In exchange for advanced fighter planes and other American goodies, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to freeze settlement construction for the next 90 days to allow for more peace talks with the Palestinians, focusing on borders between Israel and a Palestinian state. But hardliners in his government warn that an attempt to draw lines on a map without simultaneously resolving other outstanding issues, like the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, could destabilize Israel’s governing coalition. One of the critics, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, spoke with NEWSWEEK Jerusalem bureau chief Dan Ephron. Excerpts:
What are the chances of reaching an agreement on the borders in 90 days?
I’m not involved, but what I’ve heard is the Palestinians are ready to have a swap [settlements in exchange for land inside Israel] of 1.9 percent of the territory…and Israel of course asking for 9 to 10 percent.
If the gap is so big, what are you worried about?
I’m not worried. I think we should talk to them…But with freezing the settlements, you’re already saying those settlements are dying. When you can’t build there, the young people have no place to go except within the Green Line. And when the children move, the parents follow them. It’s a different kind of way to evacuate the settlements without even declaring it. But in exchange, Israel is getting serious incentives from the United States.
Obama’s promise to continue vetoing anti-Israel initiatives at the United Nations. The veto is imposed because Israel is an ally, because Israel is a strategic asset…We are the only real ally the United States can rely on.
Geopolitics can change.
They do change. But still, the Middle East is the most important place in the world…It’s very, very important for the United States as well.
So you’re not worried that in a few months the Palestinians will ask the U.N. to recognize a Palestinian state along the ’67 borders and Washington will say to Israel, “You didn’t do what we asked, now fend for yourself”?
The veto cannot be a contract…I don’t think it’s right.
What about the F-35s? That deal is worth $3 billion. In 90 days, that comes out to $33 million a day. Can Israel afford to pass that up?
It’s not 90 days. If it was 90 days, I believe most Israelis would support it. If after 90 days we won’t achieve an agreement about the borders, do you think the Americans will enable Israel to build as it wants?
Of course not. Because they never promised it like that…Believe me, we can do it differently, by putting pressure on the Palestinians to resume talks without preconditions. They had 10 months to talk [while Israel froze settlement construction]. They didn’t use those 10 months, they came only in the last month, so it’s their problem.
You belong to a government that has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state. What’s your view?
I didn’t support this idea, and that’s really not the question. The question is if they are willing to accept the idea that the Jews have a right to their own state.
The Israeli Army chief said last week that getting more planes is very important to Israel’s security. How can you compare that with whatever small advantage you get by building more homes in the West Bank?
It’s very important, [but] it will be given until seven years from today…Things can change in seven years.