Israel’s Housing Minister Yoav Galant Gives Inside Briefing on the Middle East

Yoav Galant, Israel’s Minister of Construction and Housing and an observing member of the security cabinet, gave a briefing on the Middle East and the peace process to leaders of the Conference of Presidents in New York. “I apologize for my poor English. It wasn’t very useful while fighting Hamas and Hezbollah because they understand different languages,” he joked.

Highlights — 

On Syria: “I think the Americans and the western world were supposed to better prepare themselves for this situation by establishing a moderate, secular force based on refugees that arrived in Turkey and Jordan. The Americans have done it in Jordan when they wanted the Palestinians to take over control of Judea and Samaria. It is possible. This was a mistake not to prepare those forces. On the other hand, when it came to deciding whether to attack or not to attack in Syria, I think the decision taken by the president was a very clever decision, but it was done in the most lousy way. if the U.S. would’ve attack the Syrian regime while the chemical weapons were still stationed in Syria, the result would’ve been that the various groups would’ve chased after the reactors and supplies in order to achieve hegemony over others.”

On Egypt: “Israel is very lucky Sisi took over.. He is the right man in the right time. Sisi is a combination of Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser – he’s as powerful as Nasser and smart in a way like Sadat.” On Jordan: The relationship between Israel and Jordan is only second to the relationship between Israel and the United States. The two stable Arab countries in the Middle East are the two that have a peace accord with Israel – Egypt and Jordan. So maybe we are a good component of stability in the region.

On Israel’s policy regarding settlement construction: “I need to speak in Hebrew and in English because the translation is not very well understood all the time, “ he quipped. “There are a few versions, but, basically, the policy of the government is that we are not building in Judea and Samaria. I think the solution that was reached between Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon and President Bush (43) – in the famous letter – was a practical solution. On one hand, you have to recognize that facts have been created on the ground since 1967. On the other hand, you want a viable Palestinian State in that place. We know that there are 3 million Palestinians on the western side of the Jordan Valley, not including those in Israel. Within ten years we will have 7 million Palestinians and 7 million Jews on the western side of the Jordan Valley (3M in West Bank, 2M in Gaza and 2M in Israel). We understand this is a major development. But at the same time, people are living there. There was no other decision made by the Israeli government. So natural growth has to be supported. The situation is complicated and the solutions are complicated.”

On the possibility of the Obama Administration pushing for a peace deal in the remaining few months: “If you want to make a living and a pension, you can start to work on creating peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Some people have made a great career over the years.. We know and you know that the other side is not willing to accept a Jewish democratic state in this region. This is part of the problem.. I don’t think anything dramatic is going to change the Palestinians’ attitude towards Israel. It was always that great and powerful leaders entered the arena believing that by entering the arena they change the arena. The last one to do it was Stalin, Hitler and before that Napoleon. Ever since it is impossible to change the international arena because the means are restrained. The election of a new president is very important, but it is not going the arena because Israel has learned — the Palestinians learned it years ago – that they can bend a little bit and eight years goes by very fast.”

On the French peace initiative: “The idea is not to impose on us a solution. Let the French unify Paris first before they deal with us. There are a lot of problems over there. And we are willing to help them. No one can predict when the next (terrorist) event will happen in Europe and how to prevent it. So exporting the problem to the Middle East is ridiculous. The only one we can trust is the world are the Americans. We cannot put ourselves in the hands of a European country.”

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