He’s the Israeli Knesset Member who escorted Sarah Palin around Israel on her recent visit.
Danon, like Palin, is young, right-wing, very approachable and charismatic. Yes, they make a lovely couple. Ideologically, he represents a secular, hard line stance toward the Palestinians. No compromise on settlement building. No reason to push the peace process.
In many ways, Danon follows the well-charted waters of previous Likud stalwarts. Stake out a position to the right of every ruling party, including your own. Ride that ideological purity into power then, once face to face with the Americans, start compromising. Begin, Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu—they’ve all been there.
But for now, fresh, 40 year-old Danon looks like the future. Maybe that’s why Palin chose him as her guide.
I had breakfast with Danon on his visit to Los Angeles last April. Here’s what I wrote:
If you want to know what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks about the peace process, don’t watch what he does, listen to what Danny Danon says.
Danon is a whippersnapper member of Knesset from the Likud party. In 2006, he opposed then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza. For the past year, he’s been attacking Netanyahu for suspending new settlement construction per the United States’ demands. When the Obama administration chastised Netanyahu last March for announcing new building in East Jerusalem, it was Danon who snapped back, saying U.S. pressure on Israel hurts Israel and hurts peace. If you saw the movie “Youth in Revolt” with Michael Cera (and you should, it’s a very good movie with a very bad trailer), Danon is like Cera’s belligerent alter ego, egging him on, toughening him up. In other words, Danny Danon is Bibi Netanyahu, 20 years ago.
I met Danon in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton Hotel in late March, after he’d spent a few days speaking around Southern California. He is a native Israeli of North African heritage, dark-featured, and was decked out in a well-cut suit and power tie — not your father’s shirt-sleeve Israeli pol. At 39, he is chairman of the World Likud and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. People said that if I wanted to meet the future of Israel, I had to meet Danny Danon.
Danon believes with every fiber of his being that the two-state solution is dead, the one-state solution is a “liberal scare tactic,” and Israel must never give up the territories it captured in the Six-Day War.
This was a founding principle of Likud and its Revisionist ideological forbears: that Israel has a right to the entire biblical land of Israel. It’s a point of view that runs counter to every international peace-making effort in the Middle East since 1967, all dedicated to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s also run up against the widely accepted belief that if Israel maintains control of the territories and the millions of Palestinians who live in them, demographic realities will force Israel to become either a nondemocratic, majority Arab nation, or lose its raison d’être as a Jewish state.
“We cannot ignore the long-term population trends that result from the Israeli occupation,” Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told thousands of AIPAC attendees in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. “As Defense Minister [Ehud] Barak and others have observed, the inexorable mathematics of demography are hastening the hour at which Israelis may have to choose between preserving their democracy and staying true to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Given this reality, a two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”
So, the obvious question I had for Danon was this: “If you don’t want a two-state solution, what’s your solution?”
“There is no short-term solution,” Danon said. “It’s a long-term vision that I have, that there be a regional agreement with Jordan, and with Gaza and Egypt. ... Gaza would be connected to Egypt, and Palestinian territories connected into Jordan, confederated into Jordan. That is the long-term vision, which requires some compromise from Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and international support.”
Danon is aware that the idea isn’t new, and that the Palestinians and the Arab states have categorically rejected it.
But he is confident that Israel can maintain the status quo long enough for the equations to change. More Arab states might turn toward Israel, squeezing the Palestinians. More Palestinians might actually emigrate. Some conditions might worsen, Danon explained, but others may improve. Better to wait out an unpleasant conflict than rush into a flawed peace.
Other politically active Likudniks in Danon’s generation have offered me the same analysis: Israel is economically and militarily strong, the Palestinians are politically divided. The status quo, which is the bogeyman of centrists, is actually Israel’s friend.
I told Danon it seemed Netanyahu believes this as well — otherwise why risk such a confrontation with the United States?
“I agree,” Danon said. “Today I think Netanyahu realizes we have no one who actually represents the Palestinian who’s willing to cut a deal.
“People say, ‘The clock is ticking, you have to do something.’ No, I think the opposite. We should not do anything in a rush.”
If Danon is correct — that Netanyahu believes as he does — it means the prime minister and his government are merely paying lip service to their agreements with the United States over the peace process, and that the building in East Jerusalem that provoked the United States’ ire was a pure expression of Netanyahu’s true desires to expand settlements, though clumsily executed.
“It was really just a question of how, not whether,” said Danon. “It was just a question of why make it so public, and why make the announcement while the vice president was standing there.”
Netanyahu definitely “wants to continue” building settlements, Danon said. The settlement freeze Netanyahu promised the Obama administration ends on Sept. 30. Danon has been relentless in publicly pressuring Netanyahu to start building after that. Want to see whether Danon moves up a few rungs on the political ladder? Mark your calendars for Oct. 1.
Of course, previous Likud stalwarts like Sharon, Ehud Olmert and even Netanyahu, in his first time around, made or offered substantial concessions once they became prime minister. But not when they were young and on the rise — then their fires burned hot and their ideology was pure. If Netanyahu bends, Danny Danon is waiting in the wings to take over, and keep the status quo alive.