Israel's Intelligence Chief on Iran, Settlements, & Peace Prospects

In an interview with SPIEGEL, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor, 62, speaks about Prime Minister Netanyahu's upcoming visit to Berlin, the chances for a new peace process in the Middle East and why the world can't let Iran get its hands on nuclear weapons.

SPIEGEL: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting George Mitchell, the United States' special envoy to the Middle East, this Monday in London before coming to Berlin on Wednesday. Will we see a very confident and relaxed Benjamin Netanyahu or a politician whose hardline policies have put him under a lot of pressure?

Dan Meridor: I don't think we are hardline. But if you'd like to characterize our government in this way, you are entitled to do so. But please take into account the fact that the position of Israeli's prime minister is unique. The Israeli prime minister is confronted with problems you don't see as head of the government in Switzerland, Norway or even Germany. These are questions of a different scale and magnitude: a dramatically changing society, the absorption of immigrants and borders that are not yet defined and are challenged all the time. These are questions of the legitimacy of the state -- and its very survival.

SPIEGEL: And because of that ...

Meridor: ... you need to be relaxed and very stable as an Israeli politician. You can't try to meet all the expectations of the Israeli opposition, foreign powers or journalists. If I may say so, the issues are too serious to be taken at the press level.

SPIEGEL: What does this mean for the peace process and your government's decisions?

Meridor: We face many challenges that we did not create. Our government came in after a very serious attempt by (former Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert to reach an agreement with the Palestinians that offered more than anybody in Israel had ever done. He did not get a positive response. Perhaps Abu Mazen (ed's note: Abu Mazen is the name most commonly used in the Palestinian Authority for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) reacted the way he did because he doesn't control Gaza, where 40 percent of the territories' population lives and into which he cannot even travel. Perhaps Abu Mazen wants even more than just the Palestinian state; but there is nothing more to give. It was Olmert's -- and not our government's -- offer. Surely, nobody expects Netanyahu to offer more than what Olmert offered.

SPIEGEL: Are you not happy with the Palestinian leadership?

Meridor: I don't know. The question is whether Abu Mazen can deliver. Is there a real leadership in the Palestinian camp now? Do we have a partner for a peace process?

SPIEGEL: You blame Palestinian intransigence. Western leaders are, of course, demanding that the Arab side compromise on some issues. But they are also putting pressure on Israel to make concessions, as well, especially when it comes to its aggressive settlement policy in the West Bank.

Meridor: There is no such policy.

SPIEGEL: You don't regard new settlements in the occupied territories as being a major stumbling block in the peace process?

Meridor: That's exactly why we aren't building new settlements. We haven't approved any.

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