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

SPIEGEL: You are sidestepping the issue. US President Barack Obama wouldn't urge Israel to stop its settlement policies if he didn't have a reason to do so. He has demanded an immediate freeze to any expansion, but your government has chosen not to comply. Some of your colleagues in Israel's cabinet are even encouraging the most radical settlers to build new, completely illegal outposts. Just recently, several ministers visited these places and delivered provocative speeches.

Meridor: Ours is a big coalition government with diverging views. What you describe is neither the official policy of Prime Minister Netanyahu nor the official policy of the government.

SPIEGEL: But there is no question that your government is providing financial assistance to the ongoing, provocative expansion of existing settlements. This makes it impossible for the Palestinian leadership to negotiate with you.

Meridor: That's one of your misperceptions. Olmert made an agreement with the administration of former President George W. Bush according to which the Americans accepted that there would be construction within existing settlements. This has been admitted by the deputy national security adviser of the US, and it was recently published in the Wall Street Journal. That did not stop the Palestinians from negotiating with us over three years.

'We Don't Feel Pressured by Obama'

SPIEGEL: Well, the fact is that there is now a new American president who is urging Israel to make this concession. Why is it so difficult for your government to show some restraint and agree to the building freeze, when this is something that the US, the European Union and the United Nations are demanding?

Meridor: We don't feel pressured by Obama. We haven't built any new settlements, so we are fulfilling the understanding. Now there are some ongoing discussions about a compromise.

SPIEGEL: A freeze for the next 12 months?

Meridor: I can't comment on details at the moment because I'm very involved in these things. But, concerning the Palestinians, we are ready to negotiate. We don't want to wait. We said that from day one of our government. But the problem with the Palestinians is a serious one. You can't resolve it unless there is a readiness on their side to accept that, along with a Palestinian state, there is a Jewish state, too.

SPIEGEL: Fatah and its leadership have done it.

Meridor: No, they haven't -- at least not yet. I hope they will. They will only deserve their own state -- something which has never been offered to them in history -- if they do it.

SPIEGEL: What are you willing to negotiate on? Prime Minister Netanyahu needed months before he grudgingly accepted the two-state solution at all. And he didn't use the expression "Palestinian state" until June 14. And then there's the fact that he has announced a number of preconditions, such as that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Meridor: Again, not true. Netanyahu never set these positions as pre-conditions, although these are our strong positions in the negotiations process. Should we not have a position on Jerusalem?

SPIEGEL: Of course you can have a position. But you can't make this position a precondition. In a number of international accords, Israel agreed that the final status of Jerusalem would be part of the negotiations.

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