As the new government convenes this week, the Likud will be missing its leading
advocate for peace, the two-state solution and curbing settlement activity. Dan
Meridor, the outgoing deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and
atomic energy, was unceremoniously dumped by his party as it took a hard turn to
the Right for the recent elections.
Once one of the rising princes of the
Likud, Meridor has long been among Israel’s most respected political
But as the settlers, ultra-religious and nationalists gained
influence, moderates like Meridor were increasingly marginalized and replaced
with hardliners like Moshe Feiglin, an outspoken far-right opponent of any
compromise with the Palestinians.
Peace with the Palestinians was barely
mentioned in the latest Knesset campaign and doesn’t appear on Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu’s agenda for his new government, according to a JTA report
which said his new coalition’s “priorities will be to prevent Iran from
acquiring nuclear weapons, enact budget reform, expand Israel’s mandatory
military conscription and lower the cost of living.”
The peace process is
at a juncture and Israel needs to make a choice: pursue a final-status agreement
or seek interim partial agreements, Meridor said in a conference call from
Jerusalem sponsored by Israel Policy Forum.
“Something needs to be done,”
he said, and President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit may be “a good opportunity
to discuss what and how it may be done.”
The president will not be
bringing an American initiative because the parties themselves are not ready,
and when they are, it will be up to them to take the lead, not Washington, he
told Jewish leaders at a White House meeting last week.
never shown much enthusiasm for the peace process and while it may not be on his
agenda, it is on the president’s – after Iran, Syria, security issues and the
Arab uprisings. Obama will not be repeating his firstyear demand for a
settlement freeze, but he said he still considers settlements a critical
Meridor agrees. He wants to freeze all settlement activity beyond
the security fence and confine growth to the major settlement blocks adjacent to
Israel’s border, an area constituting about 6 percent of the West Bank. He said
a construction halt should not be to accommodate the Americans, the
Palestinians, the Europeans or anyone else, but “because it is in Israel’s best
His persistent calls for stopping settlements and
concentrating efforts on peace negotiations “may be one of the reasons why I’m
not in the Likud party now,” he said.
Israel faces increasing
international isolation and a threat of sanctions, particularly from its
important European trading partners, because of its settlements policy, he said.
“Israel is supported around the world on Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas, but on
one issue, Judea and Samaria, we don’t have that support,” Meridor said. He
echoed reported views of Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s national security adviser,
who has been quoted telling colleagues that Israel’s deteriorating international
standing is attributable to its settlement activity, particularly beyond the
Asked what he would do if he were in charge, Meridor said the
first thing Israel should do is change its settlement policy, and that he would
offer full negotiations with the Arab League and the Palestinians.
need to... change the course on which we are now,” he said. Israel needs to have
a border, and it should be based on the 1967 lines with “mutually accepted
“We want a Palestinian state. We want the blocs to be a part of
Israel,” he said. “This is a major decision. It will indicate our sincerity, our
seriousness.... Israel can’t build settlements all over the place and say it
wants a two-state solution.”
While Netanyahu has said several times that
he supports the two-state solution, he has never taken that policy to his
cabinet or his party for endorsement, Meridor noted.
Palestinians have discussed border changes and land swaps in prior talks, but
not since Netanyahu came to office. Negotiators made considerable progress
during the previous government. “[Then-prime minister Ehud] Olmert offered
everything and got no affirmative response,” he said.
minister and peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, will handle talks with the
Palestinians for the new government. It is unclear how much latitude or backing
Netanyahu will give her.
Meridor opposes unilateral withdrawal from the
West Bank, citing Gaza, where Hamas took control and turned the area into a
launching pad for terrorism, rockets and missiles into Israel. There must be an
agreement on security and a demonstrated Palestinian ability to govern the area,
he said. Meridor fears that without adequate preparation Hamas could try to
overthrow Fatah, as it did in Gaza, “and there could be a bloodbath” between the
two rival factions that could drag Israel into another war.
“I think we
still have an interest in helping as much as we can the PA, the Palestinian
Authority, to survive and control the West Bank. We are willing to talk to the
Palestinians; whether they will talk with us is an open question,” Meridor said.
He believes a vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians “are ready to make the
compromises needed to end the conflict” but the big stumbling block is the
leadership, not public opinion.
Neither side is ready to negotiate final
borders, and he questions whether the Palestinian leadership really wants peace
because that would require them to agree to absorb all Palestinian refugees in
the Palestinian state and to declare and end to the conflict.
He does not
want to see an interim agreement, but if the Palestinians are not ready for
final-status negotiations, including resolving Jerusalem, refugees and declaring
an end to the conflict, that may be necessary.
In that event, Israel
should not stop negotiations or resume construction beyond the fence and the
blocs, he said.
If Israel continues its present course with no
negotiations and no clear borders there will be one binational state from the
river to the sea, and that will be a threat to the Zionist dream of a Jewish
state, he warned. “We need to change our course and do what is