Interviewed by Mohammed Hussein*:
Dr. Jacques Neriah, a special analyst for the Middle East at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, was formerly Foreign Policy Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Deputy Head for Assessment of Israeli Military Intelligence. He has written some articles about the Kurdish issue, and his recent one was about Kurdish fighting in Syria.
MH: Why there is no formal relationship between Israel and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and what is the possibility of this relationship?
JN: There is no formal relation between Israel and Kurdistan because Kurdistan is not considered to be independent and right now the Iraqi sovereignty prevails. Since we are at war with Iraq from 1948, you can imagine why we do not have diplomatic relations with Kurdistan. However, on the unofficial level you must know of ongoing relations that have taken place for almost fifty years.
MH: What is the importance of Kurdistan’s geo-politic for Israel, and where can both find common ground for their interests?
JN: Kurdistan is very important strategically since it is at the heart of the Middle East and a bridge between the Middle East and the Asian states. Moreover there is a common destiny between Jews and Kurds that has always existed and creates special bonds with Israel.
MH: Why hasn’t this common destiny developed even some cultural relationships. I can see difficulties with formal political relationships, but why has there been no initiatives to build some sort of cultural relationships?
JN: Well, the Jews who came from Kurdistan and live in Israel have brought with them Kurdistan culture, songs, poems, tradition, even kitchen. It is a pity we do not encourage cooperation in the cultural fields outside Israel and Kurdistan where people can meet.
MH: Do you think the Kurdish factor is becoming more effective in the Middle East with the Syrian crisis, while Kurdish people in northern Syria are about to build their autonomous government as Kurdish people did in northern Iraq in 1991.
JN: Kurdistan has a unique opportunity today to become a reunited Kurdistan with 30-35 million Kurds living in the Kurdish areas. There should be a geographical and political solution that will be accepted by Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Maybe the best thing would be to begin with an expanded autonomy and as a first stage to unite between Kurds in Syria and in Iraq.
MH: What Israeli approach do you expect towards Kurdish expansion In Syria?
JN: Israel definitely backs the Kurds and I believe will intervene in international forums to assist Kurdistan.
MH: How? What should Kurdish leaders do to get this help and find mutual interests with Israel as they have done with Turkey, Iran and some Arabic countries?. Please could you elaborate this point?
JN: Israel has never missed an opportunity to encourage the establishment of a Kurdish homeland. Our prime ministers were all loyal to that pledge, because it is morally just and politically a must.
MH: In your article ‘The Kurdish Awakening in Syria: Could It Lead to Regional War?’ you are talking about regional war. What is the position of Kurds in this? Do you think Kurdish political parties in Syria are ready for this? What attitude do you expect from Israel towards this?
JN: I want to say that freedom has a price to be paid, generally it is a price of blood, sweat and tears. Without it there will be no independence and no one in the world will look in your direction.
MH: Israel helped Kurdish rebels in 1960 in Iraqi Kurdistan, but since the time no Israeli cooperation has been seen. What is necessary to revive relationships between Israel and Kurds?
JN: I prefer not to elaborate. I can only tell that, since the establishment of the Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq, Israelis have been frequent visitors in your area.
MH: How do consider Abdullah Öcalan’s negotiations with Turkey about solving the Kurdish issue there? Do you think Prime Minister Erdogan is serious about ending the Kurd-Turkey conflict?
JN: The Kurdish problem is crucial for Turkey since most of Eastern Turkey is populated with a heavy concentrations of Kurds. To begin with, the Kurds, like the IRA in Ireland and other places, have to abandon the path of terror and concentrate on a political confrontation. This is the only way the US and other western countries will act decisively in order to promote Kurdish independence.
*This interview was conducted for ‘Awene’ newspaper.
Mohammed Hussein lives in Slemani where he is an editor for www.awenene.com. In the last two years he has reported from Iraqi Kurdistan for various Kurdish and English publications. He has also worked as a translator and translated three books into Kurdish.