MK Avshalom (Abu) Vilan has been a frequent guest of Meretz USA in recent months, as he stops in New York on his way to Washington, DC to engage in a political project, now nearing its end. On August 2nd, he began his talk by explaining Israeli and international efforts to begin a peace process with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas while isolating Hamas. The international community will allow investors to put money into the West Bank economy, raising the standard of living, meanwhile doing just enough to keep the Gazan economy just above humanitarian disaster. Gazans will be isolated and see the huge gap between itself and the West Bank, and understand that they were mistaken to support Hamas.
MK Vilan explained that, in his view, this approach is naïve: Gazans will only throw their support more firmly behind the extremists. He also spoke against Israeli military action in Gaza. It would only cause casualties on both sides, without altering the political situation.
Discussing the struggle between Hamas and Fatah, MK Vilan described the horrific violence being perpetrated. He explained that this conflict will not be resolved without taking into account regional dynamics — including, the money going from Iran to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.
Turning to internal Israeli politics, MK Vilan explained that although Prime Minister Olmert’s government is stable, it currently has little purpose. If Olmert does not push forward with the peace process, there will be no reason for him to be reelected. It is better that he turns the spotlight away from his struggle for survival and towards his efforts to get something done.
But he sees Olmert as capable of staying on for at least another year. Olmert reassured him personally that he knows “all the tricks and shticks” required to stay on. Even if Labor bolted from the coalition, he sees Olmert as able to bribe Agudat Yisrael (an ultra-Orthodox party with six seats) to keep his majority. As you probably know, because of Netanyahu’s electoral strength indicated in the polls, Abu does not want early elections.
Progress on the peace front is in Olmert’s interest. Paradoxically, Abu sees such progress as not in Barak’s personal political interest (in his quest to regain the office of prime minister) and he fears that Barak will be an obstacle to making necessary concessions to Abbas.
Surprisingly, Abu has heard from Fayyad, the new reform Palestinian prime minister, that the PA has plenty of money to pay salaried employees – including up to “100,000” in Gaza.
Abu mentioned that he’s become a champion for many West Bank settlers and the rights of ex-Gaza settlers. He’d like the government to offer monetary packages to 40,000 or more non-ideological settlers who live beyond the projected path of the wall/fence and therefore live on real estate with zero resale value. He believes that a good 40,000 can be enticed, therefore, to abandon their homes.
Abu advocates an international force to maintain a cease-fire in Gaza and stabilize the situation so that Gaza’s economic isolation can end. He sees no realistic chance that Israel’s own military efforts can maintain quiet there.
Currently, support in the polls for Kadima has risen from seven to 11 seats (no indication if this changes with Livni as leader; so far, Abu is unimpressed with the leadership ability of Livni). Meretz fluctuates from five to eight, Labor scores with 23 or 24 seats and Netanyahu scores with 30 or more seats for Likud. Currently, the Knesset has a comfortable majority for a two-state solution and a negotiated peace. After new elections, under current conditions, this majority would disappear.
Abu is embarrassed by the bill moving through the Knesset to undermine the Supreme Court and allow Jewish National Fund lands not to be leased to Israeli Arabs, characterizing it as “racist.” He noted with dismay that it even has the support of some liberals, like Ami Ayalon. He sees Ayalon as having bad political instincts and that his inexperience shows. He feels that Barak’s success in regaining the leadership of the Labor party (defeating Ayalon in a run-off election) had to do with people’s unwillingness to go to a relatively unknown and inexperienced commodity for the third straight time after the failed leadership stints of Mitzna and Peretz.