Without question, this week belonged to Shaul Mofaz. Indeed, since he first entered politics, he has never been subject to such visceral reaction and criticism as we witnessed these past few days. Still, the gambit which he made in concert with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is one that will be taught in civics courses in the future.
“You have to understand that before today the circumstances just weren’t right for us entering the government,” Mofaz said, just minutes after he was officially sworn in by the Knesset as vice prime minister. “Entering the coalition now stems from our intention to promote key items on the national agenda, and it’s not motivated by ministerial posts and other jobs.”
Israel Hayom: What is the motivation?
“We will advance all matters that are important to the State of Israel at this time, including national service for all, which we will take the lead on. This was my position before we agreed to enter the coalition. The whole time, I insisted on adopting an alternative to the Tal Law, and only then going to early elections. I think the fact that we will come up with a bill before the deadline set by the High Court of Justice and that we will foment a significant, historic change is an important accomplishment.
“The other significant thing is the change in the system of government. Israel has been waiting years for the politicians to adopt a change in the way the government is run. The current system is problematic and pernicious. The time has come to use a new system that will bring stability, and we now have a historic opportunity to make it happen, with a coalition of 94 MKs.”
These are wonderful promises, but you are certainly aware of the widespread opinion that this move was made at the last minute because at the end of the day Kadima was going to crash and burn on election day.
“You know my opinion about polls. The predicament in which Kadima finds itself is the result of more than three years of mismanagement under Tzipi Livni. We have gotten to this point because of her. Until now, we haven’t dealt with any issues of substance despite the fact that we were the largest party in the Knesset.
“Was Kadima on its way down? Certainly. There’s no need to sweep this under the rug, and I’m not afraid to say it out loud. But the minute that we were presented with an opportunity to make a difference on key issues, this took priority above everything else. We have an opportunity to lead a real, genuine diplomatic process and to advance key socio-economic issues. We mustn’t permit the weaker segments of society to be harmed and we mustn’t increase the burden on the middle class. There will be a need to cut the budget, because there is a gap of NIS 14-15 billion ($3.6-$4 billion), and we need to do things in a responsible manner.”
But what about your credibility, which took a major blow this week? You said you wouldn’t enter the government, but you joined anyway. You attacked the government at almost every opportunity, and now you are part of that same government.
“The opposition’s job is to be an alternative to the ruling government and to expose its weak spots. That is its function. An opposition needs to fight for its principles. I’ve spoken dozens of times about the need for governmental reform and universal conscription. I posed difficult questions to the prime minister, and I demanded explanations. Did we make a difference in the opposition? A very minor one. Now we will make a much bigger difference. The Israeli public understands full well that the message of unity is a much stronger one.
“I knew that there would be criticism aimed personally at me,” he said. “I knew that I would be reminded of the statements I made saying that I wouldn’t join the coalition, and it’s obviously difficult for me to explain to everyone that the circumstances have changed. But when you’re in the opposition, you need to say these things as sharply and clearly as possible in order to sufficiently point out the flaws in the executive branch. But after we had established a commonality of interests, then it is incumbent on us to do the right thing to attain an important result for Israel on key issues that are really on its agenda.
“It sounds like we didn’t say what it is that we promised, but one needs to understand that the circumstances have changed. It takes courage to stand up to criticism. I knew that there would be criticism, but I still decided to persevere and to do the right thing at this moment for the country.”
You said that the prime minister is a liar. Do you now believe that he is telling the truth?
“That episode was about something bad that happened in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. When it comes to the issues on which we came to agreement with Netanyahu, of course I believe him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have joined the government. I spoke with Netanyahu about the event in question and we decided to put it behind us. We don’t need to rehash this episode constantly. It happened, and it’s in the past.”
Did you apologize to him?
“I don’t want to get into it. It’s behind us.”
What do you have to say about all the events taking place in Kadima? There’s talk that a number of MKs are planning to splinter off and form their own faction in the next few months.
“I don’t pay any attention to it. We have a group of very responsible MKs, and I trust them to do the right thing. I don’t envision Kadima members doing anything that would harm the party. Kadima members think first and foremost about the wellbeing of the state, and only afterward do they think about Kadima. I believe that nobody will be willing to do anything that will adversely impact the state and the party.”
What is your position regarding the High Court order to raze the homes built in the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El? There are ministers in the government who want to pass a law that would avert the need for evictions.
“In principle, I will support anything done in a level-headed manner and in accordance with the High Court ruling and is faithful to the spirit of the High Court ruling. I will not support anything that contravenes a High Court ruling.”
“I oppose laws that are aimed at circumventing the High Court. This does harm to the rule of law, and I think that any arrangement that will be adopted on each of these issues must be tailored to the High Court’s rulings. I don’t think there’s anyone who is intent on refraining from implementing the High Court’s decision. There may be a number of ways to implement the ruling, and I presume there will be discussions on this issue.”