mofaz - Emil Salman - December 8 2010
Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz. Photo by Emil Salman
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Emil Salman
Mofaz: “The discussion about the moratorium should have been a marginal debate that was resolved long ago” Photo by Emil Salman

Shaul Mofaz, a Kadima MK who previously served as Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and as defense minister, began on Tuesday his tenure as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He is replacing Tzachi Hanegbi, who was suspended from the Knesset after he was determined to have committed crimes involving moral turpitude.

Mofaz assumed the post shortly after his party announced it plans to give up control of the committee in August, in exchange for control of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee.

What do you intend to do as Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman?

You have to remember that this committee deals with foreign affairs as well as defense matters [though] the committee's sessions focus, for the most part, on defense-related issues. For me, the matter of the peace process and Israel's foreign policy should be a top priority of the committee's sessions. I believe that we will be able to request updates on all matters relating to the peace process and to set goals and timetables for the government to move the process forward.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, your first guest to appear before the committee, said at Tuesday's session that nothing is happening with the proposed renewal of Israel's West Bank construction freeze right now because the Americans are currently busy with the WikiLeaks crisis. Do you share this assessment?

I do not think it is appropriate to present a contrary position to every assessment that a senior defense official presents to the committee. But I do think that the main problem of the current administration is that for the nearly two years it has been in office, nothing has progressed with the peace process, and perhaps even the opposite is the case.

The [construction] freeze, rather than the freeze of the peace process itself, turned into the main focus of the talks. The discussion about the moratorium should have been a marginal debate that was resolved long ago, enabling Israel to put the ball in the Palestinians' court. The goal of the freeze was to help move the peace process forward, but it turned into an obstacle. If these three [construction-free] months create a process with the Palestinians, then they should have been granted.

What do you think of the construction freeze? Was it an appropriate step by the Netanyahu government to begin with?

The State of Israel asked for the freeze, and that was a mistake. Strategically, we turned the freeze into a precondition for talks. Unfortunately, the Americans also contributed to this process. It would have been appropriate if the Netanyahu government had said: Today we have a political plan; this the future border as far as we are concerned.

But we created a precondition for any future discussion, even in the other arenas where we will try to promote agreements, not just with the Palestinians. This is the first time that leaders in the region are willing to move ahead with the vision of two states for two peoples. The State of Israel already exists, and now there is a very broad consensus among the leadership to promote this vision, but I do not see these processes happening.

After the general election, you wanted Kadima to join the Likud government. Do you still think Kadima should be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's partner?

The more time that passes with Netanyahu showing no sign of working to advance the peace process, the lower the chances of Kadima's joining the government. If by March 2011 there is no significant process, there will be no reason for Kadima to join the coalition. In such a situation there is also a danger: The further away you get from the peace process, the greater the chances of conflict. Hezbollah and Hamas are both preparing for the next round. ... Do we want to enter into another clash?

Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian side is showing much enthusiasm over reaching a peace agreement. Do you have a scenario that could be acceptable to both parties?

Because of the obstacles facing each side, the chances of reaching a final-status agreement are today very slim. Oslo, Camp David, the road map and Annapolis are history. Today a different direction must be sought, a more pragmatic one. I suggest an interim arrangement that addresses borders and security arrangements. An arrangement for more than 60 percent of the territory should be suggested to the Palestinians that will assure them continuity between Jenin and Hebron, where 99.2 percent of the Palestinians will live, as part of an interim arrangement.

They should be offered international guarantees that in the final-status agreement, the territory they receive will be of the same size as the area they had before 1967. I think it is possible to obtain support from at least 50 percent of Jewish residents for such a move, in return for an evacuation-compensation law that would provide them with fair terms.

Do you agree that Kadima should seek control of the Economic Affairs Committee as early as this summer? Does that make you a temporary chairman?

As far as I'm concerned, the position of chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is an option, not an obsession. I do my work, and it doesn't matter to me if I fill the position until August of this year, as Kadima is demanding, or until April of next year, as stated in the agreements that Tzachi Hanegbi reached with the coalition before assuming the position. In the event that we do get the Economic Affairs Committee before the end of that period, it's fine with me.

Kadima members have argued that it would be a mistake for an opposition party to control the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee because it has no teeth. Do you share the assumption that your leadership of this committee does not help the opposition make any political gains?

I do not think Kadima made a mistake in agreeing to hold onto the chairmanship of this committee until now. There is today in Kadima a majority that thinks it's right to lead the Economic Affairs Committee, and I too thought it was appropriate for an opposition party to lead that committee.

I told my colleagues: Take all the time in the world to try to get the chairmanship of the Economic Affairs Committee. But once the effort did not pay off, it was right to take the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

It was a mistake to drag the issue into the political arena. It is also possible to do a lot in this committee.