Ofir Akunis is the Likud Party’s deputy minister for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a member of the Knesset. From 2010 until 2012, he served as the Knesset’s deputy speaker. In addition, Akunis, 41, has also served as both chairman and speaker of the Likud Party. He was interviewed last week during a visit here.
Q: What is your reaction to the killing of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli youths seeking revenge for the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens?
A: In Jerusalem, the Abu Khdeir family grieves the murder of a child by ruthless murderers. It was an immoral, un-Jewish, un-Israeli act. A murder is a murder is a murder. The government of Israel condemns and denounces the killing of innocent people. It hurts us when innocents are killed, regardless if they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim.
There are those fearful that the recent Palestinian violence might lead to a third intifada.
I don’t think they would dare start one. … They would lose and I suggest they don’t test our power.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says peace efforts should now focus on a regional peace. Do you agree?
There are huge changes in our region and we should be very careful about any steps we do in the future regarding peace agreements. We want them, but unfortunately our neighbors — especially the Palestinians — seem to not want one. We negotiated with the Palestinians for nine months [under Secretary of State John Kerry’s tutelage] until [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas decided to establish a terror government.
What do you say to those who insist that Israel is occupying Palestinian land?
I dealt with that question here from Jan Eliasson of Sweden, who is the deputy secretary general of the United Nations. I told him that we couldn’t occupy what belongs to us. Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] are the homeland of the Jewish people. We have been in Hebron and Jerusalem for 4,000 years; the Palestinians did not exist until about 100 years ago. And 99 percent of the Palestinians have been living under a Palestinian regime for 20 years. They are not dealing with Israel or the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and they have the right to vote for members of the Palestinian Parliament.
What is your reaction to the new government in Egypt?
I know that the prime minister has already talked with [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi, and that connections between Israel and Jordan are good, especially with security because of the radicals that are against the king of Jordan. Now the great threat in Jordan comes from ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Its troops are very close to the Jordanian border and we want a strong Jordan.
How do you see the threat from ISIS?
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ISIS is a threat not only to Israel but the whole Western world, including Europe and the United States. I visited yesterday the memorial museum of 9/11. There is no territorial debate among Muslims in the U.S., and yet I saw the results of the cruel terror attack of 9/11. I have to tell you that between Israel and the Palestinians there also is no territorial debate — it’s a debate about Israel’s existence. And it’s not just about a Jewish state — it is because we are connected in their eyes to the Western world. The war is between the radicals and the whole Western world.
You say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not really territorial?
Yes, even when Israel offered twice in the last 14 years to withdraw to the June 1967 border, the Palestinians said no.
Before Abbas established his unity government, what were some of the stumbling blocks to a peace agreement with Israel?
Abbas said that a Palestinian state would have to be clean of Jews. That was bad enough, but he said also that the Palestinian state would stretch all over, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, or as he put it, from Rosh Hanikra [Israel’s furthest point north] to Eilat [Israel’s southern tip]. That’s what the conflict is about.