Israel should freeze all building in the West Bank beyond the line of the security barrier and the settlement blocs, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has told The Times of Israel.
In an acknowledged stark departure from government policy, and a remarkable one for so senior a minister, Meridor said the current relative calm in relations with the Palestinians, and the sharp decline in terrorism, might be producing “an illusion” among Israelis “that this is sustainable in the long term. It is not. It is an anomaly. We need to change it.”
This should be done, he said in an extensive interview, by freezing further settlement “across the line of the blocs or the fence or whatever you call it.”
Meridor, a veteran Likud leader who is also the minister responsible for Intelligence and Atomic Energy, made clear that he was not advocating a full settlement freeze everywhere beyond the pre-1967 “Green Line.”
“Don’t freeze it in Jerusalem or Ma’aleh Adumim or other places like this,” he said in the interview, conducted at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “But don’t build all over the place, because this is the most damaging of all the things that we are doing to ourselves in the world. Because people say: ‘You offer the Palestinians a state. But if you build there in every place, you don’t really mean it.'”
Rather than untrammeled construction, Meridor said, government policy should be focused on widening international support for the expansion of Israeli sovereignty to encompass the major settlement blocs. “We need to use all our efforts, our energies, our resources, to try to add the blocs to Israel,” he said.
“I think we are at the beginning of being able to do it. Because President Obama spoke of swaps, not of [an Israel withdrawn to the lines of] ’67… And Bush spoke of it… So we already see a basic understanding of the paradigm. The state won’t be along the ’67 lines. No way. It will be different, with some compensation. But if we build all over the place, we lose. Even if we don’t have an agreement [with the Palestinians], we need to have a rational policy.”
Meridor said he believed the Palestinians were not seeking a full and final agreement with Israel on statehood any more, but rather a UN resolution unilaterally establishing Palestine. “Two states — they will accept. Not the end of conflict, because that means no right of return.”
He recalled that PA President Mahmoud Abbas chose not to accept the proposals offered by prime minister Ehud Olmert four years ago that met almost all of their ostensible demands. “The whole world,” he said, knows that Abbas “could have had an agreement and he didn’t take it. So why is the whole world after us? Why does the whole world think we are to blame, at least partly or largely?… It is the settlement policy more than anything else.”
Asked why his view did not prevail in the current government, Meridor said, “Other people, very good people, have different views. They think we should not allow a Palestinian state; we should hamper a Palestinian state. I think this is counterproductive and it’s wrong.”
Most Israelis know that we cannot “have the whole land and maintain a democracy,” he said. “This is why the Israeli public went a very long way from where we were 10 or 15 years ago, and 80 percent or 75 percent say in every poll that we accept the two-state solution. This is a historic departure from the idea of Eretz Yisrael Hashlema [Greater Israel].”
He stressed: “The whole land is Jewish historically… I am fully attached to this. There’s no rhetoric. It’s really what I think. But the reality now is that we can’t get all of it and stay a democratic state or a Jewish state, in terms of numbers and in terms of regime. And this is why we need to cut, and I’m ready to cut…
“We know what we want; the blocs, not more than this… And I would focus all my policy now on this… They [the Palestinians] will have a state. I leave it for them. Let them take it. I don’t settle there.”
Meridor said that if Israel could not solve the Palestinian conflict because it lacked a viable partner — “and I’m leaving it as an ‘if'” — then “we need to be in a position where we can handle [the situation] for many more years.” And that meant, he said, “not to blur it and to make one entity from the Jordan to the sea, because it’s damaging and it’s dangerous. So I want to create a line on the ground — it’s more or less the fence line or the blocs line — and say, ‘This is what I want.’ The rest I want but I’m not going to get. I’m giving it to you. Take it. If you don’t take it, it’s there for you.”
Meridor said he would not now “take out by force” Israelis who live beyond his stated lines. “I’ll keep the lives and security of the Jews who live there, of course, as long as there’s no agreement,” said Meridor. “But it’s one thing to keep them there and another thing to build more and invest there.”
(The full interview with Meridor will appear in The Times of Israel later this week.)