Zalman Shoval: US-Israel ties will stay strong

Former ambassador to US says when it comes to settlements, the two nations can afford to disagree.

zalman shoval 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
zalman shoval 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When it comes to the issue of settlements, Israel and America can afford to disagree, Zalman Shoval, a former ambassador to the United States, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. More to the point, he said, they have done so now for 40 years. "Certainly there is a division of opinion between Israel and the US on settlements," he said. "There have been divisions for 40 years." So he was among those who, on the morning after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's first meeting at the White House with US President Barack Obama, was not concerned that the differences on the settlement issue that came out of that meeting would damage the relationship. But he did believe that it could cause unnecessary friction. Any American administration must be aware that pressure on this issue could lead to a political crisis inside Israel, which would postpone any chance of tackling the peace process, added Shoval. "Both sides obviously have an important interest in cooperating," said Shoval, who added that he believed both leaders wanted to emphasize points of agreement rather than dwell on matters over which they were at odds. "Experience has shown that with an effort, both sides have successfully minimized these disagreements. Based on our experience from the past, with good will, both sides can make an effort to find constructive or creative solutions to this issue," said Shoval. He used as an example the disputes that arose in the early 1990s between the two countries over this issue, which threatened to harm the loan guarantees that Israel was to receive from the US to resettle the wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. A compromise was reached, he said, in which Israel received the loan and continued to build over the Green Line, though it suffered a small financial penalty. Former US president George Bush and former prime minister Ehud Olmert enjoyed a warm relationship even though they did not see eye-to-eye on the settlements. Bush asked Israel to freeze settlement activity, including natural growth, in his 2002 road map plan. But Shoval said he believed that the letter Bush gave former prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 supported Israel's policy of building for natural growth in those settlement blocs Israel was likely to retain in any final agreement. Although verbal disagreements were expressed on this issue throughout the Bush's tenure, Israel continued to build in the settlements. Shoval, who has served as an external diplomatic adviser for Netanyahu, said he did not want to appear to represent the government, but said it was his belief that Netanyahu would continue to build in the settlements in spite of Obama's comment. "Israel can't commit to a no-expansion policy in places where hundreds of thousands of people live in major settlement blocs. We won't agree to the idea that places where Israelis live in will be deemed illegal for Jews to live by law in the future," he sad. Information and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said it was his understanding that the government had every intention to continue building in settlements to meet natural growth. He quoted the statement by President Shimon Peres made earlier this month that "Israel cannot instruct settlers in existing settlements not to have children or get married." "It is out of the question that we will stop construction," he said. "I am not talking about doing things under the table in the middle of the night," added Edelstein, saying, rather, that it should be a clear policy that the government plans to build in places that it believes will continue to belong to Israel in the future.