Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon: ‘Not very optimistic’ about peace talks

Danny Danon, Israel’s deputy defense minister and a Likud Party leader, said in an interview in Los Angeles on Aug. 1 that he and most Israelis “are not very optimistic” about prospects for peace talks with the Palestinians:  “If you look at the last 20 years, we’ve had a lot of negotiations, a lot of ceremonies in the White House, and nothing major happened.”

In a public speech sponsored by the nonprofit Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors just after the interview, Danon also said, however, that “we should not come to the negotiations with the intent to know what will be the outcome. I support negotiations,” he said, but only “without preconditions.” 

Danon spoke to about 190 people at the Luxe Sunset Boulevard Hotel, offering, in his signature firm and unapologetic style, his positions on Israel’s most urgent challenges — stances that in some cases have created distance between him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fellow Likud member, in recent months.

Danon’s adamant stance against preconditions was shared by Netanyahu, Danon added, until the prime minister “agreed to the release of the [104 Palestinian] prisoners,” who, according to Israeli news reports, are responsible for murdering 55 Israeli civilians, 15 soldiers, a French tourist and dozens of suspected Palestinian collaborators. 

The Palestinians had insisted they would not participate in the talks brokered by United States Secretary of State John Kerry until Israel agreed to the release. Approved by the Israeli cabinet 13-7 on July 28, the prisoners are expected to be released in stages.

Danon came to Los Angeles following a short trip to New York. He told his audience here, “I am against a two-state solution. It is bad for Israel.” And about the West Bank, he said, “We should apply Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.”  

On Iran’s nuclear program, he was equally straightforward: “With all the threats, the main threat is still Iran.” And on U.S. President Barack Obama, he said he looks forward to the 2016 presidential elections: “Today there is somebody in the White House telling us ‘Don’t do that, don’t do that,’ but in three, four years, he will not be there.”

Danon, 42, who was elected in June as chair of Likud’s central committee, has rapidly become a force in Likud, to the chagrin of some of its leaders, not least because he has openly opposed Netanyahu’s positions on several occasions, particularly on the possible creation of a Palestinian state. 

In June, Danon told The Times of Israel that the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu governing coalition would not support any form of a two-state plan, leading Netanyahu’s office to take the uncommon step of announcing on Shabbat that the prime minister still believes in a two-state solution, as Netanyahu had laid out in a 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan.

Echoing his own previous comments, Danon said on Thursday evening, “There will be no majority for a such a [two-state] deal within Likud, and I also believe within the Israeli people.”