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'Iran not a direct threat to Israel'

"I am probably the only Israeli who does not fear Iran," journalist Danny Rubinstein tells Madhur Singh.

india Updated: Feb 15, 2007 18:11 IST

Danny Rubinstein teaches Arab History and Communication at Hebrew University, Jerusalem and at Ben Gurion University in Be'er Sheva. He has been a career journalist, and continues to write regular columns on the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian affairs. He was in New Delhi to deliver a talk on 'The Middle East Peace Process: An Israeli Perspective'. He spoke to Hindustan Times about current developments and the prospects for peace in West Asia after the Lebanon crisis.

The Palestine-Israel conflict has persisted since the birth of Israel, and is at the heart of the ferment in West Asia. Is there any way out?
In principle, the solution is very easy. Both Palestinians and Israelis believe in separation - the principle of two states for two peoples that an Israel /Jewish state should exist alongside a Palestinian/Arab state.

But this solution will have consequences, not all of which will be happy. The Palestinians expect right of return for refugees, but if the refugees were to come back, Israel would no longer remain a Jewish state as the Palestinians would outnumber Jews. So this is one claim the Palestinian side must give up.

As for Israel, we have to give up parts of West Bank and other occupied territories.

What about Jerusalem?
Jerusalem was the main issue at Camp David in 2000, and is on top of the agenda now. To be fair, there can be no Palestinian state without Jerusalem. It is clear that once both sides formally agree to a two-state solution, they will have to figure out the technicalities of dividing Jerusalem between them.

Will Israel negotiate with the present dispensation in Palestine?
Negotiation is possible with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President). Ninety per cent or more Israelis will tell you this.

But Hamas is a democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people...
Hamas was elected to power, but there were problems with the process. In many places, intra-Fatah rivalries cost that party dear and the Hamas candidates won. So support for the Hamas is not as unequivocal as it may seem.

What do you think of the Lebanon war, in retrospect?
We did not know that the conflict would result in a full-fledged war - the crisis did escalate beyond control. But in retrospect we know that we were right. Once we saw the huge hordes of rockets and missiles that the Hezbollah had amassed, we could not let them go on and attack us in future.

As for the tactical mistakes purportedly made in the conduct of the war, an inquiry has been instituted and the report is due out next week. Then we will know what exactly went wrong.

What are your views on Iran's nuclear programme?
I'm probably the only Israeli who does not fear Iran. I don't think Iran is a direct threat to Israel. Of course, no one wants to see a nuclear-armed Iran - but that's true for the entire world. I believe the Iranian threat is less towards Israel than towards Saudi Arabia. Given the situation in Iraq, the bigger problem in the Middle East is Shia-Sunni rivalry. In fact, part of the Saudi initiative to help the Palestinian factions reach an understanding is due to their fear of Iran.

The Indian media has been reporting on the British Jews' attempt to distance themselves from the Israeli government and forming an organisation called the Independent Jewish Voice. What do you think of this development?

I feel sad when I hear such things. We Jews, as a community, are orphans, and the only friends we have are the liberal democracies of the world. So I feel sorry about such organisations.

First Published: Feb 15, 2007 17:38 IST