Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant said in a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York last week that the government’s policy is not to build in the West Bank and that he abides by it.
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Galant, a member of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, said that due to the threat of the formation of a binational state, the government must take diplomatic initiative in the West Bank even without a Palestinian partner.
Galant, a member of the security cabinet, made the comments in a closed meeting with the heads of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Partial recordings of the meeting were carried by a newsletter sent out by Jewish Insider, an American news website. Haaretz has obtained full transcripts.
Galant was asked several times about construction in the settlements and gave an answer that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to confirm consistently over the past year.
“Basically – I am following the policy of the government and it is that we are not building in Judea and Samaria. But I am not the only one with the ability to build,” Galant said. “There are private people and other segments of the government that work according to different ministers.”
Galant said the solution to the settlement construction question had to be based on the understandings reached by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and former U.S. President George W. Bush. According to those understandings, construction should take place only in the settlement blocs and only based on natural growth.
After President Barack Obama entered office, the White House said it did not know of such understandings from the Bush administration. The secretary of state during the Bush years, Condoleezza Rice, also said there were no such understandings.
Galant expressed great concern over the implications of a continued freeze in talks with the Palestinians.
“Within 10 years we will have 7 million Palestinians and 7 million Jews – we understand it is a major event,” he said. “A solution with the Palestinians is an Israeli interest – we need it the sooner the better.”
Galant said Israel did not have a partner today on the Palestinian side, but this should not stop it from moving ahead.
“On the other hand there is a question of what happens if we take our hands off the stick and let this plane keep gliding. What will happen in a generation. We know the numbers,” he said.
“Those numbers are not very promising. A one-state solution is a very bad idea for Israel – we saw what happened in the Balkans .... Thinking about the future obliges us as a government to bring a solution even if the other doesn’t like it.”
Much of Galant’s talk was devoted to ties with Egypt. He praised President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, whom he called “Mubarak with a facelift.”
“We were very lucky that Sissi took over. The Egyptian military stayed solid. If you think that Iraq or Lebanon are a problem – if something happens in Egypt it will be a problem,” Galant said, adding that this was the reason it was in the Israeli and American interest to support the current regime in Egypt.
“Sissi took over in an undemocratic way but he is much more liberal than Morsi,” Galant said, referring to Sissi’s predecessor Mohammed Morsi.
“Do you prefer the theory or the practical side? I think the practical side is more important,” he said. “I think Sissi is a combination between Anwar Sadat and Nasser. He is as powerful as Nasser and smart like Sadat.”
As Galant put it, “I think Sissi is the right man in the right place in our eyes but he is dealing with dramatic problems. We would love to help him. We are working for the Egyptians in the U.S. regarding the military aid. We want Egypt to be strong and under the right regime. Sissi is part of the solution and we are lucky to have him.”
Galant also discussed Israel’s attempts at reconciliation with Turkey. “We have to keep Turkey on our side no matter how problematic it is,” he said.
“We know the Turks sometimes don’t behave the way we want them to, but we know how important it is. We don’t want what happened in Iran to happen in Turkey. It is very dangerous.”
Galant was harshly critical of France over its proposal for a peace conference.
“Let the French unify Paris first before they deal with us. There are a lot of problems over there. And we are willing to help them,” he said.
“No one can predict when the next event will happen in Europe and how to prevent it. So exporting the problem to the Middle East is ridiculous.”
According to Galant, France declares its population is 10 percent Muslim but it is actually 20 percent Muslim.
“How many general and colonels do they have if at all that are Muslims?” he said. “How many bankers that are Muslims. I am not talking about politicians – this is easy.”