Several weeks ago, I was among the 100 American Jewish leaders who signed a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging him to work with Secretary of State Kerry and to take concrete steps that would demonstrate Israel’s readiness to make peace with the Palestinians. The letter was initiated by the Israel Policy Forum.
As expected, the letter drew much negative response, both from rightward leaning American and Russian Jewish leaders and, most recently, from Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin.
But there were compelling reasons to sign on, and while I have long been concerned with issues of territories and peace, it seems to me that they have taken on special urgency in recent months. And I say this because Israelis whom I respect and who deserve our attention have been saying so.
Dan Meridor served as a minister in the Netanyahu government and a member of the security cabinet from 2009 to 2013. An expert on security and intelligence issues and on the Iranian threat, and a member of Likud for most of his 31-year political career, Meridor was interviewed by Nachum Barnea of Yediot Acharonot as he concluded his tenure. The interview appeared on March 29.
Asked his thinking on the fact that the Palestinian issue has been given low priority by the current government, he responded that “this is a terrible mistake.” “The world does not believe,” he said, “that we want to arrive at a two state solution. Our peace policy is not in harmony with our settlement policy. You can have one of two things—you can have the whole Land of Israel and give the Palestinians full rights, or you can divide the territory into two states. But it is not right to talk about negotiations while settling throughout the territories.”
Meridor’s recommendation was that Israel should call for negotiations on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel should not, he made clear, agree to return to the 1967 lines or to accept refugees, but the Peace Initiative could still be a framework for talks. He said that he would also transfer additional authority to the Palestinians but without withdrawing the Israel Defense Forces from its current positions, and he would announce a cessation of building outside of the major settlement blocs.
Meridor expressed his concern about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s view that either Israel had to move toward a comprehensive political agreement or the current situation had to continue. “I think that the current situation is dangerous,” he warned. “I am afraid of the day when they will say—we don’t want an agreement, we don’t want a division (of the land). We want rights.”
And then, of course, there are the views of the six former chiefs of Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, as expressed in the movie “The Gatekeepers.”
This movie has been endlessly debated and analyzed, but in fact its message is both simple and clear: According to the men responsible for maintaining order in the territories for the last 30 years, Israel’s security requires—absolutely requires—that Israel find a way to get out of the territories as soon as possible. Remaining in the territories does not strengthen Israel’s security but undermines it.
The movie does not have an ideological feel. The security chiefs, with few exceptions, do not make political speeches. They just tell the truth as they see it, based on professional considerations and long, hard experience on the ground. For years we have heard political blather from voices on the right, both in Israel and the Diaspora, claiming that remaining in the territories is not a problem for Israel at all; but the clarity and power of what we hear and see in the movie explodes these claims, exposing them as without basis in fact. How in heaven’s name can Israel’s policy be right if ALL the Shin Bet directors feel like this?
Why did I sign the “peace letter”? Because Meridor and the Shin Bet chiefs make a case that dealing with the territories is a matter of considerable urgency for the State of Israel, and because the current government has demonstrated no such sense of urgency—indeed, it has demonstrated little interest at all; because Dan Meridor is a politician of the right, lacking in flash but blessed with insight and integrity, who is entitled to be listened to when he speaks; and because when six Shin Bet directors say Israel must find a way to get out of the territories, Israel should be thinking about how to get out of the territories—and the rest of us should be urging the government of Israel to do just that.