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

Meridor: Again, not accurate. These are not preconditions. The Old City with the Jewish Quarter and the Wailing Wall will never be part of an Arab state; all the major Israeli parties share this conviction. There could be a compromise on land in Judea and Samaria (ed's note: these areas are the biblical names for what is now referred to outside of Israel as the West Bank). But all Israeli governments have agreed on having a united Jerusalem. This is our clear position, but we can negotiate about Jerusalem. There are no preconditions, as you claim.

SPIEGEL: How much of the occupied land would you be willing to give back? By allowing the settlements to grow, aren't you more or less making a viable Palestinian state impossible?

Meridor: The final borders are open for discussion. But we will not return to the line of 1967 -- that's for sure. It was agreed in both President Bush's letter to Olmert and in the Geneva understandings that the settlement blocks would be part of the State of Israel in the final agreement.

SPIEGEL: Put yourself in the shoes of a Palestinian leader: Would you be satisfied with the fractured state that Netanyahu is offering -- which doesn't include an army, control of your air space and East Jerusalem as your capital?

Meridor: I'd accept it. You know, I would like the whole land to be my land -- because I think it's mine and they think it should all be theirs. But I changed my mind over 15 years ago: We need to divide it, and both sides have to accept this. For a long time already, we had a difficult, but very positive process.

'People Can Compromise, But Gods Never Compromise'

SPIEGEL: Are you saying that there is no longer any peace process?

Meridor: We hope it will resume, and we have some hopeful signs. But, all in all, it has become more difficult over the years because of the introduction of religion into this conflict. Arab rulers hated us in the past, but they did it because of nationalistic ideas. Since the (1979) revolution in Teheran, we hear a different tune: The Iranians, Hezbollah and Hamas fight us in the name of religion. This is very bad because people can compromise, but gods never compromise.

SPIEGEL: Are you sure that the Iranians introduced religion into the conflict? Isn't Jerusalem about religion, too? Aren't the ultraorthodox settlers claiming the Holy Land for themselves because of their God-given rights?

Meridor: You can't compare these things. The previous pope (John Paul II) said that Jerusalem is sacred to all religions but was promised to one people. We have no religious claim on Jerusalem; we have a national one. Jerusalem is our capital. We shouldn't talk about the settlements 90 percent of the time and neglect the most important problems ...

SPIEGEL: ... like Iran and nuclear weapons.

Meridor: This is certainly a cause of serious concern.

SPIEGEL: John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, recently claimed that Israel will attack Iran's nuclear sites by the end of the year. Although the well-informed Israeli newspaper Haaretz did not give an exact timetable for such an attack, it did report that Netanyahu has made the decision to bomb Iran. Is this true?

Meridor: I don't think the prime minister has made up his mind in the way it has been described. But I don't want to get into details ...

SPIEGEL: ...which is a pity. And that's because you -- as the minister of intelligence and atomic energy and a member of Netanyahu's inner circle -- should know.

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