Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely insisted Sunday that, contrary to the longstanding international consensus, Jewish settlements were not an impediment to peace with the Palestinians at all.
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“One of the things that Israel has learned from the Gaza experience is that settlements mean nothing,” she said, referencing Israel's 2005 "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip. “There are no settlements left in Gaza, but there are still rockets, terror organizations and tunnels underneath that are hitting our citizens. Settlements were never the issue. Palestinian terrorism started way before there were settlements.”
Hotovely, who strongly rejected the notion of unilateral withdrawal, was addressing close to 800 participants at a conference on Israel’s future, jointly sponsored by Haaretz and the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.
The deputy foreign minister, a hardline member of the ruling Likud party, also maintained that uprooting Jewish settlers was no different from transferring Israeli Arabs out of the country. “The idea that liberal people can think the transfer of 300,000 Jews from their homeland is a legitimate thing, I think that’s absurd. The transfer of Arabs? No way. The transfer of Jews? Of course.”
She added: “We can’t allow ourselves to think that Israel can live with 20 percent Arabs, but that the Palestinian Authority should be Judenrein (Jewish free area). This is impossible.”
The preliminary findings of a survey presented at the conference show that most Israeli Jews rejected Hotovely’s hardline views. The survey was conducted by the Israel Peace Initiative – a group that engages in quiet diplomacy with the Arab world.
“There is a new reality beneath the surface,” said Koby Huberman, a former high-tech executive and co-founder of the peace group, as he presented the findings.”It will take time, but if the right leadership will act upon it, we will see a solution.”
According to the survey, scheduled for release within the next few weeks, a majority of 58 percent of Israeli Jews favor a two-state solution, with only 5 percent willing to live in a bi-national state.
Particularly revealing, said Huberman, were new attitudes revealed in the survey toward the status of Jerusalem. “Up until a year ago, only about 40 percent of Israeli Jews supported changing the status quo in Jerusalem and separating Jewish and Arab neighborhoods,” he said. “Today it is 51 percent. Israelis are waking up to a new reality, and the one thing you can be sure about is that they’re not going to hit their heads against the wall. Nobody thinks that Jerusalem is united anymore. Nobody thinks that King David built Sheikh Jarrah and Shuafat. Nobody thinks that for 2,000 years we yearned for a city that has a non-Zionist majority.“
Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic known for his close ties to U.S. President Barack Obama, warned that U.S.-Israeli relations were experiencing a “very very dangerous moment.”
“The relationship between the United States and Israel will only survive and be healthy if Americans look at Israel and see that it resembles their own country,” he said. “If Americans look at Israel and see it as another dysfunctional Middle Eastern state, then that relationship will come to a gradual end.”
He speculated that the next president of the United States would not make the Israel-Palestinian peace process a top priority. “Why waste their time?” he asked. Addressing the weaknesses of the Palestinian leadership, Goldberg said: “Zionism is about Jews taking control of their own destiny. Having dysfunctional partners is not an excuse to sit around paralyzed.”
The conference speakers included MK Zouheir Bahloul of the Zionist Union; Peter Berkowitz, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution; Zack Bodner, chief executive officer of the Oshman Family JCC; Ruth Calderon, former MK and current research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute; Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute; Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Andy David, Israeli consul general to the Pacific Northwest; and Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal.
Representing Haaretz at the conference were publisher Amos Schocken, editor-in-chief Aluf Benn, English edition editor Charlotte Halle, military commentator Amos Harel, U.S. editor and correspondent Chemi Shalev, senior columnist Peter Beinart, contributor and author Nir Baram, and Jewish settlements correspondent Chaim Levinson.