El País interviewed B’nai B’rith Director of Latin American Affairs Eduardo Kohn about the increasing violence in the Gaza Strip, tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, and the new Israeli government.
El País spoke with director of Latin American Affairs for B’nai B’rith (a Jewish institution with altruistic and intellectual objectives) Eduardo Kohn, considered one of the most outstanding intellectuals of his community in the region. He is currently in Israel, along with 300 Jewish leaders from various countries, within the framework of the Annual Global Global Forum, which addresses Middle East issues. He talked to El País by phone.
How is the atmosphere in Jerusalem right now?
The country keeps pace, the resilience is very deep. I am in Jerusalem, where a forum organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel is held. The everyday environment is normal, as far as possible. People follow their lives, because they have always done so, except for moments of great wars in which you have to take refuge. But with these terrorist attacks that have been happening, which are usually close to Jerusalem in recent times, there is more a feeling of anguish. This happens, no matter what the government is. That’s clear.
Israeli and Palestinian representatives met and pledged to try to avoid acts of violence, but to what extent is it realistic to stop the spiral of violence in the event?
Tse negotiations cost a lot. Egypt and Jordan spent months trying that meeting and finally the parties agreed. But it must be seen that Palestinians have limitations to confront terrorist movements, because groups such as Hamas and Islamic jihad want to overthrow Mahmud Abbas. There is a very important confrontation internally in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is better armed than the Palestinian forces, because Iran gives the best weapons to those movements. But we have to help, no one wants this violence. It can’t be that parents continue to bury their children every day.
What are the expectations regarding the next meeting in Sharm El Sheik?
There are few expectations that this conflict of more than 50 years will be resolved in the short term. But there are expectations that Hamas terrorism and extremism, which governs Gaza and is infiltrated the Palestinian Authority with weapons and people, will not increase the escalation when Ramadan (March-April) now begins, which is what it usually does. Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed that everything possible will be done to prevent attacks during Ramadan, because if there are any, Jewish civilians will die again and Israel will react, but the goal will not be just that, but to bring down the government of Mahmud Abbas. They’ve wanted it for a long time and now they think it’s the opportunity. Next month they have that threat, which is why the Palestinian Authority met with Israel.
What do you think can happen, what do you project?
We hope that Egypt and Jordan will make Hamas leaders (not those of Iran, who are harder to talk to) understand that they do not commit an escalation of violence that could lead to war, which would be disastrous. Defeating Mahmud Abbas and provoking an escalation can lead to a war. There is also the sad expectation that, even so, there may be clashes because containing attacks by someone who is sent by a cell is very difficult.
On the other hand, there is Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initiative to reform the judicial system, which has provoked protests.
Like any reform, there are those who support it and those who do not. There are demonstrations about it, very democratic, without violence. We are talking about a very long process. A half approval of the first two clauses was only achieved in Parliament.
But do you agree with the changes that the government wants to make?
Neither in agreement nor disagreement. I don’t live in Israel, I live in Uruguay. My country is Uruguay in terms of discussing internal issues. In addition, I have no opinion because they are complicated texts. Nowadays, it would be daring to give an opinion on my behalf.
The protesters point out that if this reform were implemented, the independence of justice would weaken, because the Supreme Court’s capacity to supervise certain government decisions would be limited.
Yes, but we have to be careful because Israeli democracy is already more than 70 years old, it is very strong and wars and terrorism have survived. So, to say that by proposing a reform, which will take years and that will have modifications, democracy is gained or lost, I think it is an insult to the intelligence of what Israel is as a nation.
The Israeli Ministerial Committee preliminarily approved a law that would allow the application of the death penalty to Palestinians who attack Israeli Jews. What reflection do you deserve?
It has not yet been approved. That is being worked on not only in this government. It has been discussed for many years. Here in Israel the discussion is that if a terrorist enters a synagogue and machine-guns ten people, the proposal is that crimes of that size have the death penalty. Not everyone will agree in Parliament. Although the government has a majority, we have to see if everyone agrees and there are also three votes apart. The issue of life and death is not only ideological in Israel, but of religion, beliefs and other aspects, but obviously this is a democratic state and if they vote for a law and Justice decides it, even if people who do not live in Israel do not like it, they will have to respect what the democratic State decides.