'Resumption of peace talks very close'

Israel very close to d

Israel is "very close" to making a deal to restart negotiations with the Palestinians, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor said Sunday. He endorsed the possibility of talking about final-status issues, such as Jerusalem, as part of those negotiations even though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been resisting doing so, but Meridor cautioned against building expectations too high as a result. "Creating hopes and then frustrating them is very dangerous," Meridor warned, during a keynote address at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's fall conference. The US has been pushing Israelis and Palestinians to start talks immediately, including on final-status issues, with Israeli and Palestinian officials making several trips to Washington in recent days, as momentum has been building following months of miscues. Meridor stressed, though, that while talks are going on, Israelis and Palestinians need to continue to focus on improving conditions on the ground. He expressed support for Palestinian plans to build state institutions in the West Bank despite disapproval from other members of the government over the program. Meridor described Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation at the best it's ever been, and credited the Palestinians with many of the recent improvements in the economic and security conditions in the West Bank. "There is no terror," he said, adding, "The economic position in Judea and Samaria is improving every day." But that alone, he said, wasn't sufficient for peace to be made. And, he stressed, "The status quo is not an option." Meridor also declared that should Iran succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, it would end the peace process. "If Iran wins this round," he said, "there will not be a peace process," because with a nuclear weapon the provocations by Iran proxies Hamas and Hizbullah would increase tenfold and "they will not allow the peace process to take place." Meridor expressed skepticism about the US policy of engagement, saying that it's too early to tell whether the process of international powers speaking to Iran recently begun in Geneva would bear fruit. But he sharply the criticized the West for not doing more to boost the Iranian opposition as it challenged the entrenched regime in Teheran after the flawed elections this summer. "Some very clear statements could have helped more," he said, though he acknowledged the process under way was a slow one: "You can't say that change is imminent." In the meantime, he argued that a truly concerted effort by the international community to impose sanctions and isolate Iran could be effective in stopping it from obtaining nuclear weapons. In the face of Russia's reluctance to intensify sanctions, Meridor said Moscow's participation is not a sine qua non for success. There are enough willing nations, he assessed, "to make the life of Iran much harder." Speaking at an event at the same conference the night before, Aharon Farkash, former head of IDF military intelligence and Charles Wald, US European Command's former deputy commander, both warned that Iran could have a nuclear weapons capability by 2010.