[With thanks to IMRA for bringing this to our attention]
A day before the current government was sworn in, on April 17, former Knesset member Uzi Landau found out he has prostate cancer. This grave news came on top of the Likud defeat in the elections, his personal failure to obtain a realistic place in the party’s Knesset list and the failure of the rebellion he had led in the Likud to stop the disengagement.
At age 63, after 22 years in politics as a Knesset member and a minister, and after two turbulent years as head of the rebel group, Landau suddenly found himself outside the political game, with a cancerous tumor to fight. He is an organized man, stubborn and rational; predictably he saw no symbolism between the newly found tumor and the blow to his political career.
After consulting several doctors, Landau decided on a treatment strategy, and he had a successful operation a month ago in Paris. Fortunately the tumor was discovered at an early stage and had not spread.
Granting a first interview since his illness became public, Landau adamantly blocks discussing it or how he has coped. He sums up the ordeal with typical briefness and distance. “Prostate cancer is very common among men”, he says.
“I had to treat it. I consulted experts. I treated it. That’s it. Now I’m in after-care.”
“Now” is the middle of August 2006. Precisely a year to the Gaza disengagement, a week from the end of the second Lebanon war, which of course Landau links to the Gaza withdrawal, eight months from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s exit from the political arena. A different era.
He arrives for the interview in sandals, far from the buttoned-up image of Landau the politician. These days he is looking into a few job offers in the private sector and academia; he has a doctorate in civil engineering.
He does not miss politics nor most of the politicians. He stays in touch with Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, and Knesset members Natan Sharansky and Moshe Kahlon, but says he has no intention of returning to political life. A man who was one of the media’s most celebrated politicians in the two years prior to the disengagement has not been seen on televisions screens for several months. He is forgotten, along with all of his fellow rebels, who held center stage in the public discourse for a long while.
You probably want to shout out that you were right? Qassams, Katyushas.
Landau: “I have nothing new to say. It doesn’t interest me to say I was right. Nothing came as a surprise. The disengagement caused a terrible split in the nation, has promoted the radicals and made Hezbollah understand that the Jews understand only force. We are now in a much worse situation than we were a month ago. But I was made to look delusional, because part and parcel of the campaign against the disengagement opposition was a nonsensical discourse. They said I was a war monger.”
Surely you assess the next war to be approaching?
“The odds are much greater today of a war with Syria. The only possibility to prevent a war is to make clear to everyone that you are ready for it. Because when you face a terror organization that sees you as cobweb, there is no way to avoid confrontation. We found ourselves in the current conflict in Lebanon because we were not ready to take chances, so we paid a heavier price. If a Palestinian terrorist is released now from prison, we are laying the foundations for the next kidnapping.”
Do you sympathize with those calling for Olmert, Peretz and Halutz to resign?
“Yes. In any normal country the trio would not be allowed to go on functioning. You don’t have to wait for outsiders to tell you so. This is our tragedy. I was disappointed. I thought Olmert would behave differently.
I expected him to be firm. I thought we would end this war on a different note. This is a trio of unworthy people. Olmert is very clever. He knows how to make decisions, but not regarding policy and war. Peretz has no understanding whatsoever. He speaks of negotiations with Syria, so the Syrians are confident that we lost, since they understand only force. And we have a foreign minister who is doing her internship in foreign policy.
All of this at Israel’s most difficult period, with the public paying the price.”
The question of whether a state commission of inquiry should be established brings him back to the days of Sharon and releases pent-up anger against the media:
“I’m not a lover of inquiry commissions”, he says, “but I wish a committee would be set up to examine the media, which has to ask itself how it was used as a mouthpiece for the government during the last five years, particularly during the disengagement. It was one of Israel’s greatest tragedies. The country was run by a gang of media spinners, Sharon’s media consultants were only concerned with Sharon’s interest, and not with the country’s interest.
“Journalism in Israel is a cartel. You cannot express yourself, and you cannot conduct a debate. This journalism has deluded the public and prevented a serious discussion. For a long time there was a desire to keep the facade. Even now the same interviewers are inviting the same commentators and the same consultants and all those who drove us into the mud. For 13 years the elite has been explaining to us that we are the occupation and justice is with the Palestinians. We were brainwashed that the Israel Defense Forces cannot win, that it is all about the occupation. No real debate took place.
“Oslo does not represent only a physical withdrawal. It was a mental withdrawal. The entire country was reprogrammed. We escaped from Lebanon. The Four Mothers model also hurt us. All the rhetoric since has rendered Israel’s rational capacity impotent.”
But the public did not go for your proposal. The disengagement happened and the great revolution failed.
“I don’t think that the rebels failed. That period was the height of my political activity in my 22 years of Knesset membership. We proved that not everyone in the Likud is for sale.”
The disengagement took place, you brought about the splitting of the Likud, and most of you stayed outside the Knesset. That’s a failure.
“The Likud would have split in any case. Maybe we shouldn’t have voted against the appointments of Ministers Ze’ev Boim and Ronnie Bar-On in the second round. We gave Arik an easy way out. Ruby Rivlin told me, ‘Arik is looking for an excuse to leave the Likud, so even if he intends to appoint a horse, I am going to vote for it. I will not give him an excuse.’ In retrospect, Ruby was right.”
Landau, the leader who contended for the party leadership, was left without a relevant central message. Without a real opponent. At the end of the day he also forfeited the dream, withdrew his candidacy and teamed up with Netanyahu. These were already the days of his political decline. In the Likud’s elections for the Knesset list, he found himself 14th, an unrealistic place.
Landau believes that the combination of his inexperience at wheeling and dealing and punishment for spliting the Likud kept him out of the Knesset. He says he had lost the joy of politics and hoped not to be elected: “On my way to the trade fairs, while I was listening to the polls on the radio, I said to myself, ‘I wish the Likud would not reach 14 mandates.’ I didn’t want to be in this Knesset.”
Do you think of Sharon sometimes?
“Of course. I also have had several conversations with Omri. On a personal level, I am grieving. All the ganging up on Sharon was a very difficult thing for me. I appreciated him. In 1973 I was part of his force that crossed the [Suez] canal, and it was a sweet song. All the glory was his. Sharon’s honor is dear to me, but the honor of the country is even dearer.
“To this day it is unclear what he was thinking of with the disengagement. In 1995 Sharon was asked, ‘How did Rabin go to Oslo?’ Sharon replied, ‘Rabin is a different man’. I can say the same of Sharon. He was a different man when he commanded the disengagement. I have no other way to explain it. That is not the Sharon I knew. To this moment I cannot grasp the disengagement issue. As far as I am concerned, it’s the handiwork of media spin.”
Is it like they claim, that Sharon is one of the responsible for the Lebanon failure?
“When I was the minister in charge of secret services overview, we had a cabinet meeting on an occasion when Hezbollah attacked our soldiers. 2001 if I recall correctly. Arik ordered for the first time to respond with an attack on a Syrian target. We took down a Syrian radar station. For me that was like breathing clear mountain air. A government that understands that the real enemy is Syria, and not anyone else. It was one specific operation, but we held to that guideline. In effect, Arik did not deal with Lebanon. We did not deal with the Lebanese issue properly. Naturally all the attention was on the terror.”
Landau sees all the processes that Israel has undergone since Oslo as a consistent weakening, “A slippery slope.”
“I look at the Arabs. When they wage their war against us, they are certain they are right. The Arabs fight for justice, we fight for peace and security. It has a devastating effect”.
According to Landau, the social and leadership conduct since Oslo projects weakness. He finds another expression to this “in the behavior of the Arab Knesset members”, whom he calls a fifth column. “This is our stupidity”, he says. “We are the only country in the world which allows use of the democratic instrument to undermine its Jewish democratic nature. It’s another expression of our inner weakness. Ahmad Tibi cannot be a member of the Israeli Knesset.”
Any thoughts of returning to politics?
“I cannot find a reason to come back to politics today, unless it is to a position from which I have crucial influence. I was already a Knesset member and a minister. On the personal level I have achieved everything a politician could aim for.”