Zalman Shoval, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Special Envoy to the U.S. and Europe, held a press conference at the National Press Club yesterday. His talk focused on the newly forming Israeli coalition government under Netanyahu and President Obama’s first state visit to Israel taking place next month.
The 82-year-old Shoval has served twice as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States as well as a member of Israel’s Knesset.
He described the coalition forming as bound to be “broadly based,” and therefore in a good position to handle the many challenges facing Israel in the coming months and years.
These challenges include, of course, Iran’s nuclear program, the Arab ‘Awakening’ with its consequences, and the continuing struggles in the global economy.
Shoval’s perspective comes from extensive experience, and he often used history to explain in his view on a given topic.
When it came to Iran, Shoval described 2013 as the “year of reckoning” for Iran, as it gets very close to developing enough nuclear material to make a bomb. This “clear and present danger” will require “an equally clear response.”
When talking about unrest in the Middle East, specifically in Syria, Shoval said authorities were concerned weapons would get into the wrong hands; this alone was a good enough reason for restraint and caution, citing that already Syria has one of the largest missile armaments in the world.
When talking about the Israel-Palestine peace process, Shoval claimed that it could only have very little to do with what was going on in the greater region politically. He noted that the trends so far were not good. He compared the developments in the Arab revolutions to what happened to Russia’s revolution. Where the Bolsheviks took over a move towards democracy, Islamism appeared to be doing the same.
Specifically regarding Palestine, he maintained that a two-state solution remains the desired end result of any negotiations. He described Palestine, however, as having “climbed high up into a tree” when it came to moves at circumventing Israel like the recent vote of recognition in the UN General Assembly. Such acts represented an attempt at a fait accompli, and made genuine progress with Israel difficult.