Today in Hebrew class our teacher handed out photocopied sheets of headlines from Israeli newspapers, which is always my favorite exercise. A few of them were about political issues, and we ended up talking about Iran and Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for a good chunk of time, so I was inspired to comment on some recent issues.
Last Thursday my Negotiating Middle East Peace professor notified us of an article in the upcoming issue of the Ha’aretz weekend magazine, an interview with Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor. Meridor is known as one of the more dovish members of the Knesset, even though he rejoined Likud after his Centre Party, which he co-founded in the late 1990s as a moderate group to challenge Netanyahu on the right and the Labor Party’s Ehud Barak (the current Minister of Defense and past Prime Minister) on the left.
The interview is quite long, so I’ve picked out the good parts. This first quote really illustrates the different positions and opinions within Likud before Ariel Sharon split from the party to form the center-left Kadima:
“Likud is supposed to be a liberal national movement that is also concerned with equality among individuals, with human rights. I’ll tell you something: In late 2002, then prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed me to prepare a peace plan along with senior aides Dov Weissglas, Amos Gilad and Ephraim Halevy. I sat down with him to understand what he had in mind, and we came to the issue of the Arabs voting. And then he said: ‘Maybe they’ll vote in Amman?’ And I told him: ‘Sure, and you’ll vote in Jamaica.’ He asked: ‘Why Jamaica?’ And I said: ‘Why Amman? They live here. Voting is not a ceremonial thing. A person is entitled to shape the laws that govern his life in the place where he lives.’”
The interviewer also asked Meridor about the possibility of a binational state:
“I don’t want to reach the day when the two-state paradigm is replaced by a one-state paradigm.”
On what he thinks should be the next step:
“I’ve come to a very painful conclusion, that a decision must be made. If we hold onto the entire land, we will not be able to remain a democracy, we will not be able to preserve human rights, equality, because the result will be a binational state. Even if we’re not a minority, even if we comprise up 55 percent. That’s no longer a Jewish state with an Arab minority, that’s a state of two peoples who share the government. If we then want to maintain a situation in which only we have rights and they don’t, that’s what Begin meant by ‘Rhodesia’ [apartheid].”
This brings me to the State of Israel’s most significant paradigm, that of the three incompatible goals. Israel wants 1) a Jewish state, 2) a democracy, and 3) the entire Land of Israel, but it is only possible to have 2 out of the 3 simultaneously. For example, you can have a Jewish state and a democracy, but you can’t also have the entire Land of Israel because of the sizable and exponentially-growing Arab population within the borders. In a democracy the Arabs would be able to vote in elections, and if all of the Biblical land of Israel were incorporated into the State of Israel, Arabs would constitute the majority of the government and thus Israel would lose its Jewish character. If Israel “holds on to the entire land,” as Meridor says, it will have to become a binational state.
“One thing that worries me is that if Abu Mazen said no even to Olmert’s supposedly very far-reaching offers, when Olmert really wanted an agreement, then how will we reach an agreement? Does anyone think that we’ll give more than Olmert gave? It’s inconceivable. Therefore, on the other side I don’t see the leadership, the leadership ability, and the leadership’s ability to impose an agreement. If the Palestinians accept our conditions for a final status accord, I’m ready to sign it tonight. I have no reason to drag things out. I have nothing to gain from that. But what’s the problem? Looking at it realistically, that’s not how it is. Because there are the tough questions, and Jerusalem is the toughest of them all, because we are not prepared – I am not prepared – to view Jaffa Gate as being abroad. Absolutely not.”
In September 2008 Olmert offered Abu Mazen (a.k.a. Abbas) 94 percent of the West Bank and would compensate the last 6 percent by adding a piece of territory close to Gaza in the Negev. This is the most generous known offer an Israeli Prime Minister has ever made, and as Meridor says it’s the maximum. He also calls Jerusalem “the toughest question” that would keep him from signing a “fnal status accord” if the Palestinians accepted Israel’s conditions. I think he puts it really well when he says that he is not prepared “to view Jaffa Gate as being abroad.” Neither am I; he says it with so much sentiment, and I think that attests to the fact that Jerusalem is the most emotional issue of the Conflict. Emotional attachments are not easily broken, and the Jews’ affinity for Jerusalem is more than just a millenia-old love affair. It’s hard to say the same about the West Bank settlements or the refugee problem. At least someone important agrees with me that Jerusalem is the most significant obstacle of the game.
Meridor also says that the price of an accord with Syria would be withdrawal from the Golan Heights. He doesn’t say outright whether or not he supports such a political move, but he emphasizes that back in the early 2000s he thought Israel should talk to Syria when most other Israelis and America “thought otherwise.” An agreement with Syria, he continues, would make it possible to “simultaneously conclude a peace with Lebanon,” which could weaken Hezbollah. On the subject of Gaza, he does not support withdrawal because “we saw the catastrophic result…after disengagement.”
No matter how much I don’t want to believe it, I think that Israel eventually will give up the Golan Heights in exchange for an accord with Syria, and Meridor is right to link that with a possible peace with Lebanon.
As I said before, the interview is super long, but definitely worth reading for a good window into the current Israeli government.
Now for a few important dates. Fifteen years ago yesterday Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty. President Obama released a nice statement about this, and I’ve boiled it down to a nice excerpt:
“The courage of King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin demonstrated that a commitment to communication, cooperation, and genuine reconciliation can help change the course of history…As we work with Arabs and Israelis to expand the circle of peace, we take inspiration from what Jordan and Israel achieved fifteen years ago, knowing that the destination is worthy of the struggle.”
Speaking of Yitzhak Rabin, tomorrow is the anniversary of his assassination. Weird to think that I was just at Rabin Square, where he was shot, just last Saturday night. He was killed by a right-wing radical Israeli. A lot of Israelis and people all over the world think that he was Israel’s best shot at peace with the Palestinians; he won a the Nobel Prize for his role in the Oslo Accords, and he formally recognized the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization).
I forgot that I also have a really “fun” fact to share, something I learned in my Foreign Policy of Israel class yesterday: Israel and Iraq are still technically at war with each other because they never signed an armistice during the War of Independence which began May 15, 1948 and ended in 1949. Iraq withdrew its military presence from Israel, but they never signed an official armistice.