Friday, February 28, 2014

Agriculture Minister Shamir - He is almost never heard, but his positions are firm.

...People may say I am wrong. Let them. A nation that is not willing to fight for its Jerusalem will cease to exist as time goes by. True, there are some cities called Jerusalem in the U.S. True, many countries change their capitals. For example, Nigeria changed the name of its capital from Lagos to Abuja. For us, there is no other capital. Jerusalem is the capital of the entire Jewish people, not only those who live in Israel. It is our historical and eternal capital.

Shlomo Cesana..
Israel Hayom..
28 February '14..

Two photographs of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir hang on the wall of the office of his son, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir. Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh prime minister, led the country for six years, and many people will recall him as the man who took a hard political line, dug in his heels, and stuck to the idea of Greater Israel.

"My father is my guiding light," says Yair Shamir. "Listen, he is my lighthouse. A lighthouse is not a particularly beautiful building. The stones are rough. Nobody will ever win a famous architectural award for building a lighthouse, but it is a massive structure. And where does one put a lighthouse? On rocks, where the waves break. Someone coming from a distance searches for its light. And it keeps on standing there and shining while other buildings fall. The beautiful thing about my father was that his beam was a narrow one. I can run in it, in his beam, and still find expression."

Shamir, a senior member of Likud-Yisrael Beytenu, has the his father's look physically and in his firm right-wing stance. He is almost never heard, but his positions are firm. He opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, does not believe that the talks have any chance of succeeding, and explains why the American efforts are superfluous.

"Considering how both sides are digging in their heels today, I do not see an agreement on the horizon. When you give a conflict that is more than a hundred years old nine months for a solution, as John Kerry has done, that is not serious," he says.

So what does he believe in, then?

"I believe in the Americans' good intentions," he says. "Looking at the regional conflict in American or Western terms includes a business approach, like the one that is used to solve conflicts between businesspeople. The problem is that this is not a business. For the Americans, everything looks solvable and logical. This is your position, this is my position, and in the end, we'll compromise. In our region, everything is a good deal more complex.

"I oppose the two-state idea. Let's start with Jerusalem. For me, Jerusalem comes under the heading of 'be killed rather than transgress.' I am willing to fight for it because it is the raison d'etre of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel."

So it is impossible to reach a compromise that would include a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem?

"No. People may say I am wrong. Let them. A nation that is not willing to fight for its Jerusalem will cease to exist as time goes by. True, there are some cities called Jerusalem in the U.S. True, many countries change their capitals. For example, Nigeria changed the name of its capital from Lagos to Abuja. For us, there is no other capital. Jerusalem is the capital of the entire Jewish people, not only those who live in Israel. It is our historical and eternal capital."

Shamir is unequivocal.

"I do not think it should be divided, particularly in light of the fact that the other side chose Jerusalem as an act of defiance," he says. "When Muslims worship here, they turn their buttocks toward Jerusalem and pray toward Mecca. Jerusalem is not mentioned in the Koran or anywhere else. It is a defiant demand, a way to say, 'This is ours,' and set a contemporary red line."

When I ask Shamir why he opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state so strongly, he answers, "There is not enough space here for two nations. If the space were larger, maybe we could find the right formula. But here, the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is not enough to allow them to establish a state.

"Let's say we gave them a state. It means that they would always fight over the space so that they could establish a real state, with a route to the sea, with airspace. Do you know what? Even with room for a major hospital. Look at this area, and you tell me: Where is there room for another state?"

About a week ago, the president of Chile visited Israel with several of his ministers. They had a meal in the security-cabinet room next door to the Prime Minister's Office, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited Shamir to the brief meeting as well.

"At the entrance to the room hangs a satellite photograph of the State of Israel," Shamir says. "So before the meal, I pointed on the map and showed the ministers that the distance from Metulla to Eilat is just 500 kilometers. They fell off their chairs. 'That is the big Israel?' one of them asked. I answered, 'And now, this, in this area, is what they want to divide.' After all, they want to build a state here that has no right to exist or ability to exist. Establishing such a state here simply means a war that will go on forever.

"Take Gaza, for example. It has a route to the sea, and crude oil and natural gas in the sea. It has a fishing industry and, in principle, a route to Sinai and to Israel. It has a large work force for industry and agriculture. Instead of establishing a thriving state, they direct all their resources toward striking at the State of Israel. So what happens in the talks? They talk with us about this topic (he indicates a particular spot on the table) when the major topic is actually this (he indicates a spot at the other end of the table). It is a simple thing: There is a large space here that contains no Jews and is under Muslim rule. That is also what Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) wants. After all, how is he any different from the desires of others who are connected with this region? A whole expanse of Arab states where there are no Jews, and even the Christians are oppressed and fleeing."

Shamir believes that Abbas is not interested in reaching any peace agreement.

"As far as they are concerned, any discussion in the talks starts at a better point, so why reach an agreement? On the way, they will receive the release of terrorist murderers without giving anything in return. They have made no concessions. Certainly not on the right of return. They have kept the refugee camps going for generations. I will never forget my visit to Gaza. When I asked a boy of about 15, 'Where are you from?' he told me, 'I'm from Jaffa.' That is how they are brought up -- to this kind of perpetuation, and they are not giving it up."

What solution do you propose?

"Syria is in an ongoing war, and there is chaos throughout the region. So we are the ones who have to take risks in this conflict, which has no way out? All we need to do is explain that this is the situation and we have to deal with it. But we can create good neighborly relations here, mainly by raising the Palestinians' standard of living. I am in favor of reducing the economic inequality between us as much as possible. For example, they build and build. Great -- why not? The more they have to lose, the better."

Your fellow party members say that if we do not separate from the Palestinians, Israel's existence as a Jewish state will be in danger.

"I see the numbers. I see that every 10 to 13 years, a thousand young Palestinians leave the areas here and emigrate to other places. I see that among us, immigration to Israel is continuing and that we are also growing demographically. I do not see such a danger to Israel's existence as a Jewish state. They live in their cities and I, of course, am not in favor of making them citizens of Israel."

Your policy does not correspond to that of the prime minister, and definitely not the conciliatory line being taken by Avigdor Lieberman, who heads your party.

"When I went into politics, my positions were clear, and their positions were clear to me. But we have far more in common than not. Until they find something in common with Abu Mazen, I would prefer that they find something in common with me. Many things that have nothing to do with the conflict need to be done in this country. I think that the pluralism that exists is not a bad thing. Not even all the members of the Likud are made from a single mold. I do everything I can to encourage the prime minister, not weaken him."

When Shamir began his term as agriculture minister, Netanyahu gave him a job that the son of any other prime minister would have failed to accomplish: to deal with the resettlement of the Bedouin in the Negev, an issue that former minister Benny Begin dealt with. Shamir explains that even before Begin, close to 40 professional committees examined the issue and did not manage to come up with a workable solution. Even so, Shamir is convinced that a historic settlement can indeed be reached with the Bedouin.

"When the state was established, there were 12,000 Bedouin in the Negev," he says. "Today, there are 210,000. All the Bedouin are citizens of the State of Israel, and now we must see how to bring them into the State of Israel in every way, including into the 21st century. They are not there in any sense. Not in standard of living, not in culture, not in obeying the law. There are clans, there are tribes. There are gunshots every day. Over the years, the tribal hierarchy has deteriorated to the point of collapse. The sheikh of the tribe is still a figurehead, but he is not the one who makes the decisions for them anymore. It is impossible to make sudden changes and jump ahead several centuries. There are processes here, and things take time."

What is the root of the problem?

"What they care about is going to be that everyone should have jobs, schooling for their children, infrastructures, a place close by for their son who is getting married. Most of them live in permanent settlements. For them, the dispute over the land is a marginal thing. After all, we are talking about 304 families who are demanding ownership of the land. Demands for land ownership by Bedouin are a problem not only in Israel, but also in the entire region. It is not going to go away because they do not have the proper documents. It is a complex issue. If we separate the issue of the land from the nationalistic and national dimension that go with it, on both sides, the problems will be solved."

Do you have the ability to change things where everybody else failed?

"I hope so. If I did not think so from the start, I would not have taken it on. The Islamic Movement, the Israeli Arabs, even the Palestinian Authority took it in the direction of a nationalistic conflict, supposedly to show another way that Israel was throwing people off their land.

"On the other hand, instead of understanding that there is a possibility here of ending this once and for all and setting a historic milestone in the Negev, even Jewish MKs attacked the arrangement, saying that it gave land to people who had taken it over illegally. We need to provide solutions of education and jobs. We need to treat them as part of the State of Israel. It is proper to give them respect and assume from the start that it could take years. I have no expectation that in two to three years, we will cut a ribbon and it will be over."

In the past, Shamir worked as an electrical engineer and a pilot. He is a colonel in the reserves, the former chairman of El Al Airlines and of Israel Aircraft Industries, and has served on the boards of privately-owned hi-tech companies. Over the past year, he became a permanent resident of Beit Dagan, where the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry is located.

"I have no fantasies of being an agronomist," he says, smiling slightly, and explains: "I do not want to be a farmer, and I do not want to learn things that other people have already forgotten. I try to bring my own abilities to the ministry and push agriculture forward toward the area of hi-tech. Agriculture is action and values and a major tool of settlement. Cultivated land brings jobs and also the value of connection with the soil."

Shamir says, "In the first year, we identified the problems in the sphere and I began removing obstacles. For example, in the sphere of buildings on farmland: many people constructed buildings on farmland such as granaries, storage buildings, packing facilities, pavilions, stables and vineyards. These buildings were considered illegal for all sorts of reasons. We are working with the Housing Ministry and the Israel Lands Administration to make them legal so that the farmland may be developed effectively.

"In another sphere, we increased the quotas of water for farmers, established a loan fund for farmers and also started promoting agriculture industries that have a chance of growth. Take the seed industry, for example. Today, it is a market of $250 million. True, it is farming, but it requires knowledge and ability that is linked to high-tech. The potential is to grow a billion-dollar market right away."

What is high-tech about the market you describe?

"For example, tomato seeds are taken and adapted to the demand -- such as tomatoes that are suitable for ketchup. These are the seeds of a tomato that is grown and dries on its own, and is ready for the ketchup industry. This development conserves volume in transportation and in the energy of manufacture. So why not develop companies like this?

"A hot-water geyser was discovered near Kibbutz Shamir. A spa could be built there, but tilapia fish could also be raised there and processes made shorter, so that it would be only nine months from reproduction to sale instead of the 18 that are needed today. This is where the ministry comes in and helps."

In conclusion, Shamir says that he is "trying to move agriculture forward from the place where it is today, and let it fly high. I think it got stuck at some point. If Israel once had 40,000 farmers, today it has only 8,000, but these farmers produce a great deal more product. That is innovation. That is Zionism."


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