Not much hope for the future of the Middle East ‘road map’

Israel’s Interior Minister Avraham Poraz and leading cadres in the moderate Shinui party recently made an official visit to Greece at the invitation of his counterpart Costas Skandalidis. Poraz talked to Kathimerini about the Palestinian issue, the possibility of reopening talks between Israel and Syria, and anti-Semitism in Europe. Poraz said he was not aware of any involvement of Israeli authorities in Olympic Games security plans, but warned that organizations such as Al Qaeda wanted a major strike and urged the Greek authorities to take all necessary measures. The Israeli minister said the level of cooperation between his country and Greece was very good but noted that European states, including Greece, were not showing understanding for the Israeli government’s positions on terrorism. The peace process has been stalled. is there still a chance of implementing the road map? The situation is not encouraging. The Palestinian prime minister doesn’t even want to meet with his Israeli counterpart. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority is not making the slightest effort to fight terrorism and that fact makes it very difficult to implement the road map. Do you think the Palestinians have the means to deal with armed groups? Yes, of course. The Palestinian Authority has a police force of 30,000 men and is capable of fighting terrorists. I believe that the main reason they are avoiding conflict is because they don’t want to provoke a sort of a civil war. These movements have the support of a minority of the Palestinian people, but the majority, who disagree with their actions, does not have the guts to fight against it The Palestinians are saying that the construction of the security wall on the West Bank is land-grabbing by Israel and an attempt to predetermine the borders of a future Palestinian state. First of all, it is a fence. In some places it is a wall. Basically it is a «security fence» that can be moved and removed if there is a reason. As far as I am concerned, I believe that the fence should go along the border we had with Jordan before the 1967 war. Nevertheless, the fence should also protect the Israeli settlements near the borders with Israel, which I believe should eventually be annexed to our country. However, this should not include those many kilometers within the interior of the Palestinian Authority. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appears determined to impose unilateral measures in order to disengage from the Palestinians if the peace talks collapse. Do you think the Palestinian issue can be resolved with unilateral movements. Wouldn’t that affect relations with the US? Unilateral measures will not solve the problem and the conflict will remain. Nevertheless, if these measures are taken, they will facilitate our activities. For example, we have the Nezarim settlement close to the Gaza Strip, which is small but protected by many soldiers. So we might decide to pull back from there. No one can force us to stay where we don’t want to be. And of course, we would like to have an agreement with Palestinians. Syrian President Bashar Assad has expressed willingness for peace talks with Israel. Do you think Assad’s intentions are sincere? Would you say that a deal between the two countries would pave the way for peace in the whole region? I am a bit suspicious of his motives, given that Syria is in an extremely difficult situation at the moment. The headquarters of some of the groups active in Israel are in Damascus. Mr Assad should first of all stop supporting terrorist groups. If he does that, Israel will have no problem negotiating with him. Will an agreement between the two countries facilitate the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians? Not necessarily. These are two different issues that have to be treated in different ways. Anti-Semitism appears to be re-emerging in Europe. Does that worry you? The state of Israel was created because of European anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, we have recently seen a lot of instances of anti-Semitism in Europe. Anti-Semitic feelings are behind the dislike of Israeli policy. I believe that some of those who are anti-Israeli are also anti-Semitic. Is your visit related to Olympic security? No, our ministry is not responsibility for security. I am sure the Greek authorities will take all the steps necessary to avoid anything happening. Especially knowing that we have some Islamists like Al Qaeda who might try to do something during the Games, because from their point of view, they need a big show. How are relations between Israel and Greece at the moment? Relations are very good right now. In Europe we don’t find enough understanding of our point of view, that in the eye of the Islamic extremist the problem is not the West Bank, the settlements. They are against the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. This is something that should be understood in Europe. I don’t think Europe should tolerate it. The goal of my visit here is to explain to our Greek friends about the situation, hoping there will be more understanding about our point of view.

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