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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 31

Don't turn Likud into Labor:
An interview with Uzi Landau

bitterlemons: You led the campaign in the Likud Central Committee to reject Labor as a coalition partner. Is this only because of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan?

Landau: Our rejection of Labor is not just with respect to disengagement. Labor joining the government would mean a dramatic change in the government's economic and growth stimulation policy. In the political and security context it would mean first, as Labor states, that disengagement in Gaza and northern Samaria would be just the beginning, they would press for additional evacuation of the rest of the settlements in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem and a return to the 1967 lines that Abba Eban once described as Auschwitz borders. Secondly, Labor joining would mean a change in the policy of combating terrorism. [Labor leader Shimon] Peres opposed the targeted killing of Ahmed Yassin, the Hamas leader. So this would be an unacceptable and negative change.

bitterlemons: Shinui also favors disengagement and renewing negotiations. Why not seek to remove it too from the coalition?

Landau: Shinui is more of a moderate party than Labor. A year ago [then Labor leader Amram] Mitzna proposed unilateral disengagement; Shinui was against it. Since then they've endorsed the Sharon version of disengagement, but they have a different agenda from Labor.

bitterlemons: What is your alternative? Are you implying that you accept limited disengagement, but without Labor?

Landau: I haven't suggested limited disengagement. I'm not opposed to compromise when it comes to final peace. Our opposition to disengagement is because when you're in a war you want to win the war and dismantle the terrorist organizations. We have [US President George W.] Bush's support for this position. Only after that is it time to speak about concessions. Now is not the time to speak about compromise. I claim Judea and Samaria as my homeland. When peacetime comes we'll discuss it.

bitterlemons: What, indeed, is your vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement?

Landau: It's premature to speak of a more detailed approach. One precondition is the total dismantling of terrorism and replacing the current Palestinian Authority by something new, a leadership that can speak freely of peace with us. Then there must be an interim period of 3-5 years, with US, European and perhaps Arab help, to develop a new framework of a future Palestinian entity and democratic rules for electing its leadership and developing a way to live side by side, day by day.

bitterlemons: Turning briefly to the fence, Sharon appears to be moving it back toward the green line, under pressure from the courts and the international community.

Landau: Of course I'm against a fence creeping to the green line; it has no security logic, only left wing logic. I've no problem with Sharon's original concept, which had nothing to do with politics. Incidentally, I'm the first minister who called for a fence to stop terrorism and the ongoing influx of Palestinians across the green line. The fence would have been on a security line, not the green line. It is a mistake on our part not to appeal again to the High Court of Justice and make clear that its decision is a major mistake, that it has invaded an area of reasoning that should be the privilege of the government.

bitterlemons: Having dealt a blow to Sharon's plans for a disengagement coalition, how do you view his options?

Landau: I don't know what option he'll choose. But political reality must be a major factor influencing him. The majority of the Likud constituencies and central committee members made it clear that Labor should not be in, though not because we delegitimize Labor and its policies. I simple reject the attempt to turn the Likud into Labor.

I think the present coalition can continue to rule and can be enhanced, relying on the stabilizing tools regarding constructive no confidence votes [that the Knesset instituted a few years ago]. In this way the Likud would follow the mandate received from its constituency.

bitterlemons: Repeated Likud governments have suffered from schisms on their right wing that have ultimately led to their electoral defeat. Is that what we're seeing now?

Landau: A schism now could weaken the right. I hope this will not be the case and that we will learn the lessons of the past. We have a great responsibility. A good part of our struggle is within the realm of democratic norms of government and party behavior in a democratic country. This is not just [a matter of] Sharon accepting party decisions. There was a clear Likud election commitment not to disengage unilaterally and to compromise only at the peace negotiating table after we've won the fight against terrorism. Now Sharon wants to do what Mitzna promised. He rejects the Likud referendum decisions and [those of the] central committee, the supreme organ of the Likud.

In our central committee the majority eventually chose not to give into the pressure of the party apparatus even though it's easier to go along with the power of those who lead the party. For me this is a great hope in a time when more and more in our political arena are motivated by different interests. I heard [Yahad Party leader] Yossi Beilin speak in similar terms: in a democracy you have to follow the decisions of your party institutions. These are the democratic rules of the game you have to follow.

MK Uzi Landau (Likud) is minister without portfolio in the Sharon government, in charge of overseeing Israel's intelligence community and preparing the US-Israel strategic dialogue.

Bitterlemons-international.org is an internet forum for an array of world perspectives on the Middle East and its specific concerns. It aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 24-08-2004



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