Don't Take Shaul Mofaz's Comments to the New York Times too seriously
On Sunday, an article that I wrote titled "War in the Middle East May Be Inevitable" appeared in American Thinker. It dealt with Moshe Arens' assessment of Shaul Mofaz's defeat of Tzipi Livni for head of the Kadima Party in Israel. According to Arens, Mofaz's victory represents a tidal shift in Israeli politics.
Arens presented five concrete examples of failed Israeli efforts to advance the peace agenda, and they received nothing in return except belligerence and increased terrorist activity. Arens thinks that the Israeli people are waking up to the stark reality that peace isn't in the cards--not yet anyway.
Is Arens correct? I think he is, and that's what my article is about, but something important happened between the time I wrote it and its publication on Sunday. On Friday, the New York Times published an article about Mofaz titled "Defying an Image With a Tilt to the Left." It's based on an interview with Mofaz, and according to the Times' article:
...His [Mofaz's] belief that Israelis want to talk about peace with the Palestinians seems counterintuitive. The issue has been fading from the public agenda, with most expressing the belief that Israel has no partner. But Mr. Mofaz says he would start with an interim Palestinian state on 60 percent of the West Bank and negotiate the rest.
Mr. Mofaz says Israel should keep the West Bank settlement blocs but give the Palestinians 100 percent of their territorial demands by swapping land. He believes that borders and security can be negotiated in a year, and that tens of thousands of settlers would leave their homes with the proper incentives. Those who remain would be forced out.
As you would expect, the Times article created quite a stir in Israel. For instance, an article in Israel Hayom titled "Mofaz: 'Palestinians should get 100% of their territorial demands'" contained comments from several prominent Israelis about Mofaz's remarks:
- MK Ofir Akunis, chairman of the Likud Party's rapid response team: "Kadima headed by Mofaz is the same old party under a different guise. It is a leftist party willing to retreat and fold before every Palestinian demand. When Mr. Mofaz says that 100 percent of the Palestinian demands should be met, he is taking the same stance as his Kadima predecessor. A non-demilitarized Palestinian state based on 1967 lines and partitioning Jerusalem. If that's how he intends to open negotiations, it is better not to think about how they would end."
- MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud), chairman of the Knesset's Economic Affairs Committee: "Since MK Mofaz was elected to lead the fifth-largest party according to polls, he has not stopped handing out gifts. And now he is handing out parts of Israel as a gift to the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate with us."
- Danny Dayan, Chairman of the Yesha Council--the council of the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza: "Anyone who is willing to give the Palestinians 100 percent of their territorial demands, while they simultaneously use force against tens of thousands of Israelis is not worthy of being prime minister of Israel. But no need to worry, with a platform like that he will never be elected."
- MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima): "He who returns to the warm bosom of the Left, where Tzipi Livni was, is disconnected from the majority of the public and cannot be prime minister. The real test is to see if Mofaz wants to capture the sane center-right or the Left."
In fairness to Mofaz, the Times article also said:
He [Mofaz] said Mr. Netanyahu's focus on Iran's nuclear program had distracted attention from more important priorities, like making peace with the Palestinians, ending settlement building in much of the West Bank and reducing the country's socioeconomic inequality. Let President Obama handle Iran, he said. We can trust him.
Mr. Mofaz said that Israel's alliance with Washington was its greatest strategic asset, and that aligning Israeli policy more with Washington was necessary. Also, he said, Mr. Netanyahu has been talking too much about Iran. If the time comes when only an attack can stop Iran's nuclear program, and "God forbid the American president decides not to attack," he will support Mr. Netanyahu in such a move, he said. But he does not expect that to happen.
Kadima is Israel's leftist political party, the J Street Party if you will, and Mofaz is now head of the party, so Israelis can't be too careful when they scrutinize his remarks. Even so, Mofaz brings some impressive credentials to the table. He was born in Tehran, Iran in 1948, and he immigrated to Israel with his family in 1957. His parents were poor so he had to earn his way to the top first in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and then in politics.
In the military, he became a paratrooper and served in the Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces commando unit. Mofaz saw duty in the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and Operation Entebbe. Eventually, he became the IDF's chief of the general staff and gravitated toward politics where he became minister of defense, deputy prime minister, and minister of transportation and road safety. Currently, Mofaz is a member of the Knesset and head of the Kadima Party.
Mofaz's remarks in his interview with the New York Times were in keeping with the party that he now leads, but his background suggests that he is also pragmatic. Evidence to support the conclusion that Palestinian leaders want peace with Israel is nonexistent. That was Moshe Arens point, and wishing and hoping by Mofaz or anyone else won't change that reality. Besides, as the Times correctly noted, in a head-to-head matchup with Binyamin Netanyahu right now, Netanyahu would "crush him."
At this juncture, it pays to take Mofaz seriously, but it's not time to start hyperventilating. Arens assessment of the situation is still correct: Israeli citizens are moving to the right because that's what the evidence indicates they must do. If the Kadima Party wants to remain relevant, it must change, too. That may be Mofaz's most daunting challenge in the immediate future despite what he says for public consumption.
Neil Snyder is a chaired professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.