MK finds bright light in Mideast murk

Israeli MK David Tzur: “This will be one of those tectonic moments.” Photo by David Holzel
Israeli MK David Tzur: “This will be one of those tectonic moments.” Photo by David Holzel

If there is any good news coming out of the Middle East these days, it is that the mutual interests of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are aligning with Israel’s, according to a member of the Knesset visiting Washington.

David Tzur of the centrist Tnuah Party said that, like Israel, the three Arab states and U.S. allies oppose the jihadism of the Islamic State and Hamas and take Iran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat.
“It’s a crazy, crazy environment that’s changing every day,” he said of the fighting in Syria and Iraq that has drawn the United States into the conflict. “Historically this will be one of those tectonic moments.”

In this rapidly changing landscape, two leaders he expects to remain in place are Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Despite the failure of peace talks in April, Tzur believes there will be another round eventually. This time, though, it will be part of a regional agreement. In it, the Palestinians will get their state “and we can get guarantees from the international community for security issues.”

That was the seed Netanyahu planted in his Sept. 29 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, when he said, “a broader rapprochement between Israel and the Arab world may help facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

The Tnuah Party’s leader, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, has been silent on Netanyahu’s speech. But the party’s number two, Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, attacked the prime minister’s speech, telling The Jerusalem Post: “No one can delude himself that there can be a regional peace conference without Abbas.”

At a press briefing Oct. 8 at J Street, Tzur said he believed that both Netanyahu and Abbas’ speeches were for internal consumption. In his remarks, the Palestinian leader accused Israel of genocide.

Netanyahu is turning to an international peacemaking framework in part “because of his real concern of the main threat to Israel: The only existential threat is from Iran. We believe them” when they say they want to destroy Israel, said Tzur, who worked in counterterrorism and was the commander of the Tel Aviv District police before being elected to the Knesset in 2013.

But when Israel tries to coordinate with countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, “the first thing they say is ‘the Palestinian issue is standing in the way. Finish with that,’ ” Tzur said.

Tzur’s Tnuah party campaigned on a platform of giving top priority to reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

He said his party would have left the government after peace talks collapsed “if we thought the prime minister was to blame, not the Palestinians.”

He sees one of his party’s tasks as frustrating the efforts of the right-wing Jewish Home Party of Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, a coalition partner, to declare Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and announcing plans to build settlements as high-level Israeli and American meetings are about to take place, repeatedly provoking a crisis between the allies.

Tzur said the settlement announcements are “a kind of political game that is damaging the image of Israel.”

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