"Excuse us," we said, "but there is still a debate here with the chief of staff, who argues that the blockades, the closures and the treatment of the Palestinian population create a problem of expanding the circles of terror."
"The strategy today," says Gillon, "is how to prevent the next terror attack. Period. And it is Dichter's duty to come and say how best to prevent the next terror attack. So it is true that the chief of staff is justified in saying that it is better to think in broader terms, and to ask how to prevent the coming terror attacks and not just the next terror attack. But I think that the problem, as of today, is that the political agenda has become solely a security agenda."
"Yes," says Gillon, "and it only deals with the question of how to prevent the next terror attack, not the question how it is at all possible to pull ourselves out of the mess that we are in today."
"The existing gap is at the political echelon," says Ayalon, "and it lies in the fact that there is no balance to operative thinking. We have built a strategy of immediate prevention. I want to give an example that may surprise you. When Bibi Netanyahu came back from Wye Plantation, the GSS's position was against withdrawing from the territory, because it appeared to us as a withdrawal with the intention of returning. It was not a real process, at least according to my understanding of the security cabinet and the Palestinian Authority at the time. And there were definitely situations when I, with my opinions as you know them, when I was in my position, thought that it was wrong to withdraw from the territory."
"And I have another example," said Gillon. "The withdrawal from seven cities in the West Bank. The withdrawal was set with a predetermined timetable, and I, as GSS director at the time, thought that this was wrong, and that conditions should be posed and fulfilled in advance, and only then should we withdraw from the next city. Eventually, the political echelon, which was the late Yitzhak Rabin, sat down and made the decision."
"The problem, " says Peri, "is not the differences of opinion between the army and the GSS, nor if someone changed his opinion. The problem is that when there is no political direction, senior position holders such as the chief of staff or GSS director may -- and I am not saying that this is happening -- lose their path, or become confused or vague. If the State of Israel, the government of Israel, the narrow kitchenette, the security cabinet, were to step forward and say: This is where the State of Israel intends to go over the coming years, this is where we want to go, it would be a different story. But when there is no political direction, a senior position holder is ultimately forced to stick to his very square framework, where he does not share the responsibility, since the GSS's role is to thwart terror, period. And it is the IDF's role to provide internal and external security to the State of Israel, period. And this square, in the reality that exists today, is very narrow. It is not strategic. It remains at a tactical level. And I have to tell you, that we should take off our hats to the security establishment, who succeed in doing what they do within this limited framework."
"In this context," says Gillon, "remember that in the days of the Rabin and Peres governments, there was a very clear policy: That we should fight terror as though there were no peace process, and continue the peace process as though there were no terror. That is precisely the direction that the GSS should be given."
"When you talk about a political direction," we ask, "did Barak's government supply such a direction?"
"Barak's government, in my opinion," said Peri, "did not signal in any political direction. Can anyone here tell me which direction Barak was going in, aside from the well known statement in the last hour of Camp David?"
"Yes," guffawed Shalom, "that there is no one to talk to."
"I think," said Peri, "that all of the Israeli governments after Rabin, for the past seven years, did not signal and did not tell the Israeli public or the security forces, where they wanted to reach. And that is the reason that we have gathered here today, after extra-parliamentary initiatives have arisen as a result of personal acquaintance, as a result of familiarity with the material, and these initiatives enter into the vacuum created by political deficiency."
Mistaken attitude towards Abu Mazen
Ayalon: "Yaakov Peri says that one of the great errors of the political leadership today is that fact that most of the debate revolves around the question whether we do or do not have a partner. And I think that this is indeed an error. In this terrible situation, where civilians are slaughtered in restaurants and buses, in my opinion there is no other way but to take unilateral steps. And I believe that if the State of Israel were to get up tomorrow morning -- or three years ago, as far as I am concerned -- and leave the Gaza Strip and Gush Katif, and really and truly begin to dismantle illegal settlements, then I tend to believe, based on long standing acquaintance with our future dialogue partners, that the Palestinians would come to the negotiating table."
"Therefore," continues Peri, "it is an error of the first order that most of the things we hear on the news and in the press consist of the question whether Arafat is relevant or irrelevant, or whether we should expel Arafat or not expel him, or whether we do or do not have a partner. And I accept that the State of Israel erred in its attitude towards Abu Mazen's cabinet on many topics."
Question: was it also an error to destroy the PA's security services in the three years of combat?
"Yes," says Peri. "And I think that what we did with Jibril Rajoub was an error."
"Yes," says Shalom, "grave damage. And the preoccupation with Arafat is primarily an anachronism, because we will not determine who is relevant and who isn't. I believe it was the mother of all errors with regard to Arafat. Just as it is not dictated to us that Bibi will be after Sharon or Sharon after Bibi, by the same token we cannot determine who will have the greatest influence over there. So let us look at the Palestinians' political map, and it is a fact that nothing can happen without Arafat."
What you are saying, we said, is that it doesn't bother you for Arafat to be a partner.
"Nothing bothers me in politics, if I can gain from it. Arafat or no Arafat, one fine day he will be gone, and someone else will replace him. But in the meantime the Palestinians are living in steadily worsening conditions."
"I think that Arafat is a great obstacle," says Gillon. "Over the past ten years we have tried all types of governments. We have had hawkish governments, and we have had dovish governments, and we have made compromises. On the Palestinian side, the same Arafat remained in place. And without handing out grades to the Israeli side, there is no doubt that Arafat deserves a failing grade. I don't believe in Arafat, but I believe in the document of principles. Because it is good for the Jews. It is good for a Jewish and democratic state. It is good for Israel, period. And I want us to determine our agenda, not Arafat. And when we say that Arafat is an obstacle to peace, it is precisely like placing terror before everything else. Why shouldn't we come and say: Wait a minute, this is what is best to preserve this state for our children. This is what assures us peace and security. The best thing now is to convince and create public opinion that will come and say: This is what we want. We want to withdraw from the territories. We are willing to compromise on Jerusalem, we are willing to do all of this because it is best for our security."
"And I think," says Peri, "that the State of Israel has made every possible error in the matter of Arafat, including the latest decision to expel him, thereby putting him on the stage after he had already sunk into the abyss. And they tried to sell it to us by implying that there is some kind of trick here, some kind of maneuver that we mortals do not understand what is behind it. And what was behind it was an unwise decision by the Israeli government. I think that Arafat is interfering, and therefore we have two paths: The extra-parliamentary path, for the sake of which we have gathered here, and the unilateral path. To stop talking about a partner already, and do what is good for us. And what is good for us is to be able to protect ourselves in the most effective manner. Not to have to waste too many troops in Gaza. To waste fewer troops on guarding hilltops and settlements and three goats and eight cowboys. And ultimately, we will build a fence. The route can be discussed, and that is already a different story. But we will build a fence. A fence is necessary, at least to demarcate our ability to defend ourselves."
"The red lines are in fact the borders of the historical State of Israel," says Gillon. "We returned to the Green Line in the agreement with Egypt. In Jordan. In Lebanon. The tradeoff that the Rabin government and Netanyahu conducted, was also on the Green Line. Therefore, it is clear to me that our borders in Judea and Samaria, and certainly in the Gaza Strip, run along the Green Line. The separation fence is becoming irrelevant. It is a fence that is not a fence, that follows borders that are not borders."
"I am also troubled by the fence," says Shalom. "A fence succeeds on two conditions: That no one ever passes in either direction, and that the discipline of those who guard the fence is at the level of the Germans. And that will not happen. Today's fence is creating a political and security reality that will become a problem. Why? Because it creates hatred, it expropriates land, and annexes hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the State of Israel. This is contrary to our interests, according to which we view the State of Israel as the home of the Jewish people."
"The result," says Shalom, "is that the fence achieves the exact opposite of what was intended. Instead of creating a reality of separation and maintaining a window of opportunity for 'two states for two peoples,' a situation has been created where this window of opportunity is gradually closing. The Palestinians are arguing: You wanted two states, and instead you are closing us up in a South African reality. Therefore, the more we support the fence, they lose their dream and hope for an independent Palestinian state."
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From previous issues:
Domestic Violence in the Global Village
Finding a Place in the Minefield: