A Conversation With Israel’s Ambassador To The U.S. Ron Dermer
Ambassador Dermer joined me at the start of Tuesday’s show:
HH: I begin today’s program by talking for the first time on this show with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. Ambassador Dermer, welcome, it’s great to have you on the program.
RD: Thank you. Great to be here.
HH: It was always a pleasure to have Ambassador Oren on, but I always found him in funny places, like in tanks. I gather you’re in New York today?
RD: I’m actually in Washington. I’m back in Washington. I was in New York yesterday, and I came back to this wonderful weather that we’re having, which is pretty much a torrential downpour.
RD: But I guess it beats another snow day, which we’ve had a lot of.
HH: Well, I also want people to know, they may not know this about you. You’re not only Israel’s ambassador to the United States, you are the co-author, along with Natan Sharansky of The Case For Democracy, which was perhaps the favorite book of the last decade among senior U.S. officials. And I don’t know that people even know that he had a co-author, so congratulations on a book that actually changed a lot of Americans’ ideas on how to think about the world and its emergence in the 21st Century. I want to talk to you, though, about the case for democracy on the Palestinian Authority once they’ve merged with Hamas, because this story did not get much attention last week in the United States, but President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority announced he’s reunifying with Hamas. Tell us about that.
RD: Well look, that’s something that’s unacceptable to Israel, because Hamas is an unreformed terrorist organization. It would be one thing if Hamas had changed its stripes and renounced terrorism, and accepted Israel’s right to exist. But it has done none of those things. It is a terror organization. It’s fired thousands of rockets at Israel cities. It’s dispatched scores of suicide bombers to our discos, to our pizza shops, to our restaurants. It calls, and I know a lot of people don’t know this, Hamas calls for the extermination of Jews worldwide. It’s actually a genocidal terrorist organization, and it hasn’t changed any of its views, and any of its commitments to destroying the state of Israel. By the way, you should know that Hamas also condemned the United States for killing Osama bin Laden. That’s the type of organization that President Abbas just joined up with. And what the prime minister of Israel had said to President Abbas is tear up the pact that you made with this terrorist organization and come back to peace talks with Israel.
HH: Now when they originally held the elections in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas seized power, they killed a number of Palestinian Authority soldiers. They executed numerous of their Arab colleagues in the Gaza Strip. Why in the world is President Abbas doing this now?
RD: Listen, I don’t know. He has different reasons every month for doing it. What we need to do, and I think what the entire international community has to do, is put a brick wall in front of President Abbas and say it’s totally unacceptable. You have to choose either peace with Israel or a pact with a terror organization, but you can’t have both. And one thing, Hugh, that Israel will never agree to is a situation where a government has put up some sort of front of technocrats where in the back room, there’s Hamas as a terror organization calling some of the shots. That’s something that’s completely unacceptable to us. If Hamas is in the back room, Israel’s not going to be at the negotiating table. You know, it is said often that you make peace with an enemy. Well, that’s kind of a little bit of a facile statement, because you make peace with an enemy who wants peace, not an enemy who wants to continue to be your enemy. And so Israel will not sit down with a government that’s backed by Hamas as long as Hamas continues to be a terrorist organization wedded to our destruction.
HH: Now today, Israel announced it was suspending construction of additional housing units in a disputed area in order not to blur the issue here, to avoid what is called the blame game. Can you expand on that, Ambassador Dermer?
RD: Well, look, we have a, there’s a long-standing issue with settlements and how Israel sees this issue and how the rest of the world sees this issue. These territories are disputed territories, and Israel believes it has a right to build in those territories. But the issue of settlements itself has been made into a huge international issue. There are actually people who think that the reason why we have a conflict with the Palestinians is because Israel is building in these territories, even though the conflict went along for about 50 years before there was a single Israeli settlement. You know, everyone says it’s all the settlements that are built over the 1967 line. Well, and they say go back to the June 4th, 1967 lines, and then we’ll have peace. Well, understand that those lines of June 4th, 1967, were not lines of peace. They were lines of war. There was a conflict against the state of Israel for 50 years before 1967 where you had continued violence, when you didn’t have any of these settlements. And the reason why we have a conflict with the Palestinians is the persistent refusal of the Palestinians to accept the right of a Jewish state to exist in any boundary. The settlements are an issue that have to be resolved in negotiation. We hope that we’ll have negotiations with a peace partner, with a partner that’s committed to peace, but the decision in Jerusalem is right now to not let, I think, a lot of people in the international community take the whole issue, and the whole focus off of what Abbas has done in reaching out to this terror organization, and once again, you know, used this red herring of the settlements to turn that into a great public diplomacy battle against Israel. That’s the decision that was made.
HH: One of the reasons that the Abbas announcement concerning Hamas has not received much attention is that two days ago, Secretary of State Kerry told the Trilateral Commission that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state. Now he apologized today, so he was for calling Israel and apartheid state before he was against calling Israel an apartheid state. But what in the world was he doing? And what is your reaction to hearing that the man who has been basically camped in the Middle East for the last two months is warning that Israel is on the course to becoming an apartheid state.
RD: Well, listen, I think that the Secretary’s statement speaks for itself. And I have to tell you, I can speak for the Prime Minister in this matter very clearly that we appreciate the fact that Secretary Kerry has actually devoted so much time and effort to try to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And we know that he’s got a lot on his plate. We know that the President has a lot on his plate. America has a lot on its plate. And so we appreciate the effort. Unfortunately, we don’t have a Palestinian partner right now who wants to make peace with us. That’s not the fault of an American secretary of state, and it’s certainly not the fault of an American president. I don’t know exactly how he said it, where he said it and in what context he said it, but I think the Secretary’s statement speaks for itself, and we do appreciate what he has done to advance peace.
HH: Well yesterday, he said that. But two days ago he says that, yesterday, Abbas comes out and says that Israel is conducting war crimes and ethnic cleansing by allowing movement in its capital city. Abbas said up ‘til now, Israel hasn’t recognized that East Jerusalem is occupied land. And he went on to just blast you as saying you want to conduct an ethnic purification against the Palestinian residents of the city. That, I think, is a result of the Kerry statement, that he saw an opening to ratchet up already ridiculous rhetoric. What’s your response to President Abbas’ statements?
RD: No, President Abbas has made these wild statements for years, saying that Israel is trying to Judeaize Jerusalem, which is pretty funny. We’re a people, Jewish people, who have been in Jerusalem for about 3,000 years, so I don’t know what it means to Judeaize Jerusalem. And to make all these wild allegations – war crimes and ethnic cleaning, look, the only areas that have been ethnically cleansed have been areas where Israel has been forced to leave certain territories, and those territories then become completely ethnically cleansed of Jews, and in some cases, Christians. You know, there’s a massive flight of Christians from Gaza today. And you have in the Palestinian Authority areas this idea that there cannot be a single Jew within those areas. That, to me, is a policy of ethnic cleansing. When you have a law on the books in the Palestinian Authority that to sell land to a Jew is punishable by death, that seems to me to be ethnic cleansing. So these are wild allegations against Israel. We’re the only democracy, real democracy, with real courts, with a real press, with a real parliament, in the entire Middle East. We have one and a half million Arab citizens of Israel. They are the freest Arabs in the entire Middle East. And I think all of these accusations are nonsense, and they should be rejected very, very forthrightly from everybody who knows the facts, and everybody who actually wants to advance peace, because only when they get out of this rhetoric and this mindset can we have any chance of actually advancing a peaceful settlement for the Palestinians.
HH: A minute left, Mr. Ambassador. I’m reading a book by Steven Pressfield called The Lion’s Gate. It’s fascinating about the ’67 War. And right before the war broke out, tensions were extremely high. Are we at a similar position right now in the Middle East?
RD: I don’t think so. Fortunately, we’ve had calm in Israel, and it’s been one of the few areas in the Middle East that has been calm. And I think that’s a testament to Israel’s strength, and also to the leadership of the Prime Minister to keep Israel safe and secure when you have all of this chaos happening around us. You know, in the swath of territory from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass, everything is rocky. There is violence and bloodshed everywhere. And Israel is one place that you really have this island of stability and security and freedom, a place that shares not only U.S. interests, but U.S. values. And it’s important that we keep Israel safe and secure. We think it’s important to American interests, and we think it’s important to all the ideas that you believe in, to advance in the region, to keep Israel strong and safe, and we intend to navigate Israel through these very choppy seas in the years ahead.
HH: Ambassador Ron Dermer, thank you for joining us on the Hugh Hewitt.
End of interview.