Kfar Qassem – A monument in the center of the Arab town commemorates the 49 victims killed by the police called to enforce a curfew of which the population had not been updated in time: it was the Kfar Qassem massacre, in 1956. “At the age of 18 I enrolled in university in Jerusalem. Until then I only knew the tragedy of my family, the suffering of the Palestinian people. There I met Jews for the first time, I discovered that we had a lot in common. It was a turning point. “
Grandson of a survivor of the massacre today Repair Frej, 57, is the Minister for Regional Cooperation, the second Muslim minister in the history of Israel, after ten years in opposition with the left of Meretz, one of the eight parties that form the heterogeneous coalition of Naftali Bennett which ended 12 consecutive years of Netanyahu governments in June.
What does it mean to be a Muslim minister in the Jewish state?
“In Israel live 2 million Arabs, Palestinians of ’48 we call them. How do you reconcile the two identities? It’s like having two mothers: biological and adoptive. You approach the adoptive one and the biological reminds you that it was she who brought you to the world. Help the biological one, and the adoptive one says that you are a fifth column, that you look to the past. But I believe that integration is possible precisely in Israel, because here almost everyone has a double identity and it is up to us to understand which it is what we want to make prevail. We are united by a common destiny “.
Until there is a vote to approve a war with Gaza …
“Life is full of difficult decisions. Israel is my state and I am part of the Palestinian people. It is a dilemma. But you have to look at things from the right angle. First of all, my state, of which I am a public representative. And every state has the right to defend itself. But as a politician, my job is to build alternatives to the military option. “
He recently met with Palestinian President Abu Mazen. Is there an alternative to the next fight?
“Meretz has a mission within this government: to ensure that the two-state solution remains alive. We are here to improve the present, strengthen the cooperation on which the advancement of a political solution is based.”
And with Gaza?
“The odds of a new confrontation with Gaza are lower than those of a non-confrontation. It is not in their interest. In recent months we have increased work permits in Israel, included in high tech for the first time, extended the zone. of fishing and the entry of goods through the crossings. In all the summits in the light of the sun in recent months, not only with Abu Mazen, but also between Bennett and al-Sisi and King Abdullah, the question of Gaza and the Palestinians is fundamental part. And as long as we talk it is an excellent sign “.
How does Meretz move in this government with a strong presence of the nationalist right?
“For 22 years Meretz has been out of governments, it was time to influence from within. Each member of this coalition freezes part of his dreams: Bennett annexation, we the two states. This does not mean keeping silent: my job is to find the ways to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together, to restore dialogue. If we look at the last ten years characterized by the blocking of high-level ministerial visits, there is something new here “.
Can the Abrahamic Accords help the Palestinian cause?
“The Agreements are a fact and will also benefit the Palestinian cause, which for years had fallen into oblivion and re-emerged just when the new alliances took over”.
What is your balance one year after the Agreements?
“Synergies have been created at every level: tourism, trade, agriculture, scientific cooperation, renewable energy. And also a popular awareness that changes the perception of civil society. I am working to strengthen these alliances so that they can represent a beneficial model for those who look at us. , and there are many. Tunisia and Algeria must be able to say: these agreements are a model that we should adopt, a win-win situation. And this also implies taking steps with the Palestinians “.
And what are you doing satisfactory for the Arab countries?
“There is no doubt and they will lead us to openings that we have not seen before with more than one Arab state. Today we have open relations with six Arab states. But there are many others under the table. I say that in a year we will see the fruits”.
Direct flights Tel Aviv – Mecca?
“It is a great dream that I hope we will be able to realize in our cadence. It is not so far from reality, if we remember that before the peace with Jordan, Muslim pilgrims from Israel traveled to Mecca via Amman. And now the flights to Dubai fly over. Saudi Arabia, without agreement … “.
There are those who say that if Trump and Bibi had been re-elected, Riyadh would have joined the Abrahamic Accords and there would have been no rapprochement we see now with Iran.
“Speculation. Saudi Arabia has a special status in the Arab world. It takes time. The Iranian threat has a very significant weight in the regional balance, we work to minimize it and include as many countries in this effort. We and the Saudis are not enemies,” beyond Iran “.
Why are the Emirates not helping Gaza by taking over the role of Qatar?
“The Emiratis want to give concrete aid, not pure welfare that feeds unemployment and misery. We are working together to create industrial areas around the Strip, such as the Arazim Park, which offer professional opportunities, concrete help to give the people of Gaza a horizon” .
How do you sum up the first months of the Bennett government?
“Everyone said: eight parties on opposite poles will not hold up and instead we are establishing ourselves as the government of change: we have stabilized the system, approved the budget after three years, contained the fourth wave of Covid without lockdown. There is a thaw with the Palestinians. . It is the first coalition to include an Arab party. The road is still uphill, but the balance is positive “.
Would he ever have thought of sitting in the same government with Lieberman and Bennett?
“It’s politics. Being part of the coalition has a price. Like Meretz, the condition is that the price does not erase our identity and from our ministries (in addition to his, Health and Environment, ed) we can counterbalance. On the Palestinian question,” which is the central issue on which we are divided, I do not see Bennett making a drastic change that leads to a resumption of peace talks for a political solution. But he fully supports our steps towards rapprochement at the civil and economic level “.
What do you think of Mansour Abbas (leader of the Islamist Ra’am party)?
“We both believe that Israel is our state, but Mansour comes from a religious approach, more similar to that of the haredim. By joining the government, he took a historic step that will still be talked about a lot: he gave legitimacy to the Arab minority to be part of the state at every level has broken a taboo. I think it is the winning path that most of the Arab citizens of Israel wish for. But as with the Abrahamic Agreements, here too what will make the difference will be the results on the ground ” .
And does he have hope?
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.”