Israeli parliamentarians in NATO conference for the first time
NATO’s annual Parliamentary Assembly was held in Istanbul last week. Mickey Levy from Yesh Atid and Omer Barlev from Zionist Union, represented Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) at the assembly. This was an important step for Israel as it was the first time that a representative of Israel was attending a NATO conference. During the reconciliation negotiations between Turkey and Israel, Turkey has lifted its veto on Israel and in May 2016, NATO has agreed to allow Israel and four other non-NATO members to open diplomatic missions in Brussels. Salom had the opportunity to meet both MKs. We discussed NATO conference, Turkish-Israeli relations and Arab-Israeli conflict with Levy. Levy also shared his family history; his parents are from Urfa and Cizre, her wife is from Greece, all former Ottoman territories
Levy ve Valansi
Israel is not a NATO member, and could open an office in Brussels only after Turkey lifted its veto. Is this Israel’s first NATO conference?
Right. This is the first time that a representative of Israel is attending a NATO conference. This is a big step for us. We now feel that we are part of the global world. We believe that we are a part of NATO even that we are not a member. Now, we can discuss and attend their meetings. Having an office in NATO is important to us because we live in the Middle East and if you look around us, there is terror everywhere. Around Israel and even in Israel... I was commander of Jerusalem police district from 2000 to 2004, during the Second Intifada. Jerusalem was a crazy city at that time. 52 suicide bombers came to Jerusalem. We caught 12 of them but 40 exploded. 256 people have been killed and more than 1500 people were injured. We know how to fight terror. In my background I was officer in anti-terrorism unit. We can share our experience with others. We can give special technology, intelligence… We need to cooperate with other countries to fight terror. We need to look into the future together.
The major issue in this meeting was global terror and ISIS. Was this conference helpful?
DAESH was one of the issues as well as PKK, Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaida. Global terror was the main subject. When Turks speak they mostly speak about PKK and also DAESH of course. I think DAESH is a danger for all of us. If you’d ask a European about terror 30 years ago, it did not bother them; maybe Germany and that’d it. It was quiet in Europe. Now they understand the danger for the entire world. Even in the United States, with 9/11. To stop global terror, we need a global agreement between countries. We cannot fight alone. We need cooperation, we need to share information. But we don’t. Why? Because we are afraid and we don’t trust each other. This is important and we need to do something about it. The conference was marvelous, we discussed everything.
Do you have a formula to fight ISIS? Even if this group is defeated it will not evaporate. They can escape to neighboring countries and reorganize themselves under another name. How ‘the day after’ will be?
If we know something, we share this information. If we know that something will happen in another country, we share this information but we cannot do anything more about it. What we see today is global terror. In order to win our fight against terror, we need to sign an agreement for our future.
Is there an intelligence agreement between Israel and Turkey?
I hope someday there will be more cooperation between Israel and Turkey. Turkey is very important country for us and Turkish-Israeli relations is very very important. If I could say 10 times ‘very’, I would say it. A lot of mistakes happened in our relations. Mavi Marmara for example. It was a political issue. Now two Turkish ships have come to Israel, to Ashdod and we have transferred all the goods to Gaza that Turkey has sent. I don’t know if you follow, Israel sends 800 trucks every day to Gaza Strip. We send gas, food, cement, everything. Unfortunately, Hamas uses the cement to build attack tunnels, not to build homes.
You know that Hamas uses the cement to build tunnels, why do you continue to send it anyway?
Even that Israel knows that Hamas and the Palestinians in Gaza use the cement for attack tunnels; we still continue to deliver it. I think this indicates Israeli goodwill and understanding that the people living in Gaza are held captive by Hamas. Because residents of Gaza are controlled by terrorists does not mean that they are not human beings, that they don’t need our help. We cannot control but we try to find some solution that will help civilians of Gaza to live a normal life and not let terror control all the region. So this is exactly the conflict of the democracy of Israel.
Do you support two-state solution? Is it an option in the present?
I belong to Yesh Atid party. In parliament, we are in opposition with 19 seats. We think that we need two states for two nations. Even the Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he supports two states for two nations but he did not do much for that. He gave a speech at Bar Ilan University and he said “Two states for two nations.” He said it a few times. I don’t think that there will be peace tomorrow. Because Abbas is afraid to take any steps. We need an international committee with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, the U.S. and maybe two states from Europe and that’s it. We need Jordan because we have the same interests with Jordanians. When we discuss the issue with the Jordanians they say “Stay in Jordan Valley.” Why? Because 70 percent of Jordanians are Palestinians. So they are afraid. Jordan is afraid also because Daesh knocked his door in the north. Egypt is afraid of Daesh because Daesh is in Sinai right now. They are afraid from Hamas, Muslim Brothers and they have good relations with Israel and share same interests. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States may send money not for us to the Palestinians. Why? Because we think if their economy is good, it will be quiet. With all of these countries, we need to sit around a table and sign an agreement for the future, for our children, for Palestinian children. In 68 years we built and established a beautiful country with a high level technology, start-up nation, high health level and strong military in the Middle East. And now we found gas. We don’t want to lose again the state, the war. Because we don’t have another way to go. We need to keep Israel as a Jewish state. This is why when you ask me about two-state solution, I say yes. If one day something happens like the Holocaust or what happened in Argentina 30 years ago or what happens right now in France, we need a piece of land. We need to separate. In some places we did it. We have built a fence; we separated Israeli area and Palestinian area.
You mentioned “We need to sit and discuss with the Palestinians.” However, there are two Palestine right now; Palestinian Authority ruled by Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Would you sit with Hamas?
I don’t want to be involved the Palestinian politics. This is not my issue.
Trump will be the next American president. How do you foresee the future of bilateral relations? He said that he is for the two-state solution. And he has a Jerusalem commitment. He said that in his presidency the U.S. will move the American embassy to Jerusalem…
You know better how many presidents had promised this before the elections and did not keep their words. They say a lot of things before the elections, they make promises. I don’t know what will happen but it is important for us.
How is the situation with Hamas in Gaza? Does ‘quiet for quiet’ continue?
If they don’t do anything we don’t do anything. If it is quiet on the other side, it will be quiet on the Israeli side. Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow morning. But I can promise you that the Israeli military is ready. If something happens, we have the power to destroy them. That’s it.
How do you see the presidency of Abbas? He started a diplomatic war against Israel and there are a lot of discussions about his presidency. Is he really a ‘Man of Peace’? Can you trust him?
He did not take any opportunity to do something. Just talking, talking, talking. Livni tried to do something, nothing. Before that, Olmert tried to do something, nothing. He is afraid to take any steps, to sign any agreement for the future. Look at Europe. Now they can cross the borders between states freely. Before they controlled your passport, stamp it. It takes time.
If there is a wall between the Palestinians and Israelis like you said, they will not know each other. This will cause prejudice, fear, and hostility while they are neighbors. Wouldn’t be more difficult to cooperate when the people are totally separated with a fence?
First of all, we know them very well. Some of them live with us. Don’t forget 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Arabs. We will see what will happen in the future. I hope that someday, maybe 50 years from now, we can destroy the wall between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I don’t know what will happen. But first of all we need our security.
Is there any prospect for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations? Kerry was really enthusiastic about it…
Now they changed their president. Right now we need to wait. I don’t know when it will happen, I hope that it will happen someday.
How about the nuclear agreement with Iran?
This is a very difficult question. I think at the time, that was the best agreement that the American president could do. We are worried, we don’t agree. Even today when the Iranians give interview to a newspaper, they say that they want to destroy Israel. Following the agreement, you can see on Iranian TV, people were celebrating on the streets, because the sanctions were over. But even after the signing of the agreement, there was a big demonstration in Iran and people chanted ‘Death to America!’ ‘Death for Israel!’ Can we trust them? My answer is totally no. We need to be ready. Arab states don’t say that they would like to destroy Israel. No Arab state says that anymore. Now people need peace, good economy and good life, that’s it.
You had the chance to meet personally President Erdoğan right after his speech…
He gave a good speech. After his speech I approached him and told him that I hope to see him soon in Israel. He said that he hoped that it will be soon. We had a very warm handshake. He took my hand with his two hands. At the end I told him “God bless you.” He looked so relaxed, he was laughing. And I am so happy that I did it, this hutspa (being rude in a good way).
You have Turkish ancestors if I am not mistaken…
Yes, my mother came from Urfa when she was five. My father also was five years old when he left Cizre. Both cities belonged to Turks. Our culture is very close. They moved to Israel before the establishment of the state, during 1930s. They fought against the British. They were part of Etzel underground organization. My father was kept captive by the British for two years. They were married after that.
Do you know any Turkish?
No, but my wife knows Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) because her mother came from Greece which was an important Ottoman region for the Jews. In Israel we say that ‘genuine Sepharads’ came from Greece.
Is this your first time in Istanbul?
Yes, and it is unbelievable, very beautiful. I will come back with my family to visit the city.
Levy and Barlev also met with Turkish parliamentarians, members of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They discussed the possibilities for cooperation between the parliaments, including the establishment of joint parliamentary friendship groups. Prior to this meeting, Israeli and Turkish lawmakers had not met in a long time.
On the sidelines of the assembly, MKs held a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavuşoğlu. Cavuşoğlu, stated that Turkey is seeking stronger ties with Israel in order to boost and strengthen the Turkish-Israeli cooperation and coordination in various fields. He also added that Israel and Turkey should look to the future and strengthen the cooperation between them. According to the press release, officials discussed efforts to advance ties between the two counties, including resuming security and military coordination.