Sharon’s accidental tourist — Interview with Benny Elon

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As the government debates how to implement the various stages of President George W. Bush's Road Map for a Middle East Peace, Tourism Minister Benny Elon is preparing for what he believes is the predestined failure of the road map.


Son of retired Supreme Court justice Menachem Elon, a former head of a yeshiva, and a resident of the West Bank town of Beit-El, Elon laments what he describes as the Right's historic failure to recognize the importance of diplomacy and international law and discusses the steps he is taking to change the situation.


To brace for the day after, Elon has formulated a plan that he believes will represent a viable alternative to the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, he described the cease-fire among Palestinian terror groups as a trap that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "is either falling into it or leading us into."


What do you mean by the Right's failure to recognize the importance of diplomacy?



This is something that the political Right in Israel has never done and has never been willing to understand. We have undervalued the media. We have undervalued the importance of diplomacy and international law. Our way has always been to set up facts on the ground. But we found in the Sinai, in Yamit, that the facts we put on the ground with our settlements can be wiped away without a trace by the stroke of a pen signing a diplomatic agreement. The same can easily be the lot of all the settlements.


We need to battle for people's consciousness. This is something that Yossi Beilin and his crew of suits understood with Oslo. Rabin got stuck after the 11th round of negotiations on the Madrid plan in Washington. Beilin was waiting in the wings with Oslo. Of course he had all the advantages. He had money and EU and UN backing. We don't have that and never will. All we can do is work here in Israel and in the US to try to build grassroots support. When the road map explodes we'll be waiting with our alternative plan, ready to execute it on a moment's notice. That is what I am working towards.


Just like Sharon shows disdain for international law with the wall of separation so the ideological Right ignores it with the settlements. The only way to defeat the regime of the UN and the World Court is through the US government. We see that the only force strong enough to stand up against this regime is America. And the only way to influence America is through grassroots support in the US public.


We will never have international support. When America stands with the regime of international law and the world media, it is the strongest force in the world. We cannot fight it. It isn't that I don't believe in the settlements. I do with all my heart. But for the enterprise to survive, we need to gain legitimacy in the minds of the people here in Israel and in America.


The plan I have worked out recognizes that the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan will be a source of instability and continuous warfare in the region. It calls for a solution that is logical, humane and viable. (See Elon Plan below)


So how are you working to advance your plan?



I believe that the power is in America. If Jordan sees that my plan is being taken seriously in the Congress and the Senate, then they will approach it seriously. And if the Israelis see that the Americans are taking it seriously then they will take it seriously. The key is there.


Here the press is closed to me. In America the Christians are willing to listen. When I go to the Congress and meet with Tom Delay or Sam Brownback, I am coming at the request of their constituents and supporters and these men take me seriously. The Christian Coalition is highly supportive. I am closely tied to Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer and others as well. And they have a lot of power.


Yes, but doesn't it trouble you that all your support is coming from Evangelicals? There is a debate within Jewish circles whether it is reasonable to enlist the support of Christians.


I find it ironic that the Jews most opposed to cooperation with the Christians are largely non-observant. Among observant Jews, there is a question of whether to accept money from the Christians and I think that is a valid question. I too am very sensitive about this subject because if you receive money then you owe the person who gave it to you. I try not to accept any money from them. But the same is true of accepting money from Jews.


I think there is an even stranger coalition. I think the strangest coalition is found in Hyde Park, London. There you find human rights activists and feminists standing shoulder to shoulder with reactionary Muslim groups that hate human rights and enslave women. The only thing they have in common is their hatred for America and Israel.


I think the problem is that the liberal political groups that always said they were pro-Israel now see that the biggest Israel supporters are on the Right. They rail against our Christian friends because they feel threatened that the Christians are undercutting them by supporting Israel more strongly than they do.


How can you be going to America to sell a plan that stands against the policy of the government you serve in?



You are right. I have a serious problem. Sharon gave Bush legitimacy for a two-state solution that involves the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. This is an idea that flies in the face of Bush's religious beliefs as a Christian and against the national security interest of the US to achieve stability in the Middle East. You cannot blame Bush. It was Sharon's doing.


I am playing a very risky game here. These people need to know that I am respectable and that Sharon will accept this plan down the line. So I am in a trap. This plan will only be viable after the road map explodes. I say to them that only when everyone sees that the road map is a road trap and only when they smell that it is road kill will Sharon accept my plan.


Yes, but less than three years after Oslo we have returned to precisely Oslo. Nothing changed at all. The war made no difference. Oslo exploded and then was brought back. Why will anything be different with the road map?



It is true and it is very frustrating. But I think it is because the leaders of the ideological Right failed to learn how to operate in the diplomatic arena. I hope we have learned our lessons and will be able to organize properly this time. When the road map fails, I hope we will be able to make the case that there is already a Palestine west of the Jordan where 80 percent of the population defines itself as Palestinian and that Israel cannot and will not accept a situation where we have to solve the problem of the Palestinians west of the Jordan River by ourselves. I hope we will be able to engage the public to make the conceptual switch to understanding the reality on the ground. That is what I am working towards. That is where my efforts are.

Going back to the "trap" you believe Ariel Sharon "is either falling into… or leading us into," what trap are you talking about?



The Arabs' whole strategic thesis is built around the concept of a phased plan. It is a logical program that is built around the credibility of a leader whom the people believe in. They believe that he can say one thing and mean another and by working this way he leads them phase after phase to their objective. Arafat has been that leader and that symbol. He played the game with them. He would say he was making peace but what they knew to listen for was when he told them that they would conquer and rule the mosques and churches of Jerusalem. Arafat has been leading this plan since he announced it in 1974. The o
nly time he strayed from the plan was at Camp David with Ehud Barak. Then he apparently lost his self-control and since then he has been moving back to his phased plan.

Yes, well Sharon has been working to marginalize Arafat.



Yes, and here I think that Sharon is absolutely right. I think that the personality question of Arafat, the threat that he personally poses here is real. The entire concept of the phased plan for the destruction of Israel is based on the people's trust in Arafat as a leader. They trust him to do the right thing strategically so they forgive him for seemingly making peace moves towards Israel on the tactical level. But recently I have been becoming very worried.



I think that we are critically underestimating Abu Mazen. It is true that Abu Mazen is not the charismatic leader that Arafat is. But he is more sophisticated than Arafat. If he actually succeeds in achieving a hudna [temporary cease-fire] with the other terrorist factions, and the hudna says that Sheikh Yassin and the others stay quiet for three months and then he is able to have them extend the cease-fire for another three months, then at the end of six months they get a Palestinian state. According to the road map, at the end of six months they get a state with temporary borders.


The plan is extremely simple and [also] very sophisticated. All they need to do is wait a little bit and they get everything they demand without making a single concession to Israel.


How do you think he is selling his idea to the terrorist organizations?



I think he is telling them to sit tight for just six months. If they do they get a state with UN recognition as well as US and European recognition. Now the UN and EU will recognize their sovereignty over all of the territories, over all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The question of settlements will not be one for negotiation but Israel's dispute with the regime of international law.

It isn't the same as the situation in 1999 when [then prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu countered Arafat's threat to declare independence unilaterally with his threat to unilaterally annex parts of the territories. And for his part, Abu Mazen gives them this deal and says, "Take it if you want. If you don't – fine, keep killing Jews and I won't stop you anyway."


The option of annexation, Abu Mazen can argue won't be available to Sharon. Because as opposed to the situation in 1999, here he would be working in accordance with an internationally sanctioned plan. He can claim not to have breached any agreement. Sharon, not Abu Mazen will be accused of breaching the agreement if he annexes territory. So Sharon has no sanction against the Palestinians.


That's the whole danger of the trap. It is so simple. It's the timetable that works in favor of the hudna. The Arabs are under constant pressure to kill. So they cannot stop for too long. The beauty of the hudna is that they only need to stop for a little while. Because of this I am very worried. It is possible that Sharon thinks that the Arabs won't be able to restrain themselves even for a day – like it was with [US mediator General Anthony] Zini in 2001. First Zini asked for a week-long cease-fire. Then he went down to three days. Then he went down to one day and Arafat couldn't deliver.

It's because of the road map that I blew up at Sharon. I feel that he is sacrificing our security. I know that he and I see differently on the question of the Land of Israel. I cannot depend on him for Judea, Samaria and Gaza. And I know we read the Bible differently, so I have no expectations from him on these issues. But I do have expectations from the prime minister when it comes to security. And here I think he has failed us.


Have you talked to him about these concerns?



I talk to him all the time and he always tells me, "You'll see it will be all right." He told me he sent [Dov] Weisglass (the prime minister's bureau chief) to Washington to reach an agreement with the Bush administration that the road map will be tested for a month or six weeks. If it doesn't work, he will have a green light to move ahead in Gaza as he did in Judea and Samaria in Operation Defensive Shield. That means, to go into all of the cities and camps and to destroy all the terrorist cells and infrastructures.

So I look at this hudna and I think that Sharon is falling into a trap. Either he really believes that the Arabs won't be able to restrain themselves or he is purposefully moving towards a goal that is very dangerous. He is saying, okay, so they get their Palestine but in the meantime I have my wall of separation. He is saying, "I am creating facts on the ground and I can do anything I want on my side." And of course he also has his wall of the east side.


So he's saying if they want what is in between my walls, they can have it and call it a state. That's the 45% of the territory that he is willing to give them and he is doing it without the UN and without negotiations. That is Sharon. That is how he operates. He disdains international law and agreements and just creates facts on the ground. But I say that this is all nonsense. He is wrong.



The regime of international law is very serious and very powerful.


Well, you have put out a plan. What do you think we should be doing?



Yes, I have a plan but my plan can only be considered after the road map fails. Before that happens no one will listen to it. But it is also a question of how you define the road map's failure. Will it be assessed only after they have a Palestinian state with temporary borders and they restart their onslaught and we have to go into a real war with them? Or will it be a failure before such a state is established?


The real question that emerges from what you are saying is whether the government will sit back and accept the hudna or demand that the Palestinians implement their first basic commitment on the road map which is to physically dismantle the terror organizations.


This is what I view as my role in the government, but so far I have failed. So far Sharon has blocked me. He doesn't want a discussion in the cabinet about whether to freeze our implementation of the road map pending such action by the PA.


So, do you think that you will leave the government over this?



I see no advantage to leaving the government. The government is where the power lies. I have [MK] Aryeh Eldad to get up at the podium at the Knesset and scream. I have to sit in the government. There I have a potential coalition to work with to do things. There is Mofaz, and Netanyahu and Limor Livnat and maybe even Silvan Shalom. That's the only chance we have. That we can get a coalition of ministers to block him in forming the Palestinian terror state.


Yes, but to what end? Sharon says he wants a Palestinian state. The public backs him. The public doesn't want a stalemated solution. Netanyahu lost the race for Likud leadership in a landslide. The Likud voted for Sharon even though he said that he is for a Palestinian state. The Likud won 38 mandates in the election and the National Union that stands opposed to Palestinian statehood won only seven seats. What do you have to offer, then, that the public is willing to buy?


That is the exact question. My plan is based on the understanding that a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River is a failed proposition. Such a state will have no economic viability. It will have no territorial contiguity. It will be a destabilizing force that will immediately work to undermine Israel and Jordan by force and political subversion. And it will have international legitimacy in the UN to do so. Until 1988 both Jordan and every Israeli government understood this.

My plan is based on a regional solution that recognizes the fact that Jordan is Palestine. The only way to solve the problem with the Palestinians is to reduce it to a border dispute between two already existing states – Israel and Jordan. If we can reconceptualize the way we view the problem then we can solve it. It moves from an existential conflict to a territorial border dispute like Alsace-Lorraine.


I understand that the public here will only be willing to accept this after the road map explodes as Oslo did after Camp David. In the meantime I am trying to plant the seed in the public's consciousness, here in Israel and in America.


The Elon Plan


The PA



Immediate dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, a non-viable entity whose existence precludes the termination of the conflict.





Israel will uproot the Palestinian terror infrastructure. All arms will be collected, incitement will be stopped and all the refugee camps, which serve as incubators for terror, will be dismantled. Terrorists and their direct supporters will be deported.





Israel, the US and the international community will recognize the Kingdom of Jordan as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Jordan will once again recognize itself as the Palestinian nation-state.


In the context of a regional development program, Israel, the US and the international community will put forth a concerted effort for the long-term development of Jordan, to rehabilitate its economy and enable it to absorb a limited number of refugees within its borders.


The territories



Israeli sovereignty will be asserted over Judea, Samaria and Gaza. The Arab residents of these areas will become citizens of the Palestinian state in Jordan. The status of these citizens, their connection to the two states and the manner of administration of their communal lives will be decided in an agreement between the governments of Israel and Jordan (Palestine).





Israel, the US and the international community will allocate resources for the completion of the exchange of populations that began in 1948, as well as the full rehabilitation of the refugees and their absorption and naturalization in various countries.





After implementation of the above stages, Israel and Jordan (Palestine) will declare the conflict terminated. Both sides will work to normalize peaceful relations between all parties in the region.


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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