Exclusive: Orlev on settlements

Says he would close down a W. Bank settlement rather than a religious school.

zevulun orlev 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
zevulun orlev 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
In comments likely to complicate the already strained effort to forge an electoral alliance with the National Union, MK Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the National Religious Party, has said he would rather close down a West Bank settlement than a state religious school. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Orlev also said he would back minimal territorial compromises for the sake of "real" peace. "I think that God promised all of Israel to the nation of Israel," he said. "I do not want to give up anything... But it's clear that in a real peace agreement Israel will have to give up something." Orlev said it was terrible to lose a settlement, but that the physical space remained after it was gone, and thus "I can always have the hope of returning." If a school was lost, by contrast, the students wouldn't return. So "sacrificing a state religious school is worse than sacrificing a settlement." Stuck on a cabinet in his small Knesset office is a small orange sticker that says: "We won't forget Gush Katif." But Orlev, in the interview, said he was dismayed that his potential election partner, the National Union, had re-embraced the orange of the anti-disengagement campaign as the central focus of its election campaign and was running under the slogan "Orange Now." He wanted the partnership, he said, since surveys suggested that the two parties running together would fare better than if they ran separately. But the National Union would have to agree to his wider agenda, with a prime focus not on Greater Israel but on education. Although there were many ideals binding the two parties, such as the fact that their children go to the same schools, sing the same nationalistic songs and pray in the same synagogues, he said he differed from the National Union in that he preferred not to rely on an "all-or-nothing strategy." Orlev said there was still a week or two in which to try and reach an agreement on alliance, which he said he hoped would yet prove feasible. Similarly, National Union chairman Benny Elon told the Post he was ashamed that the two parties had not been able to come to an agreement, but still hoped they would find common ground. Nonetheless, for now, the National Union has pledged to make preservation of the settlements its top election campaign priority, while Orlev wants to place the fate of Judea and Samaria in a wider agenda led by education, Jewish identity and social welfare. "To help the 'orange,' you need the assistance of all the other colors," said Orlev, while acknowledging that his fellow NRP MKs stood to the right of him politically. "Those who want to fight for Ofra have to fight for Kiryat Shmona. Those who fight for Beit El have to fight for Sderot." The platform Orlev has outlined for his party calls for a national referendum as the basis of any coalition agreement for a future government. He said he would remain in a government that relinquished land in the territories, as long as it did so after putting the issue to a public vote. "I would be willing to accept the results of a referendum," he said. "I do not think that in today's world we will be able to rule over three million Arabs," he noted, adding "I think it would be good for these three million Arabs to a national identity." But Orlev said he opposed a separate Palestinian state, because Jordan remained the true Palestinian state given its majority Palestinian population. "It's just a matter of time before the winds of freedom and democracy come to the Palestinians in Jordan," he said. He posited that this state could extend sovereign "branches" into major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank. This would leave the overwhelming majority of territory in Judea and Samaria under Israel's control, he said. Orlev would not specify, however, the precise dimensions of such a territorial accommodation. "Why do I have to say now what my compromise will be, when the second side isn't even ready for compromise?" he asked. "I only say there is no agreement without compromise." An agreement could only be contemplated when the desire for peace was evident in Palestinian culture and in the Palestinian educational system, he went on. Palestinian schools, "to my sorrow, are an incubator for martyrs," Orlev said. "In their books, Israel is not on the map. Look at the media, look at the cartoons. A real peace agreement is not just a diplomatic plan, but must also involve a change in cultural attitudes. Take [a Palestinian] 11th-grade civics textbook and you will understand." (See 'Orlev's dilemma,' Page 24. The full interview with Orlev will appear in the 'Post' next week.)