Interview with Uri Avnery

"Israel Lacks a Leader"

Uri Avnery, a journalist and founder of the Israeli peace movement "Gush Shalom", says that Israel lacks a strong leader who would be able to push through a peace agreement with Syria and the Palestinians. He spoke with Lina Hoffmann

Uri Avnery (photo: dpa)
Israeli journalist and peace activist Uri Avnery has played an active role in the dialogue between Arabs and Israelis for many years

​​What is your assessment of the current political situation in Israel after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigns?

Uri Avnery: The political situation is extremely confusing. Nobody knows what will happen to Olmert. Either he will remain a few more months officially as prime minister, or he will be removed from office in one to two weeks. In other words, the situation is fraught with uncertainty.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is tipped as likely candidate to succeed Olmert. What kinds of developments do you expect to see in Israel if she takes over the government?

Avnery: Accurately gauging Tzipi Livni is difficult because she is still very inexperienced. It is very hard to say who she really is and what she really thinks. In addition, she hasn't held a leading position. The post of foreign minister is de facto not very important in Israel. As a result, no one can know what Livni's government would look like.

What kind of influence could European politicians, particularly the Germans, have on this process?

Avnery: Europe, and especially Germany, currently has no influence because the US determines policies in the Middle East. The Europeans and the Germans have always lagged behind America in the Middle East. Europe's role is thus fairly unimportant.

In your opinion, what influence could a peace agreement between Syria and Israel have on the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Livni and Olmert (photo: AP)
Exit Olmert: Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is beginning the task of putting together a new government after her election as leader of the ruling Kadima party

​​Avnery: It's hard to say because there are two sides to the story. I would tend to think that a peace agreement would have a positive influence. At the same time, I can't imagine that such an agreement will be made.

Making peace with Syria would have to entail removing the Jewish settlers from the Golan Heights. This decision requires a very strong government, strong leadership and a strong prime minister. These are all things that we don't have in Israel. Olmert is in no position whatsoever to see through this kind of operation.

If Tzipi Livni comes to power, she will need a certain amount of time to build up a power base that will allow her to make such decisions. In any case, I'm very pessimistic.

Which Israeli public figure could push through such peace talks?

Avnery: That's hard to say because right now we have no leaders with the required charisma and power to push through this kind of peace agreement. There is some extremely intense in-fighting in Israel these days. The settlers on the Golan Heights are far more popular than the settlers on the West Bank. Removing them from this area is a political, moral and psychological move. I can't think of anyone who could push through a decision like this in the foreseeable future.

As a peace activist, what hopes do you have with regard to the political situation in Israel?

Avnery: There is no doubt that we have to do more. This also means that we have to rethink our tactics and strategies. We have a difficult task ahead of us that will certainly not get any easier. If Barack Obama is elected president in the upcoming US elections, America may perhaps change its approach. A fresh US foreign policy could encourage the Israeli government to do more to achieve peace.

Interview: Lina Hoffmann

© Deutsche Welle / Qantara.de 2008

Uri Avnery was a member of the founding generation of Israel and fought for independence in 1948. As co-publisher and editor of the weekly newspaper "Haolam Hazeh" (This World), as a former member of the Knesset, and as the founder of the peace organization "Gush Shalom" (Peace Block), he has strived to help create a Palestinian state for the past 50 years. Together with his wife Rahel, he received the Alternative Peace Prize in 2001.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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