Meir Sheetrit is an MK for Tzipi Livni’s newly founded party, The Movement. He has held senior positions in the Likud and Kadima governments over the last 12 years, serving as finance minister, justice minister, education minister and interior minister, among other posts. This is the second in a series of conversations with Israeli politicians leading up to the January elections. Part 1 can be found at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.
Shmuel Rosner: What is the main topic or theme of the upcoming elections? Is it Iran? The peace process? The economy? What do you think is the real worry of the Israeli public today?
Meir Sheetrit: All of the above. The economy is one of the main issues in this election, as well as the peace process. And people are more worried about their economic situation than they are about the peace process.
SR: In this context, what is the markedly unique message that your party has to offer to the public?
MS: We are the only party that is creating hope and saying that we are going to stress the need to place a focus on the peace process. The Israeli people are very interested in the peace process, and we believe that it is a strategic calculation of Israel to have peace with the Palestinians. And that is why we stress that the will to affect progress in the peace process and to finalize the peace process depends on us.
If our party were to form the government, there is no doubt that we could finalize the peace process with the Palestinians.
SR: What would be the best coalition for Israel after the election, and do you think your party should consider joining a coalition headed by someone other than Shelly Yachimovich of Labor or Tzipi Livni?
MS: I don’t think that Yachimovich can lead the government — she has no experience whatsoever, not even as a minister. So the only one from the center left who can lead the government is Tzipi Livni. According to the situation that I see today in the polls, the best result could be a coalition that includes the right and the center left.
The right wing is going to have a majority, but I think that Bibi [Netanyahu] is clever — he should have a government that includes the center-left parties. And he should make peace. I believe in the paradox that we have in Israel — I call it the hawks of peace and the dogs of war — that only hawks can make peace with a national consensus. And therefore, if Netanyahu were really serious about making peace, that is to say publically that he is willing to establish a Palestinian state on the basis of the ’67 borders — that’s what the Palestinians ask, that’s the price of peace — then we could join him and give him support. Secondly, I think that if he does it, it would pass almost by consensus in the Knesset and with the public. So, for Israel, the best way, if there is a coalition led by the right, is that it would participate in a peace process by agreeing to pay the price for peace.
SR: What kind of relationship would you expect the next prime minister to have with President Obama? How would you improve U.S.-Israel relations during President Obama’s second term?
MS: I think Netanyahu made a big mistake with his involvement in the United States elections by supporting Romney. I don’t think the prime minister of Israel should be involved in any way in the elections in the United States; it was a big mistake, which has created tensions.
And I think the prime minister should really go back on what he said, to support Obama and create a personal relationship with him. He should give him the support that is needed. For example, I believe that Obama has the intention of making progress in the peace process, and if the prime minister of Israel were to tell him, “Look, I’m willing to make peace,” and it did move ahead, and we were willing to pay the price for peace, that would create a different relationship. At the same time, we can connect it to Iran and ask Obama to display his commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We need to do our part offering the possibility of establishing peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world with the support of Obama, and Obama can ease our situation by preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons.
SR: Do you think American Jews should take sides in Israeli elections, or just support the winning coalition after the event? If you do think American Jewry should have a voice, what kind of involvement and support do you have in mind?
MS: American Jews cannot take part in the elections in Israel, and they should not. The only people who should have the right to vote in Israel are those whose children are serving in Israel’s army and those who are living here. Usually, when you speak to people living abroad, they are willing to fight until the last drop of our blood. So while I believe that world Jewry is very important for its support of Israel, they should not be involved in elections. If they want to be involved in elections, they should be here. And they are welcome!