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Israeli Politician Changed Her Mind On Palestinian Conflict
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Israeli Politician Changed Her Mind On Palestinian Conflict

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Israeli Politician Changed Her Mind On Palestinian Conflict

Israeli Politician Changed Her Mind On Palestinian Conflict
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NPR's Steve Inskeep profiles the right-wing Israeli politician Anat Roth. Over the last 20 years, she has gone from campaigning for a Palestinian state in the West Bank to now advocating that Israel annex much of that land for itself.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

We're going to hear now about an Israeli woman who changed her mind. She's a legislative candidate in Israel's election next week and the shift in her thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows how much her country has changed. She spoke with our colleague, Steve Inskeep, who's been reporting on the struggle over land in the Middle East.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Her name is Anat Roth and we met her here at a corner outdoor cafe in an upscale neighborhood of Jerusalem. In fact, the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right across the street. It is also the neighborhood where Anat Roth has lived all of her 40 years and she came down the street to meet us pulling on a black coat against the winter chill. We took an outdoor table where we could look at the stone buildings of her neighborhood.

ANAT ROTH: I like the stones in the buildings.

INSKEEP: You know, I've noticed that. There's so much stone. It seems like such a permanent place.

ROTH: It's a mandatory rule, to build with stone.

INSKEEP: The look is deceptive. Things do change. A different restaurant used to occupy this little wedge of land where we sat. It closed after a Palestinian set off a bomb in 2002, killing 11 people. That was during the second intifada when Palestinians rose up against Israeli control. A stone plaque near our table still honors the dead from that explosion.

ROTH: I lived down the street. I heard it. I was - I meant to be here, but I had something else to do, so I didn't. And I heard it.

INSKEEP: When you heard the explosion in your home, did you know what it was?

ROTH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: You knew it was a bomb?

ROTH: Yeah, it was a routine. It was a routine. We were walking - it was every week, at least once. Every week. All the time.

INSKEEP: That period of violence helps to explain Anat Roth's long, slow evolution. Twenty years ago, an Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was working toward an agreement with Palestinians. He was killed in 1995 by a Jewish extremist. Young Anat Roth joined thousands who flocked to the square where it happened.

ROTH: It's a whole generation of youth sitting there and singing hail Israel (ph) songs.

INSKEEP: She sang patriotic Israeli songs. She went on to join Peace Now, a group that advocates an agreement with Palestinians. She became a member of the Labor Party, a left-leaning party that said it favored land for peace, a Palestinian state beside Israel. She worked in the government of Ehud Barak, a Prime Minister who did not quite reach that goal. And gradually, something happened to Anat Roth.

ROTH: That's it, like, I changed my mind. In the Palestinian issue, I changed my mind.

INSKEEP: She moved far to the right and she is now a candidate for the Jewish Home Party. That's a group that openly opposes creating a Palestinian state. She says her assumptions about Palestinians turned out to be wrong.

ROTH: We believed that there are two kinds of Palestinians - the moderate and the extremist.

INSKEEP: She used to believe that. Now she thinks there's just one kind of Palestinian.

Are you saying there are no moderate Palestinians?

ROTH: No, no moderate. I think also Abu Mazen and the Fatah wants a Palestinian state instead of the state of Israel, and not beside the state of Israel.

INSKEEP: Abu Mazen is the common name for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He's the leader of the Fatah Party and has said he favors a two-state solution. But years of inconclusive negotiations led Anat Roth to conclude that cause is hopeless.

ROTH: The Palestinians will not be happy because we cannot offer them what they want. They will stay unhappy.

INSKEEP: Something else happened to her, too. Anat Roth is an academic. She studied Jewish settlers who for a time occupied land in the Gaza Strip. Having spent time with those settlers, Anat Roth says she came to admire them. Settlers even persuaded her to become more religious than she'd been before. They won her over, even though they were occupying land that Palestinians want for a future state.

What do you say to people outside of Israel in the West - in Europe, in America - who are growing impatient with Israel, who think that there's just a problem that needs to be solved? That you have a people without a state, they're surrounded by walls, they don't have citizenship anywhere in particular, they don't have power over their own lives?

ROTH: Well, I see the problem with open eyes. Yeah. I'm not an (foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don't deny.

ROTH: I don't deny there is a problem. But the solution is not two states.

INSKEEP: Instead, her party favors annexing most of the West Bank. Israel would take permanent control of Area C, the vast zone we heard about in our reporting yesterday. Rural areas and their relatively few Palestinian residents would become part of Israel. Most Palestinians would be left out of Israel, their future uncertain. In other words, the Jewish Home Party wants to take permanent control of most of the land at issue, just not most of the people. Listening to Anat Roth, I thought of a question I'd been asking many Israelis.

Do you worry a lot about the future of this country?

ROTH: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Why?

ROTH: Why? Because we're threatened from all over.

INSKEEP: Threatened by the rise of extremism in the Middle East and also threatened by Israel's increasing international isolation as Israel's occupation of the West Bank continues.

ROTH: People here really want to be part of the world.

INSKEEP: She says they don't want to be treated like lepers, but she also believes the West Bank is Israel's. She's far from alone in sympathizing with Israeli settlers who, according to historians, are acting in an Israeli tradition - the country was founded by settlers from elsewhere.

BLOCK: That's Steve Inskeep of NPR's Morning Edition, reporting on the struggle for Mideast land. Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition, a Palestinian businessman sees a one-state solution with Palestinians in the majority.

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