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Israel’s Justice Minister: ‘Realistic’ That New Palestinian Peace Talks Will Fail

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked delivers a speech in Budapest, Hungary, on June 6, 2016. (Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP)

WASHINGTON – President Trump would be better served to engineer an economic deal with moderate Arab states than to pursue a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked said Wednesday.

Shaked was asked during an appearance at the Hudson Institute about whether potential peace talks will once again fail. Shaked, who has served under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2015, replied flatly, “I’m a realist.”

Trump earlier this month in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas vowed to prove critics wrong in helping to secure a peace agreement, saying, “We will get it done.”

Shaked has said that she hopes the Trump administration will come up with something more creative, and on Wednesday she suggested the president reach out to moderate Arab states that have existing relationships with Israel so that the region can forge an economic agreement that would boost the Palestinian territories’ economy. Investment in Palestinian infrastructure and industrial zones, she said, would benefit both them and Israel.

“I think President Trump has a huge opportunity to have an economic deal,” Shaked said. “I think he is the right person to do it. First of all, people are really involved in what’s going on in the Middle East and understand that the gaps between the Israelis and Palestinians are much too big. … If the president is talking about an economic deal, the economic deal can be much better (than peace talks).”

Shaked, who was scheduled to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, was also asked about Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director Jeff Comey on Tuesday, but she steered clear of the topic.

“I respect your democracy, and I never interfere with internal (decisions),” she said.

Shaked also touched on an issue that has been hotly debated since Trump took office: illegal immigration. She discussed waves of illegal immigration from Africa to Israel between 2006 and 2012, when, she said, thousands of people each month were entering Israel, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan. In addressing the issue, Israel built a fence and then approved legislation allowing incarceration, sometimes as long as a year, for illegal immigrants. Israel’s Supreme Court rejected two versions of the legislation before ultimately approving it.

“There is a real question, when we are dealing with such an issue, whether we should also take into consideration the fact that the character of Israel should be a Jewish character and the majority of Israel should stay Jewish, or we should think that Israel is a country of full citizens, and if one million people from Africa want to come to Israel, well it’s fine, so there’s ongoing debate,” she said. “In my mind, the identity of Israel as a Jewish state is very important, and in such cases, the court should also take it into consideration.”

Shaked also was asked about criticism over an article she wrote that was published in the journal Hashiloach last year, in which she lobbied for strengthening Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. Critics contended that Shaked’s ideas make it more difficult for Muslims to integrate into Israeli society.

“I think those that criticized the article about this point didn’t understand or read the article because it didn’t talk about Jewish as a religion but as a nationality,” she said.

Shaked added that she and her party, the Jewish Home, truly believe in the coexistence of Jews and Arabs in Israeli society.

Shaked talked about the differences between the U.S. Supreme Court and the Israeli Supreme Court. While Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president in the U.S., Israel has a nine-member committee that selects its judges, making it less of a political decision. The panel currently seats four politicians, three Supreme Court judges and two representatives from the bar association. Selection requires approval from seven members of the panel.

“When we select these judges, we need to more or less compromise,” she said.