'We are Seriously Concerned About the Fate of the State of Israel',
Yediot Achronot's Interview with Four Israeli Former GSS Directors, p.3

The Founder - and the Dismantler

Interestingly enough, the word "conflict" came up in the course of this meeting in only one context: the conflict with the settlers. We asked Ami Ayalon, since one of the sections of his plan refers to evacuating all the settlements, how he plans to do this.

"Describe for us, " we said, "how you evacuate Elon Moreh."

"I want to preface by saying, " Ayalon says, "that here too I begin with the political echelon. After all, we erred in the public discourse and in the lexicon we created in the last ten, or thirty, years. Were we to go to the settlers and tell them: you have been the pioneers of the State of Israel for the last 30 years, it was because of you that we were able to reach a situation in which an agreement with the Arab world is possible, but you are also the ones who will pay the very painful price of the agreement, and that is why we, Israeli society, have to make sure you have houses, jobs, that we bring you home -- were this to be the language of public discourse, we could, in my opinion, neutralize between 75- 85% of the settlements. I think that such a situation was almost created in a rare opportunity in the summer of 2000, when the level of anticipated resistance to removing settlements was extremely marginal, because ultimately, these pioneers realized that the public wanted something else."

"Do you really believe, " we asked him, "that the manner of public discourse will change the positions of a large group of fanatical extremists, which to this day dictates our national agenda?"

"You don't understand. At issue are 15% or even 10% of the settlers, " he says, "and we have to be capable of facing such a number. "

We wondered how Ayalon thinks that it is possible to face 10-15% of the settlement residents, when we are unable to evacuate even one illegal outpost. After all, with every evacuation another settlement is immediately established. And Yaakov Peri says: "I think that Ami is saying smart things, but their time has passed. I contend that that today 85-90% of the settlers, with a simple economic plan, would simply get up and go home. There is no problem with them. There are 10%, perhaps 12%, of the ideological core with whom we will have to clash. And I believe that Arik Sharon is perhaps the only person who can do this. As a founder of the settlements he can also be the one to dismantle them."

"The problem, " says Peri, "is that to this day no leader has ever gotten up in the State of Israel, pounded on the table and said, "we are going home, because that is what an agreement entails." Sharon has often talked about the fact that we will be required to make painful compromises, and there are no painful compromises except for evacuating settlements. I am sure that Sharon understands this and that it is difficult for him, ideologically, morally, socially. But the person who was able to bring about a deal such as the prisoner exchange deal and who could be that determined, can also get other things passed, such as evacuating settlements."

If Peri is the sober one, and Gillon the cautious and reserved one, and Ami Ayalon the dreamer-then Avraham Shalom, the man who resigned as director of the GSS in wake of the No. 300 bus affair, is the cynical version of the little boy from the tale The Emperor's New Clothes.

"Let's resolve the problem [of the 'hilltop youth'] as if they were Arabs. Take fifteen of them, put them under administrative detention, and see how all the rest do nothing."

Yaakov Peri
"I don't believe that these 10%, whom Peri mentions, are all that brave, " he says. "I definitely don't think so. Not long ago, at an internal meeting, after I heard that the "hilltop youth" were like Hamas, I talked to some of them. They told me that there are 100 activists and another 400 who follow them and 1,000 supporters. Let's say that these numbers are correct. So I said: if they were Arabs, would you know how to solve the problem? Yes, they told me. So I said: so let's resolve the problem as if they were Arabs. Take 15 of them, put them under administrative detention, and see how all the rest do nothing. And I said something else. I said: you say they are like Hamas? That they are willing to be killed? The answer was an explicit no. So I am more optimistic in this matter. When we leave them out there alone, they'll come. And how they'll come. "

A silence settled on the room, and only Peri said: "I would like, how should I put it, to soften this, without Avrum's permission. "

But Avrum Shalom says: "I didn't say we should have a civil war."

Says Peri, "I think that perhaps we can expect a clash and it could be a painful clash, and if I could avoid it, of course I would. But I don't think there is any way to avoid it. There will always be some groups, or some individuals, for whom the Land of Israel nestles among the hills of Nablus and inside Hebron, and we will have to clash with them."

"If someone can show me a different way," says Peri, "I am willing to accept it. But if there is ever -- and I hope that in the foreseeable future, there will be -- peace with the Palestinians, then I don't see how the State of Israel can be responsible for the safety of its citizens living in Hebron. I don't know how to do it, and I don't think anyone else knows. And that is the real problem. And I'm not making light of the fact that Hebron is the city of the forefathers, but it must return to the Palestinians, and those who live there today will have to leave, sooner or later."

"All of us here," says Ayalon, "speak of something that is the consensus, that is not just confined to this room, but is common to all Israeli society: we want a country that is a democracy and a home for the Jewish people. And that is why I will state in clear words: in the life of every country or nation, there is more than one Altalena. The political leadership of the State of Israel has made difficult decisions in the past when it was clear what the alternative was, and a future political leadership will have to make difficult decisions when the alternative is clear."

A very narrow square

There is something surprising, unexpected, about hearing the GSS people, who are responsible one day for targeted killings and assassinations and closures and roadblocks, and the next day, when they are released, they present a worldview that is very far from this policy, one that it is easy to call left wing.

Interestingly enough, they firmly reject their definition as leftists, and are almost offended by it. But Peri says: "This sociological phenomenon should be studied one day. Why is it that everyone -- GSS directors, chiefs of staff, former security personnel -- after a long service in security organizations, becomes the advocates of reconciliation with the Palestinians? Why? Because they come from there. Because they were there. We know the material, the people, the field, and surprisingly enough, both sides. And once you come from there, you know the scents and can characterize and diagnose them."

"Do you mean to say," we asked, "that the present GSS Director Avi Dichter, with his positions on tightening closures and increasing roadblocks, could be released tomorrow from the GSS and present positions that are identical to yours?"

Certainly, they say, without a doubt. "I worked with three prime ministers," says Shalom, "and had a different effect on each of them, without wanting to. The same words that I said echoed on different walls: One green, one blue and one yellow. That's the way it is. And I have to admit: Each time I was hit by the ricocheting paint. But the effect was great. And you have to remember that as a GSS director, you have to be non-partisan. You have no political influence, and it should not interest you either. If you cannot serve under a certain government, resign. But if you can live with the guidelines of the war against terror, then you do it to the best of your ability, with all the means at your disposal. And the statements you make to the prime ministers constitute an influence, in the absence of anyone else to do it. The GSS has a critical effect, because it is the only one that is familiar with the material. There is no one else. That is why I don't buy the definitions that are directed at Dichter: What happened to him. Nothing happened to him. The State of Israel is what happened to him that is what happened to him."

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Image: Shilo settlement, Ian Lustick, 1993

December 2003

"We are Seriously Concerned
About the Fate of
the State of Israel"

An interview with four former Israeli Intelligence Directors

Are the Ten
Carved in Stone?

Joel Shurkin

Run Like the Wind
Dan Friedman &
Jay Michaelson

Temima Fruchter

Fleeing Edges
Noam Mor

Josh Goes to Services
Josh Ring

Our 400 Back Pages

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