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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Meir Sheetrit, the Transportation Minister and Likud veteran who has joined Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new Kadima party, believes that not a "single additional house" should be built in Judea and Samaria because the "true Zionism of tomorrow" is to settle the Galilee and the Negev.
Ultimately, he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Israel would "have no choice but to leave most of the territories and let the Palestinians establish a state next to us" to guarantee that Israel remain a democratic state with an overwhelming Jewish majority.
Sheetrit, who said he had been promised a prominent position by Sharon on the Kadima slate for the elections, tempered his comments somewhat by adding that he had no objection to someone choosing to build a home in a West Bank area that would remain under Israel's permanent control, if there was room to do so. He indicated that he thought it would be "fair enough" were Israel to permanently control the 5%-10% of the West Bank covered by the major settlement blocs.
But "from my point of view," Sheetrit stressed in the interview, "People who want to build homes should build only in Israel. Build in the Negev and the Galilee. I think that the true Zionism of tomorrow is not to build a single additional house in Judea and Samaria. Only in the Galilee and the Negev."
Sheetrit asserted that, demographically, Israel was "losing" the Galilee and the Negev. "Thousands of homes" could be built there, he said. So "why race to live in all kinds of holes?... We don't need more settlements."
The minister, who noted that he had supported the Oslo accords and that he believes most Palestinians today want to make peace with Israel, said the establishment of Kadima and its opinion poll successes were a victory for his dovish viewpoint. He said the fact that he had been reelected within the Likud over the years demonstrated that many Likud voters felt as he did. Now that the Likud changed and was deadlocked, he said, many erstwhile Likud voters were now backing Kadima.
He pledged that Sharon would be true to his word in ruling out further unilateral disengagement from the West Bank, and said Israel would stay put there for as long as necessary - until or unless the Palestinian leadership dismantled terrorist organizations and thus opened the path to a resumption of peace talks. He also ruled out concessions in Jerusalem and dismissed Palestinian demands to establish their capital in the city.
Strikingly, Sheetrit placed the entire blame for the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks at the door of former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak, who he said had handled negotiations with then-Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in a "ruinous" fashion. He said an accord could have been reached "if people who understood Arab culture had run the negotiation, people who created understanding and trust."
If Yitzhak Rabin had lived, or if Barak's attitude to Arafat had been different, he said, he had "no doubt" that Israel could have made peace with the Palestinian leader.
(See Editor's Notes, page 24, for the full interview.)