Danny Ayalon, center, at the 'English Speakers Election Campaign.'
Danny Ayalon, center, at an English-speakers' election campaign stop. Photo by Emil Salman
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AP
Chuck Hagel. Photo by AP

President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is a “decent and fair interlocutor who believes in the natural partnership between Israel and the United States,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Jewish leaders in New York on Thursday.

Ayalon told a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which convened to bid him farewell, “I know Hagel personally. When I was ambassador in Washington, we had many meetings. I cannot say that we agreed on everything, but he was a decent and fair interlocutor and you can reason with him. I think he believes in the relationship, in the natural partnership between Israel and the United States.”

Ayalon told an obviously skeptical crowd of American Jewish leaders: “Once Hagel sits behind the desk in the Pentagon, I am sure he will be very impressed and proud of the volume of the defense relations between Israel and the U.S., which are so important for both countries.”

“Hagel is a true American patriot, and the support that America gives Israel is in America’s interest. So I am optimistic,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon, who was summarily removed by Avigdor Lieberman from the Yisrael Beiteinu slots in the combined Likud Beiteinu party, was praised by U.S. News and World Report publisher Mort Zuckerman for his diplomatic skills and long years of public service. Zuckerman expressed hope that Ayalon would soon return to public life.

In his remarks, Ayalon also presented the general outlines of what he described as a “long term interim solution” with the Palestinians, instead of a permanent solution, which, he said, was impossible to achieve because “the minimum Palestinian demands do not meet the maximum that Israel can give.”

Rather than looking for “pie in the sky," Ayalon suggested an arrangement of “sovereignty and independence” for the Palestinians, in exchange for “security and recognition” for Israel, without settling the intractable issues such as territory and refugees.

Ayalon also said that it’s not clear whether there will be “one or two Palestinian states," one in Gaza run by Hamas and the other in Judea and Samaria, run by Fatah. He said that Israel was willing to view Hamas as a “legitimate interlocutor” - if it adopts the Quartet demands of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.

Ayalon also gave a bleak forecast of a fragmenting Arab world: “The Arab world is no more. If the Arab League consists today of 22 countries, I would not be surprised if in a short time, five years perhaps, we will have 30 countries.”

“Syria is a case in point. When Assad goes down he will take the entire country down with him. The sectarian war is already very evident – the Kurds, the Druze, the Sunni, the Alawites, the Christians, they are already racing for their own defense, and we may see a major split in Syria.

“And what happens in Syria does not stay in Syria,” Ayalon added, “but spills over to Lebanon and maybe even to Iraq. Already today the Kurdish area of Iraq is completely autonomous – they are exporting their oil directly overseas, and there are more direct flights to Kurdish areas than there are to Baghdad, European countries have their consulates there. This is the epitome of what we will see in the Middle East.”