Israel opposition leader Shaul Mofaz - "I regret nothing"

Mofaz on those 70 days in power, and why Netanyahu is wrong to talk tough on Iran

By Noga Tarnopolsky, September 16, 2012
Shaul Mofaz plans to restart peace talks

Shaul Mofaz plans to restart peace talks

Shaul Mofaz has had a tumultuous year, even by the stormy standards of Israeli politics.

In March, he was elected to lead Kadima, defeating Tzipi Livni. Two months later, despite campaign assurances that he would never join the Netanyahu government, he brought his party to the cabinet table, creating an unprecedented grand coalition of 93 out of 120 Knesset seats, and took the post of deputy prime minister.

Two months later, he was out, accusing Benjamin Netanyahu of kowtowing to the strictly-Orthodox over a draft reform law, and warning that the prime minister was irresponsibly leading his nation towards war with Iran.

The resulting storm, however, turned against Mr Mofaz, who was attacked for being weak, vacillating and having nothing to show for his 70 days as deputy prime minister.

“I am completely at peace with my decisions — both of them,” said the Tehran-born, former IDF chief of staff. “I don’t regret anything. I was calling for a unity government four years ago! I thought it was important then, so why not now?

Greatest danger is a bi-national state. Neither Egypt nor Syria pose a serious threat

“Given the opportunity, we had to give it a try. We left the government only when it became clear the prime minister had chosen draft dodgers over citizens who serve, and almost the entire Knesset faction refused to participate in such a decision.”

Mr Mofaz argues that “one clear mistake” currently being made by Israel’s leadership is its confrontational tone over Iran.

“A pre-emptive, unilateral attack by Israel has all the drawbacks and none of the benefits for the state of Israel,” he said. “I don’t think we are in real danger. As a society, Israel is in a strong position. The greatest danger facing Israel is the danger of a bi-national state. Neither Egypt nor Syria, in their new configurations, pose a serious threat. And Iran is an existential threat only if it goes nuclear.

“I believe the American President when he says that he will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power,” added Mr Mofaz, who met Barack Obama two months ago in the White House. “Confrontational statements and tension with the United States are only bad for Israel.”

In addition, Mr Mofaz agrees with American estimations that a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran would only delay, not destroy, Iran’s nuclear developments.

An Israeli attack should be contemplated “only if all the other options have been completely exhausted. It is clear that an Israeli attack on Iran will ignite a war.”

Mr Mofaz’s aggressive opposition to Mr Netanyahu’s sabre-rattling has aroused the ire of the prime minister, who has rebuked his former coalition partner for “irresponsibility”. Mr Mofaz countered that Mr Netanyahu is emphasising the Iranian issue in order to divert attention from Israel’s internal crises.

Mr Mofaz plans to open the Knesset’s winter session with a four-point legislative agenda addressing the issues he considers most urgent. First and foremost, he plans to propose a law decreeing a universal draft for all citizens between the ages of 18 and 22, with exemptions for strictly-Orthodox girls, to be enacted by 2016.

The proposal is based on the recommendation of the Plesner Committee, which was established by Mr Netanyahu to address the issue of strictly-Orthodox IDF service and which he disbanded when the Sephardic party Shas threatened to leave the coalition.

Second, Kadima plans on presenting a law for reform of the political system, including regional elections and a higher threshold of votes for any party to enter the Knesset.

Third, Mr Mofaz plans to present a legislative agenda to address Israel’s growing income gap, the lack of affordable housing and early childhood education, issues that have fuelled the social protest movement of the past year.

Lastly, but most importantly, Mr Mofaz plans a forceful initiative to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. He believes the current stalemate represents the single greatest threat to Israel’s future and lies beneath every other problem the nation faces.

“Benjamin Netanyahu’s behaviour in the past three years indicates that he is not interested in pursuing peace,” Mr Mofaz said.

An accord with the Palestinians is already on the table, according to Mr Mofaz. “There is no doubt about what we talking about. It’s been there for years. The big settlement blocks will remain part of the state of Israel. There will be a swap of eight to 10 per cent of the remaining land.”

Mr Mofaz says he cannot envisage including Hamas, the terrorist faction ruling Gaza, in any negotiations unless they accept all the precepts of the Quartet, led by Tony Blair. “That would make them not Hamas any more, and not terrorist. I can’t imagine it,” he said.

He brings up Migron, the illegal settlement that was evacuated last week after more than a decade of legal wrangling, as an example of everything that is wrong in the government’s management of the West Bank.

“We see that when leaders don’t decide, the legal branch is obliged to step in and act as governor,” he said. “Migron should have been dealt with years ago but Netanyahu chose to do nothing, and the Supreme Court was forced to act for him. It is another signal that we need a leader with historic vision, someone who realises that two states for two nations is the only way for Israel to move forward.”

Government investments in the occupied territories, he said, are a cause of “despair for the Israeli middle class”.

Mr Mofaz again cited the example of Migron, where the government spent millions of shekels building infrastructure only to spend millions more dismantling the settlement and building a new one for its residents.

“What can we say about Migron to a guy who lives his life, pays his taxes, serves in the army, obeys all the laws, and realises he is funding such an adventure — and still can’t make to the end of the month?”

Last updated: 2:27pm, September 16 2012