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Israeli Defense Minister Responds To String Of Stabbing Attacks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Israel's defense minister has stark advice for his country's citizens; prepare to be attacked. Moshe Ya'alon gave that advice while talking with us about stabbing attacks on Israeli Jews.

What do you do about that as the minister of defense?

MOSHE YA'ALON: First of all is directing our people, our civilians, to be aware, to be ready that they might be stabbed in a minute and then what to do in such case.

INSKEEP: Ya'alon added that police respond, often killing the attackers. We met the defense minister as he visited Washington. He was talking with U.S. officials about obtaining more weapons and security cooperation. And in his talk with us in a Washington hotel, he offered insight into the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. In recent weeks, Israeli forces have been deployed in extra numbers in Jerusalem. One question is whether the violence there speaks to larger issues.

Do you view this as political violence with a specific political point being made?

YA'ALON: It's a combination of political and religious violence. And Islam has become a precious, strategic asset for those trying to gain political gains.

INSKEEP: Yesterday on the program, we heard from a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who said, look, I condemn violence. My neighbors condemn violence. I don't approve of these stabbings or what's going on. But he goes on to argue there's a problem here. There are Palestinians who do not have their rights as he - as he sees them. Do you see any connection between the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the lack of a resolution there, and these specific acts of violence?

YA'ALON: I - any Palestinian, to include those who live in East Jerusalem, enjoy political independence.

INSKEEP: What Ya'alon means is Palestinians may vote for Palestinian leaders. But those leaders are allowed no authority in East Jerusalem, which is under Israel's sole control. East Jerusalem's Palestinians may vote for the city's officials but often don't, saying that would validate Israel's occupation. Many Palestinians paint a darker picture of their lives than Ya'alon does.

YA'ALON: They have their own government. They have their own parliament. They vote for their parliament. They don't have to vote to our (unintelligible). They have already political independence. And looking around, I believe that they enjoy quite good life, not to compare to what's going on in Syria and Yemen and even in Lebanon and other countries - Iraq - in the region.

INSKEEP: Israel's population is largely protected from Palestinian areas by security barriers. But that population includes many Arabs who are Israeli citizens. And many of them complain of unequal treatment.

Have you been forced to view Palestinians within Israel's security barrier as a threat?

YA'ALON: The alternative now whether is to live together or not. You can see that we, the Israeli Arabs, we live together. They are part of our society. Here and there, we have problems. But, you know, marginal problems we still - most of them want to integrate in the (unintelligible) Israeli society - most of them. Those who are not ready to work organize a Jewish state, they fight us by all means - political, terror, violence, stabbings, whatever.

INSKEEP: Some people will know that in specific instances, individual Palestinians have had their residency rights revoked or there's been discussion of revoking their residency rights. More broadly though, has this government begun thinking about whether the status of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem needs to change in any way?

YA'ALON: No, there is no need to change. I believe that the current situation in which they have the right to vote for the Palestine Authority and they have the right to vote to their municipality, it's the best idea. You know, if there was no terror, we might have been considered some other solutions.

INSKEEP: Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya'alon said another thing. He called the situation relatively calm, at least in this sense. Despite knife attacks, Israel does not at the moment face suicide bombs. Ya'alon views Israeli security forces as managing the situation. We will hear more from Israel's defense minister tomorrow, when we ask about the wider turmoil across the Middle East. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.