and we will continue to defend our borders and our people.
Q: What is the most pressing non-security issue Israel must deal with?
A: The top economic challenge facing Israel is combating bureaucracy. I think we will see a great change in our GDP if we advance deregulation.
Also, in education, we have a huge challenge to make the profession of teaching attractive again to young people, and through that to create a huge change in our education system and in our society.
Q: When are you returning to politics?
A: I announced before Passover a year ago that I would be coming back. I’ve started to work. I’m touring the country and I hold a lot of events, a lot of meetings with people. I present my ideas, ideas I’ve thought of during my time outside of politics. I also listen to the people, which is very important.
In the next election, which is supposed to be next year, but maybe could be before, you never know, I will put up my candidacy inside my party, the Likud, and I will come back to decision-making junctures. Right now, I’m already active in public life, but I’m not in the government or the Knesset as I was for so many terms, but I will be after the next election, with the help of God.