by David Bar-Illan
Victor Cygielman: On one side you have the Palestinians who aim at an independent state with Jerusalwhem as its capital, the return of the refugees and so on. This we know.
David Bar-Illan: No, we donít. That is what they say they want. I donít believe this is their final aim. As you know, what they are asking for now is a return to the 1967 lines plus East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian State. (Actually, lately, Arafat usually says East Jerusalem, but most of the time they say Jerusalem.) We do not believe that this is their real final goal, because they use the map of the whole country from the Jordan to the sea. They often mention the partition plan of 1947 as the goal to which they aspire; there is talk of autonomy for the Arabs of the Negev and the Galilee. Their songs and slogans, as well as their statements, indicate that they consider the return to the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as their capital, only as a first step toward what I would call not the final status but the final solution: Palestine, from the Jordan to the sea.
I read what Mr. Netanyahu said to a group of ambassadors about a Palestinian State. I would like some clarification about that.
Mr. Netanyahu has often said that he wants the Palestinians to have as much self-rule as possible, as long as it does not endanger the security of Israel. Now if you have a sovereign state, obviously you can have as large an army as you can raise, you can produce or import all sorts of weapons.
It is not historically true. Germany became an independent state after the First World War, but there were agreements and limitations.
This is a marvelous example because you saw how easy it was to go back on those agreements. Germany rearmed exactly after all these agreements. If agreements are kept, it is only because of the goodwill of the people who want to keep them. If they do not want to keep them, a sovereign country cannot be forced to keep an agreement unless the countries that want it to do so are willing to attack it.
It is also a function of the countries that are bordering it.
Only in the sense if they are willing to invade it and enforce an agreement. This is something that France and Britain were not willing to do after the First World War and that is why those agreements were abrogated. If a country is sovereign, it can arm with conventional or non-conventional weapons, make alliances with other countries, in this case possibly with very radical anti-Israel countries, like Iraq, Iran, or Syria. In this specific case, it can control two-thirds of Israelís water resources, and the air space over Israel.
We believe that 80 percent of Israelis would object to the establishment of such a sovereign state which endangers Israel, while perhaps half the population would not object to the idea of a Palestinian State on condition that you specify what kind of a state is being talked about.
You want me to believe that an Israel which is not afraid militarily of a coalition of countries like Egypt and Syria would be afraid of an armed Palestinian mini-state?
A mini-state like Lebanon has been able to attack us and make our lives intolerable for more than 15 years. Even with Lebanon we had to make a security belt in order to make it possible for the Galilee to stay alive. A coalition of Arab states is dangerous to Israel, whether or not we can win in a war against Arab states. If a coalition like that had an ally which bordered on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, not like Syria or Egypt which are relatively remote
from the population centers, it would be a coalition, similar to that in 1967, which endangered Israelís life, but much more so.
And autonomy or self-rule?
How do we give the kind of self-rule that would be acceptable and at the same time control the security situation? The prime minister mentioned those countries which have limited sovereignty. There are many such examples in the world. Austria has accepted certain limitations. In Austriaís case I think it depends tremendously on the goodwill of the people and government. It is a democracy and one can trust the obligations of a democracy much more than those of a police state, which is obviously what the Palestinian entity is developing into.
Puerto Rico is an example. There are a lot of other situations around the world which should be studied, the prime minister believes. I am not talking about the State of Palestine, a state implies sovereignty, but the entity of Palestine, commonwealth, whatever you want to call it, that is what the prime minister meant when he talked about a possibility of limited sovereignty, at least for a time. In a democracy this is usually something that you can expect to work. Whether one can trust a police state to keep an agreement of this kind is really the big question. The Palestinian population would choose to become a total sovereignty. We would like to have them choose their own destiny themselves, but it has to be reconciled with Israelís survival.
Even countries which are not democracies keep agreements, even unwritten ones. For example, there has been no formal agreement with Jordan for almost 50 years. But it was understood that no foreign army can come into Jordan. Jordan respected that. So what has this to do with a democratic regime?
No, I am not saying that dictatorial regimes donít keep agreements. The Soviet Union also kept some agreements.
An agreement with a Palestinian entity can, for example, exclude military alliances with other countries; can define the size of the army - no offensive weapons, no tanks, no combat planes. There is no reason why such an agreement should not be kept. It would be in the Palestiniansí interest. They want to develop their country, they want to be as independent as possible. They wouldnít decide easily to spite a powerful neighbor like Israel.
Had the Palestinian entity behaved according to what we consider its own interest, there would have been peace in this country long, long ago. They would have been able to get a Palestinian State according to the UN 1947 partition plan in 1947. They have interests that are quite different from ours, they have a much longer view of history. They want a Palestinian State from the River Uordan] to the Mediterranean Sea. Even today they break every single important item in the Oslo agreement, including the items that have to do with the size of their army and the number of weapons they may carry. We had decided on 9,000, then it was increased to 18,000. Today they have at least 45,000, we believe it is closer to 50,000, people under arms.
The present Hashemite Kingdom is a sensible, Western-oriented court. If it is overthrown, we do not know how Jordan will behave. And if Israel is back to the 1967 borders, it is doubtful it would be treated with the kind of respect and awe with which it is treated today.
Youíre talking about a limited sovereignty. Assuming that, the question is of negotiations. You negotiate what form the Palestinian entity or state will have. What powers it will have. If I understand you, the demand you make is one of security, border corrections, all the things about which there is a general consensus in Israel, including the opposition Labor party. I do not see, neither in the prime ministerís remarks nor in your clarifications, a blank opposition to the idea of a Palestinian State. Through negotiations you might come to an agreement with the Palestinians on certain limitations.
Semantics donít matter. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited enough so that we feel safe, call it fried chicken. But the limitations on a piece of paper with a police state mean absolutely nothing. There is no democratic state around us, including Jordan, including Egypt, and, if we reach an agreement with it, Syria. The agreement with a non-democratic state is only as good as your deterrent capacity to enforce it. According to foreign sources, Israel has tremendous power, or has nuclear power, but that doesnít mean a thing. We know one cannot use nuclear power against Nablus or Ramallah. Ramallah is only 20 minutes from Jerusalem.
Israel is a superpower.
Yes and no. In 1967 the relationship between the numbers of tanks and airplanes between us and the Arabs was much more favorable to us than it is today. We cannot ignore Iraq after the sanctions are lifted, or Iran. We cannot enable such a coalition to also have a foothold, a bridgehead right next to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That would be foolhardy, suicidal.
We do not want to bring about a situation in which we would have to go to war. We want peace and we do not want to endanger ourselves.
There are several important issues to settle in the final-status agreement. Jerusalem, borders, the refugees, the future of settlements, water. Do you have a blueprint of what the Netanyahu government wants?
If you think very carefully, in this respect there is not that much difference between the Labor party and us. There are certain differences and nuances, but to say that there is a gap between the two is wrong, and Likud and Labor people are discussing final-status negotiations, which cu:e much easier to discuss than the interim part of the Oslo agreement. In the interim agreement we object to many points that Labor accepts, but on the final status we seem to agree on many things. Labor says we are willing to call it a state as long as there are limitations. The point is not whether you call it a state but what the limitations are going to be.
What is Israelís position on questions like Jerusalem and settlements?
On Jerusalem, at least officially, the Labor party also says it is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel under Israelís sovereignty. We all agree on special privileges in all the holy places. The Beilin/Abu Mazen document presumed to call something else Jerusalem. I do not think anybody will agree to that on the other side. So on Jerusalem we have a problem with the Palestinians no matter who in the government is, Likud or Labor.
On refugees it is a small question of degree. I think the Labor party would probably agree to a larger number of returned displaced persons, as the refugees of 1967 are called, to the areas of the Palestinian entity, but that is a question of negotiations. And again you would say their interest is not to crowd too many refugees in because it would cause havoc economically. This is what we are saying because this is the Western attitude. But that is not their logic. Their logic is this way we can make Israel miserable. We are going to put these refugees on the borders and say that they are going to get back to their real homes which are in Haifa, in Jaffa, in Acre, in Nazareth.
I talk to Palestinians about refugees. They say two things: first, a formal recognition by Israel of their UN-recognized right to return or to receive compensation. Second, they add that the practical implementation of this right is to be negotiated betweeen Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
They are saying that to you, but in all their speeches, including Arafatís, there is talk of unlimited return of all displaced persons and all refugees.
If you take the Beilin/Abu Mazen project, the borders of Israel would include Gush Etzion, Ariel... The Alpher Plan.
Yes, the Alpher Plan. The only thing thatís missing in it, if I remember correctly, is the Jordan Valley. Again, the Jordan is not a sentimental thing. If we say the Palestinian entity must have limited sovereignty, we can impose it primarily if we are still on the Jordan River, because we can immediately close any connection between the Palestinians and the Hashemite Kingdom if we want to. If we are not there, itís impossible to close that border. That is even more important for Jordan than it is for us because, if you have a Palestinian State, it will endanger the survival of the Hashemite Kingdom. It will direct its energies towards Jordan rather than towards us because Jordan is weaker. And besides, they have about 70 percent, 80 .percent Palestinians there. There is a danger of rekindling the kind of tribal hatred which you never thought existed. This is a potential we should not ignore, especially after the experience of Yugoslavia which, after all, is a European country. I am not saying it is just because it is in the Middle East.
Would you rely on the Jordanian army to defend and secure the frontiers with the Palestinians?
Of course, at this point I would, but I donít know what the composition of the Jordanian army would be in five years. Now it relies mostly on Bedouin officers. What would happen to the Jordanian army if a Palestinian State with a Palestinian flag exists next door?
What about water?
Water is a very big problem, a huge problem. I believe that water supplies should, of course, be used for the Palestinian population and adequately so. Ultimately, we will probably have to find alternate water supplies, possibly through desalinization. Presently, it is very dangerous if we do not have access to the water aquifers in the West Bank.
Do you have a blue print? Has there been a discussion about final status?
No, we never put it in writing. We are just beginning the final status. We had
You now are entering negotiations for Area C which is the third stage of the Oslo plan. Some 350 villages in the West Bank will have to be evacuated by Israel.
It does not have to be negotiated; itís already in the agreement. What has to be discussed is the implementation of the interim agreement. Do not forget the very open and all-encompassing limitation which says that Israel can keep all the areas of the settlements, which is very small (four to five percent) and everything that it may consider essential for its security -- and that can encompass a large area.
But would this government agree to implement it?
Yes, of course, except if the Palestinians accept going straight into final-status talks with us without implementing. Only by agreement, of course.
I understand that Israel still occupies 70 percent of the West Bank.
More, 75 percent. The situation on the ground is such that we are afraid that if we leave large areas to themselves, they would be used as springboards for terrorist attacks against us more than now. Security is always what is on the ground. Are the Palestinians importing arms? There are rumors allover the place of their importing anti-tank weapons.
The next thing we are going to discuss is the airfield next to Rafah. An airfield that is completely under Palestinian control can bring in tanks, thousands of tanks, by an airlift. What are we going to do about it? Of course we can shoot the planes down, but that is war. On the other hand, as long as we have control over the borders, which means also borders at the airport, we can control that.
What about the safe passage from Gaza to the West Bank, as agreed in the Oslo agreement?
This is a tremendously difficult problem. A safe passage means an extra¨territorial road, which we canít pass. How can we pass that road? Are we going to cut our Negev in half?
A highground road maybe ....
A highground is one possibility, but that is a very expensive business. Or underground, a long tunnel. The question is: Will the Palestinians wait until it is ready? Will they insist on a railroad going through there and which they could cut? That is why we believe it is wiser and safer for the agreement if we go into the final-status talks now. What we are trying to eliminate is not dangers to Israel only, but to the agreement per se. Actually, it is one and the same thing, because anything that endangers Israel, makes terrorism easier, costs us lives, is the end of the agreement. We want to salvage the agreement. We want to save it from itself, so to speak, by going on to the final status right away. We hope that in the final-status discussions we can reach a form of workable agreement with the Palestinians which will eliminate the dangers inherent to the interim period.