Ex-senior Likud Official Warns Israel, World on a Collision Course

Dan Meridor, a former cabinet minister, warns of 'irreconcilable contradiction between what world community wants and what majority in this government think.'

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Dan Meridor at the Knesset, September 12, 2012.
Dan Meridor at the Knesset, September 12, 2012.Credit: Emil Salman

A former prominent Likud politician has warned that Israel’s new government is heading down a collision course with the international community and could pay dearly for its resolve to build Jewish settlements indiscriminately in the West Bank.

Dan Meridor, who held senior portfolios in previous Likud-led governments, including justice and finance, also expressed deep concern that Israel’s ruling party seems to be abandoning its longstanding commitment to human rights and democracy.

“In the past, the Likud had always tried to strike a balance between nationalism and the pursuit of the Zionist dream, on the one hand, and liberalism, respect for democracy and the individual, on the other,” said Meridor in an interview with Haaretz. 

“This balance, unfortunately, has been disturbed, and I see the Likud becoming much more nationalistic and less attentive to its liberal side. Today, in the party, when you use words like democracy, human rights and rule of law, they immediately depict you as a leftist.”

He cited the controversial “nation-state” bill, which gives the country’s Jewish character priority over its democratic nature, as an example of this trend, along with recent proposals designed to weaken the Supreme Court. “There is a danger here,” stated Meridor. 

A member of a group of second-generation Likud leaders, widely known as the “princes, ” Meridor began his political career as cabinet secretary in Menachem Begin’s government. In 1988, he was appointed justice minister by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and in 1996, he served as finance minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government, but only for a year. Concerned that he wasn’t getting the support he required for economic policy changes from the prime minister, Meridor resigned. After a stint in a now defunct centrist party, he returned to Likud in 2009 and served in Netanyahu’s second government as deputy prime minister and minister of intelligence and atomic energy.

Once known for his hardline politics, Meridor is now considered quite moderate among Likud party members and supports the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The former senior cabinet member warned that Netanyahu’s recent rejection of the two-state solution, in statements made just before the elections, jeopardized Israel’s international standing. “There is an almost irreconcilable contradiction between what the world community – including the United State and Europe – wants and what the majority in this government think and want to happen regarding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. 

Even if reaching a consensus on future borders is highly unlikely at the moment, said Meridor, it is incumbent upon Israel to curtail settlement activity in order not to jeopardize any future division of the land. “It’s not only our fault or even mainly our fault that we haven’t reached a final agreement yet with the Palestinians, but it is our fault if the world thinks that it is Israeli policy that is responsible,” he said. 

“If we were able to limit settlement activities to those areas that may indeed become part of Israel in a two-state solution, namely Jerusalem and the main settlement blocs, but stop all settlement activity elsewhere, then I’m sure many of our friends would understand us and support us. But when we don’t mention the two-state solution, when we’re quiet about it, or when we say things in the opposite direction while allowing settlements to be built all over the land, then we’re perceived as not being serious about a solution and as making future divisions more difficult.”

By resisting the need to create its own border, warned Meridor, Israel risked “not only getting into trouble with the entire world and discrediting our policy, but also, its ability to include within any future borders those areas that we want to leave as part of Israel.”

Asked to comment on the recent appointment of Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party to his old position of justice minister, Meridor was restrained. “I know that she’s an intelligent person and very capable politically,” he said. “Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she will do the right thing.”

Shaked has declared that she would seek to rein in the powers of the Supreme Court. While not referring to her specifically, Meridor said: “I’m afraid the philosophy that is leading this government is a cause for concern. I hear statements both by other ministers that we need to govern without fear. I don’t want to have a government that governs without fear. The government should fear the law, it should fear the courts, and it should fear the checks and balances. Another statement I’ve heard is that the judiciary should be respected but should not interfere with government and Knesset. I entirely disagree. It is precisely the role of the courts in a democratic society to safeguard the rights of individuals and groups, even against the majority represented by the government and the Knesset, and especially in an ideologically torn society.”

Since leaving politics, Meridor has taught both at Harvard and Princeton universities, and he serves as chairman of the board of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Asked to comment on recent statements made by Miri Regev, the new minister of culture, revealing possible plans to censor the arts in Israel, Meridor said: “I don’t believe in censorship. I believe that only people who are free can create a rich culture, and I think that is something very important to safeguard.”

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