‘Anybody talking about Palestinian state right now is living on another planet’

‘If tomorrow, there would be a Palestinian state, it would be a clear and present danger to the Jewish state.’

By Alex Traiman, JNS

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the war has been the overbearing calls for a pathway to Palestinian statehood in the aftermath of the worst terror massacre in Israel’s history.

In the 1993, Israel entered into the ill-fated Oslo Accords designed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution.

While Israel is a relatively tiny country, without much land to give, the Jewish state was prepared to cede strategic tracts in exchange for quiet coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors.

The formula, simple enough for a child to understand, was called “land for peace.”

The accords called for the establishment of a provisional Palestinian Authority, to be led by thrice-exiled arch-terrorist PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Many argued that the accords were doomed to fail.

The P.A. never prepared its people for coexistence, continuously inciting its public to violence on television and school textbooks, and naming public squares after terrorists.

To this day, the government provides stipends to terrorists sitting in Israeli jails, as well as to families of terrorists killed while in the act of attempting first-degree murder on Israelis.

The terror financing scheme is dubbed “pay for slay.”

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew 8,500 Jewish residents and all military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

The Strip, the control of which was handed over to the P.A., was the pilot project for an independent Palestinian entity.

Within two years, control of the Strip was wrestled away by Hamas.

Since then, Israel has suffered countless attacks, including the firing of more than 50,000 rockets at Israel, the building of a 500-mile-long underground terror tunnel infrastructure, the kidnapping of Israeli citizens, and the worst massacre in Israel’s history on Oct. 7.

The massacre proved Israeli fears correct—that an independent Palestinian state would be a launchpad for continuous terror and an existential threat to the Jewish state.

And yet the international community is now doubling down on calls for Palestinian statehood, regardless of the Palestinians’ inability to deliver Israel peace in exchange for the land it seeks.

In Part II of an exclusive interview with JNS, Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs and member of a five-man war cabinet, Ron Dermer discusses plans for “the day after” the war in the Gaza Strip; the need for deradicalization of the Palestinian society; and why Palestinian statehood in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7 would be a “historic mistake.”

In Part I, Dermer discusses the military and diplomatic battlefronts Israel is facing.

JNS: What does Israel hope will be the new status quo on the “day after” the war in Gaza?

After this war is over, in the years and decades ahead, people will need to look back and ask themselves what happened to that organization that committed the pogrom on Oct. 7. Is it standing, or did Israel take it down?

Regarding the day after, there are two concepts that the prime minister put forward: demilitarization and deradicalization.

Demilitarization, conceptually, is pretty easy for people to understand.

We have to make sure that the border is sealed with Egypt so that weapons cannot come through.

And we need to have a security perimeter that can also provide a sense of security for the Jewish communities that live there.

We have to make sure that we have the right to continue to conduct military operations, hopefully less and less over time as the terrorism recedes.

The way the Israel Defense Forces currently operates in Judea, Samaria, the West Bank—able to move in and out of Palestinian-administered territories—that’s what we need to be able to do in Gaza.

Right now we are going for a military victory in Gaza, and we’re getting close to achieving it.

And hopefully, people will stand strong down the last home stretch. When we achieve that victory, we have to do what Churchill said; we have to be “magnanimous in victory.”

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JNS: How do you move from demilitarization to deradicalization?

Dermer: Demilitarization alone will ensure that 20 years from now they’re going to hate us as much as they hate us today.

Now the question is: Can you, in the wake of a military victory, affect a political and social transformation of a society?

Because without that, we’re kidding ourselves, and we’re never going to have peace.

You have to separate the Oct. 7 war from the 100-year fight against Israel. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict can go on for decades if we don’t get it right.

And that is why for me, and what I think has been unique about my position, is that we must focus on deradicalization.

The issue is what is a 6-year-old Palestinian learning in school? What is a 10-year-old seeing on television? And for a 15-year-old, who are his heroes?

That’s the problem. And if we don’t seriously tackle this, which we have not done for 30 years, then our children and grandchildren will get stuck with the same problem.

We need to create a situation in which young people, 6-year-olds going into a Palestinian school system today; when they’re 18 years old, their goal is not to murder Jews.

And the critical part here is we have to link reconstruction in Gaza to deradicalization.

If they want to rebuild Gaza, then they’re going to have to deradicalize their society.

That means schools, that means mosques, that means the whole idea of refugee camps. It means media.

And the hope is that in the wake of the victory, you can begin to see real change.

JNS: And do you really believe that can happen?

Dermer: This may sound very strange, but I am more hopeful about the prospects of the Israeli-Palestinian issue ultimately moving in a positive direction than I have been in 30 years.

Because for 30 years, the whole thing has been a farce.

Arafat and current P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas have been teaching their kids to hate Jews. And there was no change and there was no incentive for change.

The Saudis are deradicalizing their society today. The Emiratis are deradicalizing their society today. And it’s hard to stitch this thing together, but I do think it’s possible that we can get them involved in this process.

JNS: What about those who say that Hamas is not just a political entity and a terrorist organization, but an ideology?

Dermer: People argue that you can’t destroy all of Hamas, because they say that Hamas is an ideology and you cannot destroy an ideology.

We may not finish off Hamas as an organization, but we will finish off Hamas as an organized military force in Gaza.

Nazism is an idea, and there are neo-Nazis living in America, marching with tiki torches from Bed, Bath & Beyond.

But the reason they are not a threat is because they don’t control territory, and they don’t have an army.

We need to make sure that Hamas does not control the territory in Gaza and that they no longer function as a military force there.

Palestinian Statehood

JNS: What do you tell diplomats who say that the current conflict is the proof that there needs to be the immediate creation of a Palestinian state?

There are three issues with talk about recognizing a Palestinian state—you simply cannot reward Oct. 7; you don’t want a single Palestinian to think that Oct. 7 advanced the Palestinian cause in any way; and they need to understand that Oct. 7 set the cause back significantly.

Anybody talking about a Palestinian state right now is living on another planet because it will be the greatest reward for terrorism.

That the international community will reward somebody for doing what was done on Oct. 7; would be a complete disaster.

If tomorrow, there would be a Palestinian state, it would be a clear and present danger to the Jewish state.

And I think it has to be opposed whether you are ultimately for a two-state solution or not. It has to be opposed because to do this now would be a huge, huge mistake.

Anybody who cares about peace should not want a single Palestinian in five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20 years to look back on Oct. 7 and say that event—the mass murder of Jews—catapulted the Palestinian national movement forward.

You cannot let the Palestinians believe that terror—that a pogrom like Oct. 7—advanced the Palestinian cause in any way. They need to understand that Oct. 7 set the cause back significantly.

And my issue is not just what Hamas did on Oct. 7. Eighty-five percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank support what happened on Oct. 7.

So, anybody who would now consider unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state is decoupling the issue of statehood from peace.

That would be a great gift to the Palestinians. It will make them think that Oct. 7 advanced their national movement and will ensure that we never have peace.

Taking an irreversible step now towards a Palestinian state when they have not changed at all is a huge mistake.

JNS: Under pressure from the United States and others to create the conditions for peace, and to possibly take over the Gaza Strip in a post-Hamas reality, Abbas has asked the entire cabinet of the P.A. to resign. Do you think a “reformed and revitalized” P.A. government can be a partner for peace?

Dermer: Regarding the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas’s cabinet, it’s simply musical chairs. There is talk from the United States and others about a revitalized Palestinian Authority.

What does revitalized mean? When I hear the word “revitalized,” I think about going to a day spa.

What is needed is a real bottom-up peace process. There needs to be a transformation of Palestinian society.

You need to get to the point where there is a young generation raised to accept peace with Israel.

Remember, 85% of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank supported Oct. 7.

What interests me is what are they going to do in the school system? What are they going to do with the mosques?

What are they going to do to de-Nazify, deradicalize, detoxify—choose your word.

If we don’t deradicalize Gaza, we are going to consign our children to be sitting here 20 years from now having this same conversation.

If we see that a generation emerges that rejects a hundred years of history of trying to destroy the Jewish state, then you’re dealing with a real partner that you can forge an agreement with.

JNS: Is it really possible to transform and deradicalize a society that has been hell-bent on the destruction of Israel?

Dermer: People say that you can’t deradicalize a society. But we saw exactly that following World War II with both Germany and Japan.

And there are those that say, well this isn’t after World War II, and this is the Middle East.

But you have societies that are transforming themselves in the region. It’s happening in Saudi Arabia and it’s happening in the Emirates. These societies have undergone a process of deradicalization and modernization.

I believe that in the wake of a military defeat, there is the possibility for a transformation of a society.

We should be using the strategic catastrophe that happened on Oct. 7 and turn it into a great strategic victory, which includes a military victory over Hamas; and, hopefully, a normalization, which I think is potentially there with the Saudis; and the deradicalization of Gaza.

Then we could have a real peace process that maybe can bear fruit over time.

JNS: How have the Palestinians succeeded in convincing so many nations around the world to support Palestinian statehood, even when they continue to incite and finance terrorism against the Jewish state?

Dermer: I think that the voices you are hearing calling for a Palestinian state in the wake of Oct. 7 are due to hostility to Israel, general impatience with the conflict, and the misguided need to establish some kind of moral equivalency.

Herein is another issue with statehood, and this gets to the Palestinian national strategy and focus.

About 20 years ago, there was a bombing in Jerusalem, and Hanan Ashwari, who was the Palestinian spokeswoman, got on TV to interview after this terrible terrorist attack.

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And the BBC reporter says to her, “Mrs. Ashwari, you’re not going to get a state unless you fight terrorism and make peace with Israel.”

And what she said is, “No. The question of a Palestinian state and peace with Israel are two separate things. We’re a people. We have a right to self-determination. That’s why we should have a state. Whether we decide to make peace with Israel is another matter.”

And it was something of a eureka moment for me because it was so clear to me exactly what their strategy is.

Their goal is to establish a state to continue the conflict. And what they want to do is to use diplomatic pressure, political pressure, economic pressure, legal pressure and maybe low-scale violence to try to get Israel to either leave unilaterally—which we were foolish enough to do in 2005 with the disengagement—or to get the world to recognize a Palestinian state without them giving up anything in return.

And my plea to everybody who supports a two-state solution is: Do not separate statehood from peace. Because if you do, there will never be peace. They will get their state, and they will continue the conflict.

JNS: The prime minister has been an outspoken opponent of Palestinian statehood. How can he stand up to international pressure for an imposed two-state solution?

Dermer: People need to understand that there will be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by imposing it.

Now what the prime minister is doing—and what we did in the government—is we passed a statement that says Israel will not accept an international diktat and that all peace must be negotiated between the parties.

The statement received the support of 99 out of 120 members in the Knesset. That goes across the entire political spectrum of Israel, that we are opposed to any unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood.

It’s a statement of the whole people of Israel.

That is why this resolution was so important. The message of internal unity is not just important domestically, it is also important abroad.

The language was chosen very specifically to unite Jews in the country, and hopefully, Jews outside the country and all friends of Israel, to say we cannot accept this right now after Oct. 7.

And we are now seeing pro-Israel voices in the Congress as well beginning to unite against unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

JNS: What are the prime minister’s views on Palestinian statehood?

Dermer: Now, the issue of a Palestinian state and the concerns with the Palestinian state, the prime minister has discussed this for 20 years.

Years ago, well before the formation of this government, I was asked about Israel’s position on a Palestinian state.

So being Jewish, I answered the question with a question and I asked the audience, “How many of you support a Palestinian state and a two-state solution?” And in that audience, I would say about 90% supported it.

And then, I said, “Well, how many of you support the Palestinians having an army?” No hands went up. “And how many of you think the Palestinians should control half the airspace between the Jordan and the Mediterranean?” No hands went up. “How many of you think they should control their borders so they can bring in any weapons they want?” No hands went up. “How many of you think they should have military pacts with Iran?” No hands went up.

So I said, ‘Basically, what you’re saying is you want the Palestinians to have all the powers to govern themselves, but you don’t want them to have the powers that could threaten Israel.” And, that’s the position of the prime minister.

Palestinians cannot gain all the powers of a sovereign state.

And I say this even to those who support the idea of Palestinian statehood and want the Palestinians to govern themselves, there has to be certain limits on Palestinian sovereignty in any future agreement.

And we’re nowhere even close to talking about a settlement of the conflict.

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