Yesterday our new President met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. You probably watched the press conference. What was your take?
I didn’t just watch the press conference; I also had the privilege of going to Washington last week to meet with friends at the White House and on Capitol Hill so they could pick my brain. I’m very satisfied with the current situation and the direction in which the relationship is going.
What would you say has changed since the Obama administration?
First of all, both sides went out of their way to demonstrate that the two countries and their leaders were returning to a close friendship. On that basis they established a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, which of course is the first condition to actually realizing and fulfilling their responsibilities to the national interests and security of their respective countries. I believe that behind closed doors some very challenging issues were raised: Iran, first and foremost; the Palestinian issue, of course; and bilateral relations, which are very important, such as increasing cooperation on defense. They also discussed the geopolitical situation of the greater Middle East vis-à-vis the Sunni countries, and the subversion of Iran, ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas. They had quite a plateful to discuss.
I spoke to some Israeli diplomats during the presidential campaign, and they were very concerned about Trump because of his unpredictability. Do you share that concern?
Not really. I think that he turns his unpredictability into an asset. Trump is what you would call in the professional jargon “disruptive.” We need a friendly disrupter in today’s world of backward politics, distortive media and political correctness, which are the real things that plague us and take away some of our strength in defending our values and way of life against Islamist terrorism. In that sense this could be a real watershed moment, and I believe that the future will prove Trump’s presidency to be an important landmark for strengthening America, Israel and all of Western civilization. As we also saw in yesterday’s press conference, he’s willing to take a fresh look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we do need a fresh look, because what we’ve seen for the last 50 years, through eight presidencies, is just more of the same, to no avail. It’s time for a new approach, because as the saying goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” which in this case is the epitome of insanity.
Well, some things were a little bit the same. During the press conference President Trump turned to Prime Minister Netanyahu and said, “I want you to slow down on the settlements.” Isn’t that a continuation of the old policy?
There has definitely been a change in policy. One of Obama’s failures was walking away from his predecessor’s commitment—namely, the Bush letter to Ariel Sharon of 2004, which I had the privilege of being involved in and giving suggestions as to how it should be constructed. In that letter, the US not only recognized the legitimacy of the major Jewish blocs in our homeland of Judea and Samaria, but also that Israel needs defensible borders. It was the first time that “defensible borders” had been put in writing by a US administration. “Defensible borders” is a code word for an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, which we cannot give up. Unfortunately, Obama abandoned that from day one and put all the pressure on Israel to immediately stop any building in the communities—including Jerusalem—which was obviously no way to move forward. What he did in effect was to lock the Palestinians into a more intransigent position. Even Mahmoud Abbas didn’t expect such a tough position against Israel from the United States.
Was that detrimental to possible peace talks?
Yes. When Abbas saw that position, he rightly concluded that there was no reason to compromise on any of his demands and in fact toughened them. It also pushed Israel into a corner where we needed to watch our back and couldn’t make any compromises when our security and national interests were in such danger. If I had to put my finger on the reason for the stalemate of the last eight years, I would say it was the abandonment by the Obama administration of the Sharon-Bush agreement. I believe that what we saw yesterday, even with President Trump’s comments about building in the settlements, is a return to the Bush letter, which means that you can build in any territory that will definitely remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement. As far as the outskirts are concerned, I think that Netanyahu is quite amenable to holding off on construction in those areas until their status is clarified. I also think we have many issues that are more important, so that when a friendly president asks for something, Netanyahu will respect the request.
The commentators have been having a field day debating whether or not there’s been a departure from the two-state solution. What’s your opinion on that?
I don’t necessarily think there’s been a departure. Trump was quite explicit that it’s up to the parties involved to decide exactly how things will end up, and he’s not taking any particular side. Unlike the previous administration, he is also saying that any peace agreement must arise out of direct negotiations between the parties without any preconditions, and without being forced on them by a third party that doesn’t have its survival at stake, as it’s the parties that will have to implement any agreement. In that respect he didn’t rule out a two-state solution, but unlike the Obama administration, when he talks about the possibility of a two-state solution, he is also looking at Israel’s interests. He’s saying that it can’t be only what the Palestinians want, that is, a continuation of their incitement and nefarious school curriculum against Israel, a fulfillment of their desire for exclusivity over the Temple Mount and the Kotel—the holiest Jewish sites in the world—refugee issues, and many other things.