Is Netanyahu Capable of Withstanding the Pressure?

Knesset Speaker: Netanyahu tried to appease the right, the Americans, and the Palestinians all at once.

Two days ago, Knesset Speaker Reuven "Ruby" Rivlin dedicated the restored Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City in an emotional speech, his throat choked with tears. Rivlin, a leader among Likud's right wing, Wednesday concludes the first session of the 18th Knesset, which is going into Pesach recess. Knesset Speaker Rivlin, in your opinion is Netanyahu capable of withstanding the campaign of heavy pressure being imposed on him from all sides?

Although they say Netanyahu is hesitant or a trickster, and someone who cannot withstand pressure, there's a moment when Bibi gets past a certain stage in a crisis and understands it's impossible to get along with everyone and that he has to decide. The moment he understands the game is up, he manages to decide. He has the abilities of a statesman, but he's also dependent on politics. He wasn't elected by divine grace but by the body politic in Israel. I have no doubt that when the prime minister understands he has no choice but to decide and to stop straddling the fence, he'll be able to decide.

Do you really believe he has that ability?

Yes. We're in the midst of a very profound crisis with a president who is becoming increasingly confrontational - I'm referring to the American president - and the prime minister will have to say: No more. There are things I can't turn my back on, especially things for which I was elected.

What is your opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu's behavior in the crisis with the Americans?

Unfortunately, I predicted what happened to us in the past week. I warned Netanyahu about it. A few months ago I told him and [Likud MK] Benny Begin, our mutual friend - who, incidentally, have an excellent relationship now - that when you speak not only in two tongues but even in three, you are liable to get into trouble. In the end everyone will rise up against you, which is what's happening now.

Did Netanyahu speak in three tongues?

Regretfully, yes. To the right he said we're going to freeze the settlements, but only for 10 months so as to demonstrate goodwill. To the Americans, he said, "I'm the first prime minister to freeze construction. What else can you ask of me? After all, none of my predecessors did so." And to the Palestinians he said, "Nu, now let's see you."

When you speak in three tongues, then from an intellectual point of view, there's something missing here. If you say "I'm freezing [construction] in order to begin negotiations, and apparently the negotiations will be renewed within 10 months and afterward I'll start building again," there's an internal contradiction, because if you're willing to stop construction for the purpose of beginning negotiations, what will you say later, when the negotiations are in full flow? How will you resume construction?"

Do you really think there will ever be peace here without our handing over neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to the Palestinians?

Of course. Until 2000, we talked only about Abu Dis as the designated Palestinian capital. People here understood that Jerusalem was not even under discussion. Even Meretz adhered to that during a certain period. Even Yossi Beilin in his agreement with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] in 1995 clearly stated that Abu Dis would be the capital of the [Palestinian] state.

During her years as Knesset speaker, your predecessor, Dalia Itzik [Kadima] used to call for a national unity government. Don't you think that's the right thing to do?

I call on all the Zionist parties to rise and say: Jerusalem will not be divided. As far as national unity is concerned, it's good for democracy there's an opposition, too. When the Likud thought that [former prime minister Ehud] Olmert was right to embark on the Second Lebanon War, we supported him without joining the government. The same thing happened when we thought he was right to embark on Operation Cast Lead. I call for national unity when it comes to things about which there is no debate. To call for a national unity government now, that may be politically correct but it isn't intellectually honest. And, in any case, there is a national unity government - between Labor and Likud.

Do you share the opinion of the prime minister's associates that the U.S. president and his staff are trying to bring him down or to cause a change in the composition of the government, in other words, to bring in Kadima instead of the right-wing parties?

As far as the desire to bring down Netanyahu, if I weren't the Knesset speaker, I would say to you that the Americans won't shed a tear if Netanyahu and his government were to fall. But, as Knesset speaker, I have to tell you that I find it inconceivable that they're doing that.

And what about a change in the composition of the government?

Those in the know in the United States understand that any change in the coalition will lead in the end to Netanyahu's downfall. They know that and they know Netanyahu knows it. The moment the prime minister loses his principal support, which is the support of the right and the center, Kadima, which is a center-left party, will bring him down without hesitation. Netanyahu must not zigzag for the sake of political survival. He must not lose his main support, which is the right, unless he reaches a point in which his opinions change drastically.

Are we facing a third intifada?

A third intifada could erupt. When we're dealing with fundamentalism, with young people who are willing to commit suicide, with incitement against the very existence of a Zionist entity and all that is combined, there is definitely a danger. I hope the previous intifadas will make it very clear to those who want to provoke riots that an intifada won't benefit them.

On Monday, you dedicated the Hurva synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City, and you actually cried. Why?

"I admit I'm an emotional person, I'm a Jerusalemite, I'm familiar with the history of Jerusalem. When I was 5 years old, I was in the Hurva synagogue before it was destroyed for the second time by the Jordanians. My father studied in the Hurva, and I see in the Hurva a perspective and a reconstruction of our entire history in this country, including its destruction and redemption. That moves me - personally and nationally. I had a serious reason to be moved that night at the Hurva. If you're moved, that means that you're familiar with the history, and we can't ignore it, even if we want to.

Today the Knesset begins the Pesach recess. Are you pleased with what has happened there in the past year?

On the parliamentary level it wasn't easy because of the desire of certain groups to violate parliamentary rules. We managed to stop those groups, though there's still a danger.

Are you referring to Netanyahu's attempt to pass laws that would fortify the status of the coalition at the expense of the opposition?

It's a shame that the disciples of [Revisionist leader Ze'ev] Jabotinsky have forgotten his essay about majority rule in which he said the minority must be respected and must not be eroded. There are discussions of passing another two-year budget, which is in a trial period and may get another round. That symbolizes a change in the relations between the government and the Knesset. There's also a desire on the part of the government to bring an Economic Arrangements Bill to the Knesset that will do away with the need for legislative processes. We will have to fight over that, too. So, on the political level, it was a year in which the political disputes were bigger than the diplomatic ones, mainly due to a series of internal problems in the Knesset factions - the Labor rebels, [Kadima MK Shaul] Mofaz and there were rebels in Likud, too.

Do you think you succeeded in maintaining a civilized level in the discussions?

I think I succeeded. I do my best. I think the Knesset, in general, believes in my democratic and parliamentary intentions - and some MKs even believe in my abilities.