Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has emerged as a moderate voice in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. Last month, he split with many of his Likud party colleagues, in arguing that “An attack on Iran wouldn’t add anything to [Israel’s] security.” Today, in an interview published in the Times Of Israel, Meridor delivered harsh words to his colleagues who have overseen the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Meridor warned that the current calm in relations with the Palestinians 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.”
The deputy prime minister urged the government to freeze further settlements “across the line of the [settlement] blocs or the fence or whatever you call it,” a reference to the Israeli West Bank barrier which is partially built along the 1949 armistice line, or “Green Line.”
Meridor emphasized that he was not advocating for a freeze in construction in East Jerusalem, but urged the Prime Minister’s office:
[D]on’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.’
The views expressed in the interview are closer to the Obama administration’s policy of opposing all settlement construction and endorsing a negotiated border between Israel and a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders but with mutually agreed upon land swaps. Meridor 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 Because President Obama spoke of swaps, not of [an Israel withdrawn to the lines of] ’67… And Bush spoke of it… So we already see a basic understanding of the paradigm.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 criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for not accepting the proposal offered by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert four years ago but acknowledged that global public opinion had turned against the Israeli government because of its continued approval of settlement constructions.
While some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, such as Deputy PM Moshe Ya’alon, and right-wing pro-Israel advocates in Washington have suggested that Israel should not allow a Palestinian state, Meridor countered that such a policy could spell the end of Israeli democracy:
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…
Despite admonitions from the State Department, Netanyahu’s government has continued to approve and/or legalize settlement constructions in Jerusalem and the West Bank following the expiration of a freeze on settlement construction in September, 2010.