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Member of Knesset for Kadima, Shai Hermesh.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

[Editor’s note: this interview with MK Shai  Hermesh of  Kadima took place in Winnipeg in June  2009]

“Maybe we’re at a turning point,” says Shai Hermesh, a Member of Knesset from  Kadima  who lives in Kibbutz Kfar Aza right on Israel’s  border with Gaza.

 “Maybe since it has become clear that Iran [through Hizbollah]was planning to conduct terror attacks to destabilize Egypt,  now Egypt will make a real  effort to combat weapon smuggling into  Gaza…Maybe Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will start understanding that Hizbollah and Iran aren’t only against Israel… Iran has missiles that can go 5000 kilometres, but Israeli  is only  1500 kilometres away…
“Maybe the regime in Cairo will understand that Iran isn’t thinking only of aiming its missiles towards my kibbutz, but towards Cairo… Iran is… moving weapons through  Sudan…  if  Egypt  just becomes a corridor for illegal weapons, not all the weapons will get to Gaza…part will stay in Alexandria, part in Cairo [and be directed at  Mubarak],” he says.

Hermesh adds that Egyptian police [in Sinai] “ are paid poorly and live in tents,” and  suggests if  Egypt is going to get more serious about stopping smuggling it will have to invest in its police.

Hermesh, who had been in the Labour party “for 42 years” and a long time activist in Peace Now moved to the centre Kadima party several years ago.

 “In 2000, after Israel was certified by the U.N. for leaving Lebanon fully, and leaving Gaza, and after still being attacked by Hizbollah and Hamas, I changed my thinking,”

 He believes in a “two state solution,” but  says “we [Israel]  shouldn’t be in a hurry.”

When asked what he would do to ensure that any Palestinian state in the West Bank wouldn’t fall into Hamas hands, Hermesh answers:

“I’m not saying these are [Kadima leader] Tzipi Livni’s views, but my view is that we should arrive at a two state solution after a process of maybe 15-20 years…We should let the Palestinians know now that they can get a state but only after they pass certain benchmarks (“Avnei Derech”) along the way…This will be to make sure we won’t get a terrorist state…”

Hermesh  says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plan of building up the Palestinian economy should occur in the meantime.

Hermesh adds that although Netanyahu presents himself as one who doesn’t make concessions, “remember  it was Netanyahu [when he was last Prime Minister] who agreed at Wye Plantation [on October 23, 1998] to give the Palestinians a port in Gaza and an international airport [which never actually happened]..Netanyahu gave that away to them for nothing…Thank G-d that the Palestinians never got these things…Could you imagine the weapons Hamas would have been able to get if they had a port or an airport?”

Referring to former Foreign Minister Livni’s recent negotiations with the Palestinians,  Hermesh says:

“Three things were clear  from Livni’s negotiations:

“ 1) when a Palestinian state is established, there will be no Palestinian refugees let into Israel-the Palestinian state will be for the Palestinian refugees…The Palestinians quietly accepted this.

 “2) regarding final borders, we [Israel] will leave most of the West Bank except for the  large settlement blocks as per  President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon …About 3-6 %  of the West Bank will remain in our [ Israel’s] hands and there could be land swaps to make this up to  the  the Palestinians… 

“and 3) East Jerusalem will go to the Palestinians.”

On Jerusalem, Hermesh says, “I understand what it means to give up East Jerusalem…I was one of the paratroopers who liberated East Jerusalem in 1967…but it [ a division] of Jerusalem will have to be done…and if an arrangement for the Old City was the only thing standing between us and the Palestinians, a solution could be arrived at…”

He adds, for example, that “Shuafat [the Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem] should really become a part of Ramallah.


 On Hermesh’s kibbutz [Kfar Aza], when Hamas  attacks, there “are no protected  areas or rooms so we have to get to  bomb shelters.” Up until May 2008, according to Hermesh, when Hamas fired kassam’s from Gaza, at least kibbutzniks had a 15 second warning to get into shelters.

“But in May 2008, a member of our kibbutz was killed from an attack  by a mortar shell…With mortar shells, you get no warning at all, not even the  15 seconds…it takes only  all of 5 seconds from the launch of a mortar shell until it lands... people got especially frightened…10 families left the kibbutz…” he says.

“It will cost 35 million shekel to construct 250 fortified rooms for our kibbutz…It has to be done, otherwise people will continue to leave”, he says, noting that 65% of his kibbutz, usually a Labour stronghold, voted for Kadima this past election.

Hermesh doesn’t regret Israel leaving Gaza,  but  says “if we made a mistake, it was the fact that [we left unilaterally and] we didn’t make arrangements with the PA to  give them the key…”


Hermesh refers to “Arik “Sharon, as “a personal friend:

“We used to meet at  my place and his ranch , with his wife Lily and my wife….A lot of Sharon’s personal friends were kibbutzniks…Although we were friends, Sharon and I  never agreed politically with each other,” he says. 

When asked if he believes the theory that Sharon evacuated Gaza, because he foresaw that it would end up being a terrorist state and then Israel wouldn’t be required to give up the West Bank, Hermesh, a former mayor of  Sha’ar HaNegev, responds:

 “I can’t believe that [when he evacuated Gaza, unilaterally], Sharon imagined the massive rocket attacks we would face.. He lived in the area … He knew the people there…In retrospect it was a mistake for Sharon not to have given a massive response when the first qassam fell on Israel after we withdrew from Gaza…

“I believe that…after the Russian aliya ended, Sharon realized that we couldn’t have both a Greater Israel and a Jewish democratic state…If Gaza had been quiet [after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal], Sharon would have given up more areas in Judea and Samaria… he would have kept the big settlement blocks around Jerusalem and he would have kept the Jordan valley, as part of an agreement with Jordan, as a security belt, and he would have kept Hebron.

“ I never agreed with him on keeping Hebron for  holy [religious] reasons.…I would tell him that it wasn’t worth it to cause new graves in order to protect old graves [the tombs of the Patriarchs],” says Hermesh.

Hermesh also says Sharon  decided to give the  Palestinians control over the Philadelphi corridor, notwithstanding military advice, “because his legal advisors told him that according to international law if you hold onto any piece of land [in Gaza], then Israel would  be legally responsible for  the Gaza strip’s education, health, and for everything…There were military advisors who said  Israel should have kept Rafah and its 70 to100 thousand Gazans,  but Arik Sharon was a totalist for good and for bad.”

As for the future, Hermesh, who is serving his second term in the Knesset says, “I have to start criticizing Netanyahu. That’s my new job now. I’m not used to criticizing the government."

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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