Former ambassador Sallai Meridor 390 (R).
(photo credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters)
If Washington feels a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is possible
in the near future it will become actively involved in securing an agreement
even during an election year, former ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor said
Senior Israeli officials have said in recent weeks they did not
feel Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was interested in serious
negotiations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu now because of the
assumption that US President Barack Obama could not press Netanyahu to make
concessions during an election year.
But Meridor, speaking to journalists
at a “newsmakers forum” sponsored by the Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem
institution, said if the US felt the “parameters” were in place for the sides to
make concessions, the issue would “be on the table even in an election year.”
Meridor, who said he felt Netanyahu has made concessions to the Palestinians,
albeit “probably too late,” stated that after watching Abbas walk away from a
deal put on the table by former prime minister Ehud Olmert, it is hard “not to
have doubts about whether he [Abbas] is ready to make
concessions.” Meridor was ambassador to Washington from 2006-2009, during
Olmert’s tenure as prime minister.
In addition, Meridor said one key
element is absent in the peacemaking equation today – because of the changes in
the region – is the ability of the Arab world to constructively get involved. If
it emerges that “what the two sides can give each other is not enough, and you
need a third party to bring their assets to the table, I’m afraid that is less
likely today,” Meridor said.
During the early days of the Obama
administration, the White House thought Israel’s confidence in making a deal
with the Palestinians could be enhanced by prospects of normalization with the
Arab world. The chances of normalization now, however, are less likely than they
were when this idea was raised in 2009.
Regarding the US presidential
campaign, Meridor said it was paramount for Israel to stay out of the US
elections, even though voters in America do take into consideration the
US-Israeli relationship when going to the polls.
Whether these voters are
numbered in the thousands or hundreds of thousands is not important, the former
ambassador said, because the reality in the US is that a few thousand votes one
way or the other in five key states could make a difference.
Meridor said, the state of the US-Israel relationship is very much on the minds
of Israeli voters when they go to the polls.
“Some would argue that
political players in both countries use this as an element in the campaign,” he
Asserting that bi-partisan support of the American people for
Israel is a vital aspect of Israel’s security and wellbeing, Meridor said Israel
should make every effort not to play – or be perceived as playing – a role in US
politics during an election year.
Meridor declined to comment when asked
whether he thought Netanyahu, on his trip to Washington next month for the AIPAC
annual conference, during which he is also expected to meet Obama, should also
meet with the Republican presidential candidates.
Regarding Iran, Meridor
said Israel and Washington share the same perception of the threat posed by a
nuclear Iran, including the “increasing likelihood that over time there would be
a marriage between terrorism and nuclear [arms].” He quoted one “very,
very senior” American official recently telling a high-level Israeli official
that if terrorists put a nuclear device on a boat headed for a port, it was as
likely the target would be a US port, as an Israeli one.
Meridor said the
gaps in Israel and US assessments of the timeline when Iran will have nuclear
capabilities have narrowed considerably, and if while he was ambassador there
was a one-to-three year difference, now the differences in those assessments are
just a matter of months.
But, he said, that was “only part of the
picture,” hinting that there is a difference in where each country places its
“red line” – the point past which the nuclear situation in Iran is deemed
unacceptable. He indicated the Israeli red line is when the Iranians
cross the nuclear threshold, while the US position is when they begin assembling
a nuclear device.
Another issue regarding Iran has to do with the
question about how certain the US and Israel are of the each other’s actions.
Meridor said that past history, specifically the nuclearization of Pakistan and
North Korea, has led some in Israel to conclude that even if the US is
completely genuine when it says it will not allow Iran to get nuclear capacity,
“many times in life you end up not doing what you might want to
Meridor, quoting Obama’s comments Sunday that Israel and the US were
in “lockstep” regarding Iran, said it takes an “unbelievably high level of
trust, intimacy and sensitivity to be able to work together on such an issue.
That is a major challenge at a very critical moment and facing a very critical
Asked if he believed that level of trust and intimacy existed
between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office, Meridor said he had no
inside information. But, he said, “the gravity [of a situation] in many
cases brings leaders to do more than they would do otherwise.” Meridor
said the mechanisms and networks exist for this high degree of intimacy, “and it
is up to the leaders to make it happen.”
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