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A Few Minutes with Yuli Edelstein

Omri Nahmias, Washington, D.C.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Speaks to Mishpacha

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

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“WE CAN’T take unilateral steps without foreseeing what the US reaction will be, nor do we expect that the administration will carve dictates for Israel,” said Edelstein in an interview with Mishpacha

Everyone is looking ahead to next week’ s “big game” when Prime Minister Netanyahu holds his first meeting with Donald Trump as president of the United States. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein served as part of Netanyahu’s advance team, visiting Washington, D.C. last week to meet with his counterparts in Congress and set a new tone for relations between the Knesset and what Jerusalem hopes will be the most pro-Israel Congress ever.

How were you received here, and do you feel like new winds are blowing from the Capitol?

The treatment I have received from both the Senate and the House of Representatives has always been warm and above partisanship, and that was obvious this week. I met with [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and invited him to make an official visit to Israel. I also met with Senator Bob Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as with senior Democrats, including [Senator] Ben Cardin and [Representative] Steny Hoyer, who is an old personal friend. In each meeting, we emphasized that whether we are discussing Congressional support for Israel or the steps Israel takes, and the attitude towards the recent UN Security Council resolution; all of this is above party politics. I told them that the future of our relationship is very important to us and that I would do everything in my power to see that it remains above the partisan fray.

Did the subject of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem come up?

Certainly. I did not hide my view that I think it is the right thing to do. Here, too, these steps are not the exclusive domain of the current administration. Congress has been discussing this for a long time. I did not find a big gap on this between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans obviously tend more toward backing the president, but on the issue itself, my discussions were very interesting. We will see. They key, of course, is the outcome of talks between the prime minister and the president.

Did you get the impression that Speaker Ryan, or anyone else in Congress, is in the loop regarding the steps the administration plans to take on the embassy?

I did not hear anything from them that sounded like a retreat or an effort to explain why it will not happen. It’s clear that any such move must be done after careful thought, and not impulsively. I expressed my opinion that this would be a good step for the future of Israel and the region.

Did you receive any feedback on the government’s announcements of new construction in the settlements?

Not even one word. It did not come up in any of the meetings.

How do you expect the Trump administration to react to settlement construction?

As a general approach, the Knesset, as the parliament of Israel, and I, in my capacity as Knesset Speaker, don’t want to get involved. The government needs to develop a clear stance, explaining what they are planning to do and what they will not do, and then discuss it with the administration. We can’t take unilateral steps without foreseeing what the US reaction will be, nor do we expect that the administration will carve dictates for Israel. The prime minister will come here having held discussions with his cabinet and he will present his plan to the White House. They may not accept everything, but there will be a document to discuss.

Did the Arrangements Law, regarding possible Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria settlements, arise in your conversations?

Not specifically. They asked me questions about several laws we are considering and I explained that these are more than just private initiatives of certain Knesset members. Israel and the US are two nations with friendly ties, and it will remain that way as long as we raise topics of discussion, and decide together.

Aside from settlement construction, this week we witnessed settlement destruction in Amona. Could this have been handled differently, and what’s the next step for Amona residents?

I feel very distraught today, and I will not hide that. I hoped we could find creative and legal ways to resolve the issue, but it did not happen. I understand that most of the residents of Amona were evacuated without violence and they did nothing untoward. I hope that a new settlement will be established in the area, where they will receive proper homes in Israel. Regarding those who did commit acts of violence, my position is clear. They had no business being there and their behavior was unacceptable.

What was your take on the White House statement on Holocaust Memorial Day that omitted mention of Jews?

When one speaks about Holocaust Day one must mention that the Holocaust was an act committed against the Jewish nation. I understand that there are all the reasons in the world to mention other victims as well, but I believe — and I hope that in the future it will happen — that Holocaust Day statements should include the rightful reference of the tragedy of our nation so that it should never be forgotten.

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