Recently the Georgian freedom activist Joseph Zaalishvili interviewed the Israeli Deputy Minister of Interior Affairs, Knesset Member Mrs. Faina Kirshenbaum.
Joseph Zaalishvili: Do you think that the wave of protests that rose in Egypt could bring to power more extremist forces than came to the fore after the “Arab Spring,” or will the Egyptian military be able to keep the situation under control?
Faina Kirshenbaum: At first I can say that Israelis did not want to interfere in this situation. This is an internal affair of Egypt, a question of who will rule the country. As the saying goes, we are seeing the excitement of the processes that are taking place in that country.
We are very concerned about this situation because we have a long border with Egypt, we have for the last 25 years since the treaty was signed not a full-fledged accord, but there is silence and peace — a stable relationship. And for us that is very important.
We watch with excitement, for if more radical forces come to power in Egypt, they will not honor that agreement which was signed with Israel. And of course it is all connected with the axis of evil, which begins and ends with Iran in Syria. We see Hezbollah, which sided with Assad. And the number of people killed in Syria is over a hundred thousand. We are very concerned about why the international community does not take up this subject. Why not take measures to protect the civilian population? This week in Israel a 13-year-old girl who was wounded in Syria received treatment. Israel is helping the wounded, because it is humane.
Very important also is the Iranian issue; we cannot forget about it. How will the situation in Iran be after the presidential elections? Will this affect the future? What is the attitude of the United States to this, and of course the whole bunch, the U.S., Israel and Europe.
JZ: You said that in Syria Hezbollah is fighting against the Assad regime, but among the Syrian opposition forces also there aren’t big supporters of democracy. How should this situation be dealt with? Isn’t Israel between Scylla and Charybdis, on the one hand with Hezbollah and the other with Al-Qaeda?
FK: Israel never stands on either side. Not to be on the side of Assad is not to take the side of the rebels. We are concerned about the security of our borders and the stockpile of chemical weapons that is in Syria.
This morning, two insurgents were trying to enter the territory of the State of Israel. Of course, the Israel Defense Force stopped them, but we can see that the tense situation on the border leads to the fact that the peacekeepers are leaving the Golan Heights. UN forces are leaving this area and the buffer zone is getting smaller and smaller. Israel is concerned about its safety and seeks peace of mind on its borders. We do not want to interfere in Egypt or get involved with the problems in Syria, but the security of the state of Israel and its citizens is very important for us.
JZ: Some time ago, when you visited Russia, did you discuss the question of whether there were Russian peacekeeping forces on the border with Syria?
FK: This topic raised a very big noise in Russia. As I said, we do not have any problem with what forces are on the border with Syria. Everything should be in accordance with international relations and international law. And the UN has written into the contract that the countries of the UN Security Council do not have the right to be part of the peacekeeping forces at these borders. Therefore it is not possible. This topic has arisen, but the UN Security Council has not given Russia permission to join those forces.
JZ: Almost a year ago there was operation “Pillar of Cloud,” after which the firing stopped in the Gaza Strip. The situation in Egypt is changing, and it is not clear whether the military will be able to keep the situation under control at Gaza’s border with Egypt. Some time ago the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Avigdor Lieberman, said that Israel would have to enter Gaza again in order to ensure the safety of its citizens. Would you comment on this situation?
FK: I do not think he said that because of the situation in Egypt. I think it was related to another situation. Every time someone raises a question of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, for example with Abu Mazen, we always suffer from the fact that we are frequently shelled from the Gaza Strip. This is all done in order to indicate that the Gaza Strip is different, and Abu Mazen has no control over it. We have, as we say, Fatah-land and Hamas-stan. Abu Mazen doesn’t control the situation in Gaza. And every time Abu Mazen makes a move, they start firing to show Israel that Abu Mazen and Fatah do not represent Gaza. And when the world community puts pressure on Israel to restart the negotiation process, we have a question: with whom should we speak? For who is Abu Mazen? Elections in Ramallah were three years ago. Abu Mazen doesn’t call new elections because he is afraid of losing. Then Hamas or other extremist forces can become the authorities on the West Bank of the Jordan River. We can sign an agreement to make concessions, including territorial ones, but the next authority in Ramallah could declare that the previous government did not represent the interests of the Palestinians and say that we have what we have but we want more. So it is very difficult situation.
JZ: Eight years ago, the government of Ariel Sharon withdrew Jewish settlements from Gaza. Some politicians in Israel and around the world say that it was the right decision, and others think it was a tragedy for the Jewish people and helped make Israel weak. What is your attitude to this issue?
FK: History has proven that nothing has changed. They said that because of the settlements that were in Gaza the Palestinians were enraged and there was no peace. We have once again proven to the world that this is not the case. We have taken out of the Gaza Strip 20 thousand Israeli civilians. We destroyed the settlements in which flourished kindergartens, schools, and agricultural crops — we had built the entire infrastructure. The Arabs were given the land, and what did we get? More attacks. But this time they came from closer by. Terrorists fired at us at closer range. Because of that, we had to start operation “Pillar of Cloud,” and it is not clear what will happen next. If things heat up and the pressure on us increases, then Lieberman will be proven right. If we have no other choice, we will have to return to Gaza. Nobody wants that. Our goal is not to conquer Gaza. We do not need it. No, it is not because Arabs inhabit the area. We need peace and safety for our citizens.
JZ: Ms. Kirshenbaum, the EU adopted the recommendation to boycott industrial settlements of the so-called “Green Line.” How do you think this decision could affect the foreign policy of the State of Israel?
FK: I think that this decision is a gross interference in our affairs. We never make decisions for other states, and we do not interfere in their affairs. To interfere in the internal affairs of Israel is a violation of international law. It is an attempt to force Israel to advance the negotiations, but I think that it is necessary to press the other side, not Israel, as we have something very defined on our borders. We want them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We want any agreement to be final, entirely ending the whole conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And certainly there should be no right of return for all the Arabs who lived here until 1948. If these items are not accepted, we have nothing to talk about. We defined our requirements and limits, but as I said, the international community, the Americans and Europeans, find it easier to put pressure on Israel for negotiations. Because our mentalities are similar but talking with the Arab population is difficult, Europeans and Americans find it easier to put pressure on Israel and not on Abu Mazen or other representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
JZ: After the Israelis apologized to Turkey for the incident with the “Mavi Marmara” flotilla, in which Turkish citizens were killed, the prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues threatening to go to the Gaza Strip, and accused Jewish businessmen of financing the riots in Turkey. Do you know why he accuses Israel of all these sins?
FK: It is very easy to blame Israel. We used to say that the breakdown of relations with Turkey was not the result of the Mavi Marmara; on the contrary, the Mavi Marmara was the result of failure of these relations.
The passengers on the vessel came with the purpose of killing Israeli soldiers; this is clear from the records of the operation. They broke international law as they approached the Israel’s borders by water. In recent years, Turkey has undergone a big change. They are trying to change the order that existed in this country since Kemal Ataturk: looser liberal policies with an orientation toward the West. And then the wave of protest which has just been going on in Turkey just proves what changes have taken place in Turkey in recent years. Youthful forces wants less religion in government and more freedom of speech. Erdogan wants to present himself as the leader of the Islamic world, and to consolidate its position in the world and that is probably why he wants to go to Gaza.