“Time is not in favor of the state of Israel,” Mofaz, 63, said in an interview in this central Israeli city where Kadima, the centrist political party he leads, is based. “The generation of the leaders today should decide. This year, next year — we have to decide.”
It is a dissonant message here. Although Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators are said to be quietly meeting, official talks have basically been frozen since 2008. These days, domestic concerns top the agenda in Israel; discussions involving the occupied Palestinian territories generally center on controversial court-ordered settlement evacuations in the West Bank, not peacemaking.
Mofaz, a former army chief and defense minister, says that should and can change. In a move that rocked Israeli politics, Mofaz and hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal last month to form one of Israel’s largest-ever governing coalitions. That gives the government a rare and fleeting power, Mofaz asserts, to overcome dissent and push through a peace deal before elections in late 2013.
“It’s about time,” Mofaz said repeatedly, as if practicing a talking point ahead of his visit to Washington, where he is scheduled to begin meetings Wednesday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. security officials.
He said he will pitch to them a peace plan that he unveiled in 2009 and that is his alone — not one endorsed by the Netanyahu-led government. It envisions an interim Palestinian state with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank and continued negotiations. It would end with Israel keeping the main Jewish settlement blocks, the evacuation of almost 100,000 Israeli settlers outside those and land swaps giving Palestinians 100 percent of the territory they demand.
A coalition ‘on the cheap’
The question is whether Mofaz’s opinion matters. Many analysts say no, in part because of the timing of his alliance with Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, something he had vowed would never happen. Mofaz sealed the deal after polls showed that his party, Israel’s largest opposition group, would have fared badly in early elections.
Yossi Alpher, a strategic-affairs analyst, said those circumstances allowed Netanyahu to win Mofaz’s partnership “on the cheap,” mostly by promising progress on two of Kadima’s domestic priorities: changing the military draft to recruit more religious and Arab soldiers, and overhauling the electoral system.
Netanyahu’s official stance on the peace process remains unchanged. He wants a two-state solution but will negotiate only if the Palestinians drop all preconditions. Those include the demand for a halt to settlement building, a precondition the Palestinians say they will not abandon. And the Obama administration is considered loath to touch the issue in an election year.