Ya’alon comes out fighting

Ya’alon comes out fighting

For the Jewish Chronicle March 21 2017

Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s former defence minister is, as befits a former chief of staff, on the warpath.

His target, however, is not the Arabs or the Palestinians. Instead, Mr Ya’alon, who curtly terminated his membership of Likud two weeks ago, has the prime minister and the present government in his sights — and he speaks with open disdain of a party so changed “that Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin couldn’t get elected now. Benny Begin [the former prime minister’s son] is regarded as a leftist”.

Since resigning as defence minister in 2016, Mr Ya’alon has been carefully laying the groundwork for a comeback. Speaking to the JC during a brief London visit as the guest of the Zionist Federation for its annual dinner, Mr Ya’alon said he had established an NGO called the Association for Alternative Leadership. It is not yet a political party but — mindful of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s warning before leaving for China this week that he might call early elections – Mr Ya’alon said: “I would prefer more time, but I should be ready in any given scenario.”

The normally carefully spoken “Bogie” Ya’alon is furious at the direction in which Israel appears to be going. “What is the meaning of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state?” he asks. “It’s about Jewish values, the sanctity of life, the way we treat ‘the other’. I found in our political system too much hatred generated by politicians — and this is not leadership.”

He is far from left-wing, but speaks with passion about a prime minister “obsessed” with controlling the media. “Too many politicians are saying we have to control the media. This is worrisome, to say the least. Or the way that the government treats the Supreme Court.”

He is not above a sideswipe at a former chief of staff-turned-politician, though he does not name Ehud Barak, when he says he chose to “serve my country and not to make money” when he stood down from government. And he is scornful when he says of Mr Netanyahu: “To lead the country to elections every two years because of political considerations? What about the interests of the country?”

Since his resignation, Mr Ya’alon has travelled all over the country talking to as many different kinds of people as he can. Pointedly, he notes: “I don’t have my own newspaper or my own TV channel”, but he has learned to make full use of social media, although he is sure “that the best way to convince people is to meet them”. He has had between seven and 10 meetings every week and his sense, he says, is that Israelis have had enough of the Netanyahu era.

“It’s because of the [alleged] corruption, the investigations [into the prime minister’s affairs], the brutal way that he manages the media, his obsession regarding controlling the media, which is not the democratic way”.

For his part, Mr Ya’alon says, “I am calling for co-operation with other parties, those who care about the internal future of our Jewish and democratic state”.

He has already been approached, he says, by “religious Zionists who understand that Bayit Yehudi [Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party] is going to the extreme.” As an example of such extremism, he says: “Benny Begin is considered a leftist because he believes in the rule of law. Reuven Rivlin, our president, is called a leftist because he called for embracing Arabs rather than to hate them.”

Mr Ya’alon is hopeful that he can appeal to voters for Kulanu, Yesh Atid, and the Labour Party. All the centrist parties, he says, “see no chance for a final settlement”.

Instead, he talks about “managing” the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and says that post-Oslo, Israelis and Palestinians have become “like Siamese twins,” whereby each is dependent on the other. He is against annexing “Area C”, which forms just over 60 per cent of the West Bank, and says that it ought to be possible to come to some sort of accommodation “without uprooting a single Arab or a single Jew.” He adds: “We shouldn’t settle everywhere, though I do believe Jews have the right to do so.”

Of the Palestinians, he says: “I don’t want to rule them and I would like to enhance their political independence.” A favourite line is “sticks and carrots”, the method by which Mr Ya’alon thinks it is possible to continue relations with both Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank.

Israelis and Palestinians benefit from each other, Mr Ya’alon declares, the Palestinians from Israel’s strong economy, and Israel from peaceful neighbours. “We are not going to disappear and they’re not going to disappear.”

But the energised Mr Ya’alon is more reticent on the subject of his numerous meetings with leading Palestinians during his talks up and down the country.

Nevertheless, he is scathing when he says there are “too many members of Knesset, and I’m not talking about ministers, who have never met a single Arab — and that’s why they are so extremist. They don’t understand that we have to embrace the Israeli Arabs into our society, and then to find a way to manage life with the Palestinians.”

If he were prime minister tomorrow, Mr Ya’alon says his first steps would be “to unify the Israeli people, Jews and non-Jews, Ashkenazi and Sephardim, religious and non-religious, and to deal with the social economic situation”.

Despite his confidence that Israel can find a method of living with the Palestinians, Mr Ya’alon told the ZF dinner that one of his chief concerns was Palestinian education and how it teaches children to hate. “They are told, if you kill more Jews you get more money. Without dealing with education there’s no chance of a better future for them.”

He also told the 300 guests that Israel now had more in common with its neighbours than ever before, because states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan all viewed Iran as an enemy and a threat.

The ZF event also featured Rami Sherman, the former Operations Officer to the unit commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, during the 1976 Entebbe rescue.

  • 21 March, 2017