Sallai Meridor, Israel’s outgoing ambassador to the U.S., says those who predict a troubled relationship between the Obama administration and a likely Netanyahu government should “reserve judgment and learn from history.”
In an interview on Tuesday at the Israeli Consulate in New York, the 54-year-old diplomat pointed out that prime ministers perceived as right-wing oppositionists have an impressive track record on the peace front. He cited the fact that Menachem Begin signed a peace deal with Egypt, Yitzhak Shamir led Israel to the Madrid peace conference and Netanyahu made a deal with Yasir Arafat at Wye River.
He emphasized that the U.S.-Israel relationship is “strong, meaningful and deep” on every level.
Asked how Israel would respond if Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agree to
govern jointly on the West Bank and in Gaza, he said the “real challenge is finding an Arab interlocutor willing to compromise” and live in peace with Israel.
So far Hamas has refused to back down from its chartered pledge to destroy Israel and PA president Mahmoud Abbas lacks the clout, if not will, to reach an agreement with Jerusalem.
“There is no sign that Hamas is about to change,” Meridor said, “and if there is an agreement [between Hamas and the PA], it would jeopardize the chance for peace and that would be a tragedy.”
If the price for “an immediate calm within the Palestinian population is giving up on the Palestinian future and peace with Israel, this would be a negative development.”
But Meridor stressed that the real danger is neither Hamas in Gaza nor Hezbollah in Lebanon, but rather “the wave of extremist fundamentalism generated by the mullahs in Iran, acting as an octopus with its tentacles in different places.”
He called for world leaders to “step up” and address the increasingly ominous prospect of a nuclear Iran before it is too late.
“This is the defining moment,” he asserted, adding that Iran may “still be susceptible to political and economic pressure,” while noting that “no option should be taken off the table.”
If the world does not act boldly now, he said, “the very ability to maintain world order will be severely threatened, and we may have no answer to the next generation.”
Meridor has been on the job “two years and four months,” and expects to serve about another two months, he said, sounding like he is counting the days.
He announced his plans to step down last week, based on the fact that he was appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and believes the incoming prime minister should choose the next envoy to the U.S. upon entering the office.
The former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel said he does not intend to return to that post, which is vacant now that Zev Bielski will be a member of Knesset.
Insiders suggest that Zalman Shoval, 78, who has served twice as Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and is a confidant of Netanyahu, will take the Washington post for about a year while Ron Dermer, a young Miami Beach native who is a close adviser to Netanyahu, gains experience in the prime minister’s office and then succeeds the veteran diplomat.