Meridor: Talks won’t ‘yield results’

Deputy PM fears Palestinians will avoid making “tough decisions.”

By
May 5, 2010 04:34
Dan Meridor

Dan Meridor 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

With US Mideast envoy George Mitchell scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and finally begin US mediated indirect talks with the Palestinians, Deputy Premier Dan Meridor – who along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak represents the “moderate” flank in Netanyahu’s seven-minister inner cabinet – told The Jerusalem Post a day earlier that indirect talks would lead nowhere.

In an interview that will be published in full in Friday’s Post, Meridor, who is in charge of intelligence and atomic affairs, said he was afraid the Palestinians were trying to avoid making “tough decisions,” by maneuvering the US and the world into imposing a solution to the conflict.

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A senior government official, meanwhile, said late Tuesday evening that it was not certain that the indirect talks would start as expected with the Mitchell-Netanyahu meeting on Wednesday, and placed the blame on the Palestinians for adding an additional hurdle. The official would not elaborate.

According to the official, Netanyahu and his staff completed all the preparations for starting the talks, and would be glad to start them at the meeting with Mitchell. The official said the hope was that the Palestinians would not, as he said they appeared to be doing, delay the resumption of negotiations.

Meridor said a Palestinian attempt to avoid making tough decisions and bring about an imposed solution “won’t work.”

“This won’t work,” Meridor told the Post. “And I think the Americans tell this to the Palestinians. I think the corridor we go through, the entrance we go through to the [direct] talks – indirect talks, proximity talks – will not yield results. I hope yes, but think not. Everyone will want to pull America to their own side, and they won’t get closer, [rather] they will get farther apart...

“I think we need to go quickly to direct talks, in which we’ll have to make tough decisions, and they will have to make tough decisions,” Meridor said.

No one, he said, not the US, the European Union or the UN, can decide “for us that French Hill [in northeast Jerusalem] is Palestine, or Ma’aleh Adumim [east of the capital] is Palestine. They cannot do that. We need to come to an agreement.”

And this agreement, Meridor said, will only come through direct negotiations and tough decisions by both parties. He defined tough decisions as those that go against the “expectations of your own people.”

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Meridor said Menachem Begin’s decision at Camp David in 1978 to cede Sinai to Egypt, as well as Anwar Sadat’s decision to come to Jerusalem in 1977, were examples of “tough decisions.” He also cited the Oslo process, which he voted against and thinks was a mistake, and Netanyahu’s announcement last summer at Bar-Ilan University that he would accept a demilitarized Palestinian state, as examples of tough decisions made by Israeli leaders.

“I haven’t seen Palestinian leaders taking tough decisions, this is the bottom line,” Meridor said. For Palestinians, comparable “tough decisions” would be acknowledgement that Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to Israel, or the acceptance of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one.

Because of a failure of the Palestinian leadership to make the tough decisions needed to “end the conflict,” Meridor said he was skeptical of the likelihood of getting an agreement within a short time.

Therefore, alongside negotiations for an agreement – a paradigm that represents a top-down approach to solving the conflict – what is needed in parallel is to continue with Netanyahu’s bottom-up approach that he articulated at Bar-Ilan University, Meridor said. This approach, which he said the government was committed to, includes building more institutions for the future Palestinian state, and improving both the economy and law and order in the West Bank.

Israel, Meridor said, has a “very keen interest” in moving the peace process forward, even if everything could not be solved right away. He said it was an illusion to believe that the relatively “good situation now, with no terror,” was sustainable over the long term without diplomatic progress.

“Because if there are not two states here, there will be one state,” Meridor said. “If this one state is to be what we know to be a democratic state, there is a danger to the whole Zionist project. Because you can’t have a South Africa here. Nobody wants it, nobody has that in mind.”

Palestinians “already preparing the ground for the failure”

Meanwhile, during a briefing at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday morning,  Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz, head of Military Intelligence’s Research Division, told MKs that the Palestinians were “already preparing the ground for the failure” of the proximity talks.

He said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wanted to paint Israel in a negative light in order to bring about its global isolation.

“Although the PA president is interested in an agreement with Israel, his flexibility on the core issues is limited, and we don’t see any real attempt at being more flexible on the essential matters,” Baidatz said.

He added that the Palestinians – and, for that matter, the Syrians – were interested in securing a peace deal with Israel, but that they felt that Netanyahu was not a good partner for talks.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with Mitchell on Wednesday, and even though this is being touted as the long sought after start of indirect, or proximity, talks, the modalities of how it will all work are still unclear. Mitchell is then expected to meet with Abbas on Friday. He is scheduled to leave the region on Sunday.

This is the same type of shuttle diplomacy that Mitchell has engaged in over the past year, and one senior diplomatic source said it was not clear what would be different now under the “proximity talks” rubric. The official said that the immediate issues that would need to be discussed would be the modalities and goals of the new framework, as well as what issue to discuss first.

Although the Palestinians are keen on the two sides first tackling the question of borders, Israel wants the first issues to be security and the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Even though the so-called core issues – Jerusalem, security, borders and refugees – are to be discussed during the indirect talks, one official noted that other preconditions the Palestinians set for the talks, such as a complete building freeze in the settlements and in east Jerusalem, were not met.

In a related development, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Tuesday he would host Netanyahu in Ottawa during a working visit to Canada on May 31.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu to Canada,” Harper said in a statement issued from his office. “Our countries have a close and enduring friendship which we are working to further strengthen. There is tremendous respect in Canada for the courage, resilience and determination of Israel and its people.”

Netanyahu’s office confirmed the visit, saying the prime minister would travel to Canada, whose government is one of the most supportive of Israel in the world, in the last week of May.

Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.


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