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Ophir Pines-Paz
News and Opinion

Those Who Believe In The Status Quo Are Making A Huge Mistake

-- Ophir Pines-Paz

Member of Israel's Knesset (Parliament) Ophir Pines-Paz, a representative of the Labor-Meimad bloc, spoke to members of the JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council Dec. 4. Pines-Paz served the cabinet first as Minister of Internal Affairs and then as Minister of Science, Culture, and Sport until his resignation from the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Nov. 1, 2006. He currently serves as a member of the Knesset's Economics and Constitution, and Law and Justice Committees. The following are edited excerpts from his remarks to the JCRC.

"In the present situation there is no left camp or right camp in Israeli politics. Everyone is in the center, but where are those answers, those new ideas we are looking for? I don't find them. There is a lot of criticism against thinking in terms of camps. But then you have to ask what is the alternative? Not thinking at all? I hope that's not the outcome in Israeli politics. I hope we will see something brighter than what we are seeing now.

"I think the number one threat in the world is coming from Iran. It's a major, deep threat. For many years it's been using terror as a tool to promote its own interests. And now the Iranian regime is trying to achieve nuclear weapons. The combination of terror and nuclear weapons is very dangerous to everyone, including Israel, and we have to rethink how to challenge them. It's changing the whole way of thinking from our perspective... We know that there is a real threat that is bigger than the Israeli Palestinian conflict that we have to face, that the President of Iran says he wants to destroy the State of Israel, that the Holocaust didn't exist, that the Jewish state is a provocation. We have to hear him as he is, and not think that' he's not serious. We have to find the right answers, because in three or four years from now, the questions is, will we stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons?

"The Lebanon war was related to that, as we discovered a new gathering of forces that are anti-Israel and anti-American: Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria. Suddenly you can see developing in the Middle East something having a lot of support from organizations and countries that use terror, are backed up by fundamentalist, Islamic regimes, and it's something we have to face. So the [Israeli] government decided on a military operation that turned out to be a real war... We had some achievements-[UN Resolution] 1701--and yet there were many problems being investigated. The main thing is to correct those things that went wrong in the army and at the political level. We have to be prepared, and fix all the things that went wrong.

"The achievements were that Hezbollah moved from the border, that the Lebanese Army got permission to move south, and that the international force that came from all over the world with their job to keep quiet on the northern border. And that no one can sell weapons in Lebanon to anyone other than the government.

"Now we have to see what we can do on the Palestinian conflict. It's very complicated since Hamas took over and won the elections and are heading the government. They are not going to recognize Israel, to stop using terror, or recognize previous agreements... and they don't want a two-state solution. They want a one-state solution. Now we have to decide what we're going to do, because we have to do something.

"I'm against the approach, the passive approach, to wait and see what will happen. I think those who believe in the status quo are making a huge mistake. Time is running against Israeli interests because of demography. If the extremist Palestinian forces were really smart, they would end any terror against Israel for 50-100 years, just wait, and let demography play its role, that's all. That would be the end of the Jewish democratic state. The only way to ensure there will be a two-state solution is to do our utmost to initiate new answers. And it's difficult because we're almost sure we don't have a partner.

"Abu Mazen--it's a big mistake on our part not to have a serious dialogue with him for two years since he was elected... The day after I resigned I met with him, because I thought that it's important to try to bring back the dialogue, not because he has all the answers but because it's important to strengthen him. He proved that he's anti-terror. He's someone we must talk with. And I hope that the talks between us and them will be back soon.

"But even if they are going to be back I'm not sure he'll deliver... the Hamas government is supposed to step down, and they will have a technocrat government... if that will happen It will allow us to negotiate, not only dialogue, but also [to entertain] specific, pragmatic ideas that are able to be implemented. And if its not going to happen we have to think about different initiatives.

"Second best is doing something. What Sharon did with the disengagement was second best because it was unilateral, not the outcome of negotiation, but it was better than doing nothing, because now we have a border between us and the Palestinians, and we have no business in Gaza. We took out our sons and daughters and the settlers, and proved to ourselves that we can do something.

"The best is to have some political understanding with the other side. I'm not sure we'll be able to do so, and still we have the major threat that comes from the north, from Iran. We have to collaborate and cooperate with some of our neighbors: Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Gulf states who also are threatened by Iran. The Middle East needs a kind of alliance or cooperation between all these countries, and it won't happen until we are able to have different relations with the Palestinians.

"We have to think about things that will work. There is the Saudi initiative on the table for three years... we have to look into it seriously, deeply, consider it as a government, as a Knesset, as a state. Is it worthwhile talking? It's backed by 21 Arab countries. We shouldn't surrender to the present situation. We shouldn't say, we tried in the past and it didn't work out. We have to see why it didn't work out.

"We have a big responsibility, together, to the State of Israel, to the Jewish people. We want our country to be there everlasting. I raised my children there, I want them to raise their children there. We need peace as a strategic interest for Israel, to live as a normal country. We have to stay strong, and we have to seek peace. We did that from day one. We shouldn't stop doing that today. Seeking peace with the neighbors to strengthen the state of Israel.

"I want to thank you for all your efforts for the state of Israel. I know that I am speaking at one of the best federations, and I thank you."

© Copyright 1999. Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF/JF). All Rights Reserved. Used with permission of JUF Chicago.

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