Der Spiegel grills Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor in ways that most Western journalists do not. When Israeli officials lie, call them on it:
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.
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.
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.