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Major General (Ret) Uzi Dayan is the head of Tafnit - A New Agenda for Israel.
He is a former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor and founder of the annual Sderot Conference for Social and Economic Policy. He was interviewed for the Palestine-Israel Journal by Hillel Schenker.


While many other Israeli generals chose to enter politics or business after their retirement from the military, you chose to become involved in various civil society initiatives. Why did you make this choice?

Uzi Dayan: I believe that the essence of Israel's existence is to be a Jewish-democratic state, just as the future Palestinian state will be Palestinian, and I hope democratic as well. That's the basic reason, alongside the fact that it is immoral to rule over another people, why Israel should separate itself from the Palestinians, even if we won't have a partner for this separation.

Why do you place such an importance on civil society?

In 2002 I carried out a major National Security Assessment when I was the National Security Advisor. One of the most important findings was that the primary threat to Israel is not the external threat (though Israel still has enemies), but rather the danger of an internal Israeli disintegration as a result of the lack of a civil agenda. I believe that the construction of such a socio-economic civil agenda is the most important thing that had to be done today. After completing my term as National Security Advisor I decided to devote most of time to this goal. I founded the Sderot Conference, whose primary aim is to build an Israeli socio-economic agenda, and to raise the social and economic banner to a height equal to the security banner. This provides an answer to the threats we are facing, and the best opportunity to enable us to live together in the Middle East.

You have been involved in a number of civil society initiatives and associations. What do you believe is the role of these organizations in the building of a democratic society in Israel?

Today, it is clear to everyone that civil society has a very important role to play in Israel. It is particularly important because the government itself has no clearly defined social and economic agenda. Therefore, civil society must act, both to create pressure on the government to create such an agenda, and to promote specific issues. Among the values that should be included on the civil agenda are a return of the value of labor and employment, the creation of an educational infrastructure that offers an equal opportunity to every boy and girl, and the importance of dealing with all the social schisms - Jews and Arabs relations, religion and state and center and periphery.
The primary channels for bringing about change are education and politics. Education is more basic and fundamental, but it takes a long time. And we don't have a lot of time. That's why I believe that civil society has to try to be as influential as possible on Israeli politics.

Is the Sderot Conference an alternative to the Herzliya and Caesaria conferences, which focus on security and economics?

I chose to organize the conference in the southern town of Sderot, together with Sapir College (connected to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), to demonstrate that the country is not only run from Herzliya and Caesaria, or Jerusalem (since that's where the Caesaria Economic Conference is now held). The Herzliya Conference deals with political policy and security and the Caesaria Conference with economics. Our statement was - we want to draw attention to the fact that the third pillar of society, the socio-economic one, is missing. I believe in an integrated approach of society and economics. You can't achieve any social goal without having a healthy and strong economy, and you can't build a "correct" economy based on a disintegrating society. We always have to remember that the purpose of a strong economy is to serve society. That's why the Sderot Conference is devoted to society and economics, and we call it the Sderot Conference for Social and Economic Policy.
More than 40 years ago, my uncle Moshe Dayan said that the State of Israel can only raise one banner at a time. Israel chose to raise the security banner. It's about time that someone in my family should correct that historic error. Israel can, and should, raise the socio-economic banner at the same time that it raises the security banner.

What is your evaluation of the state of Israeli democracy today?

Israel is clearly a democratic state, definitely in terms of what is happening in general in the Middle East. Yet too many of the Israelis view democracy primarily in technical terms - democracy without the deep basic democratic values. Israel, by definition, is the only Jewish-democratic state in the world, and this synthesis of being both Jewish and democratic still has to be crystallized and improved. It should be a state with a Jewish character - I view Judaism not only as a religion and a nation, but as a civilization - and a state which is a genuine democracy in its form of government.
This necessity to be both a Jewish and a democratic state, and to separate from the Palestinians with territorial compromise, is something which disturbs a lot of people who want Israel to be a Jewish state, but are not that concerned with the degree and importance of also being a democratic state. We just saw how important it was when arriving at the current historic disengagement plan to separate from the Palestinians as a result of a clear democratic decision.
Israel is a Jewish-democratic state, but there is still a lot more to do to realize and reinforce this synthesis. One of our goals, in education, is to increase the level of Jewish studies, for the Jews who want it, and the level of studies of democracy for all. Today the two matriculation subjects that Israeli youth fail most frequently are Bible and Citizenship.
The greatest threat to Israeli democracy is corruption. It is as serious as the threat of terror. Terror murders people, and it must be fought against, with determination. Corruption will kill Israeli society, so we must fight against it with different tools, but with the same degree of determination.
To carry out this new agenda, what type of civil society organizations should be established and promoted?

We have to work in three basic spheres. The first one is education. The state and civil society should encourage the best and most suitable young people to go into education. At the same time the educational system should undergo major reform, alongside major changes in the status and authority of teachers.
The second sphere that civil society organizations should deal with is the creation of a social and economic agenda in Israeli society, and the development of lobbies on specific issues.
The main area that civil society organizations should deal with is the political sphere. We don't have any more effective tool than politics, and we don't have the luxury of time not to deal with it. I believe that there is a leadership crisis in Israel, and civil society has to become more involved in political activity. This means young leadership, creating opportunities for young leaders, women leadership and leadership in general. We have to bring about a situation in which good and talented people choose to enter politics. In the future, Israel should be led by people who have brains, heart and clean hands.

What role can civil society play to promote the prospects for peace?

One of the main problems in the Oslo process was that it rested primarily on the political-security side of things, and the people were left behind. It neglected the cultural, educational aspects which are essential for the success of such a process. These take more time to develop. I don't see any alternative to the fact that the process has to be mainly a political-security process, but I believe that civil society has to try to make every effort to ensure that cultural and educational process will be an integral part of the political-security arrangement.
One of the main things that civil society can do is in the sphere of perception, i.e. how the results of the process are perceived and understood. Today, most people in the Middle East, and this definitely holds true for Israelis and Palestinians, want peace. When Israelis say peace, they mean complete security and freedom of movement. The Israeli want to be able to travel to Petra, Amman, and from there to Damascus and Palmyra, and to return without having rocks thrown at their vehicle and being called a "bloody Jew," - that's peace. When the Palestinians say salaam they mean first and foremost - liberation - get out of my sight. Don't occupy me. And the second thing is a much better quality of life and standard of living, similar to the Israelis - work, education, clothing for children, etc. That is why it's important to have an understanding of the expectations of both sides. In the final analysis, it's only a merging of the expectations of both sides that will bring peace. We can't build a future peace only on security - though you can't not have security - but you also can't build it on a situation of occupation. Sense of security and sense of occupation are two sides of the same coin.

You founded and served as the chairperson of an association to promote a security barrier. Why do you think a barrier is important, and do you agree with the route that was chosen by the government?

In 200l, as head of the National Security Council, I presented a plan for a security fence to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who did not want to build it. When I became a civilian I founded a public Council for the Security Fence, which brought about a change in public opinion in favor of the fence, and brought pressure on the government to carry it out. We were "helped" to a great degree by the ongoing acts of terror that occurred and the continued murder of innocent civilians.
The fence is an act of ein breira, no alternative. If we want to save the lives of people, and to be effective in fighting terrorism, there is no choice but to build a fence. We can't struggle against terror only by offensive means, we also have to act defensively, and that means a fence. It's clear that the route of the fence is a very important issue, but that said, we cannot allow an argument over the route to prevent the establishment of a fence.
The route of the fence must be the product of a balance between security needs and individual human rights. The basic human right is to live, and the fence itself is not an offensive tool, it's not a bomb or a rocket. At the same time, it very much interferes with the daily routine of the Palestinians. We have to try to balance out these two needs. Israel did not always make the correct decisions in this matter, but some aspects of the route were changed in line with the Israeli Supreme Court's ruling, and on the whole, I think that the government did what was necessary. We have closed the Council because our goal was accomplished, even if the fence hasn't been totally completed yet. I believe that, today, a fence is absolutely necessary. Otherwise we allow terrorists to undermine any possible future progress towards peace. An effective struggle against terrorism should be the joint interest of all the people and leaders in the region.
In the end, the fence is not irreversible. I hope that the day will arrive when it will be possible to dismantle it. There was a time when we built three lines of fortifications along the Suez Canal, and we removed them the moment we achieved a peace treaty with the Egyptians.

Thus, you don't believe that the current route will be the future border.

No, it is definitely not the future border line. In certain places, it might have some influence on the permanent border, but the fence should not be considered the border line.

What do you say to a Palestinian who, as a result of the construction of the barrier has had some of his land confiscated, or has difficulty having access to his land, work or school?

I say to a Palestinian who has been hurt by the establishment of the fence that I also have to consider what I will say to a family that has lost its child because of a terrorist attack. The most authentic answer that I can give is that this is the price you have to pay for the fact that we live in a world where people are murdered by terror. Effective struggle against terrorism is a condition for progress towards a solution.
Still the security fence cannot be a substitute for policy, it is not a strategy. It's an operative means of self-defense that provides security, but also has a negative affect on the daily life of people. We have to guarantee that long-term policy will eventually enable us to remove the fence.

The disengagement is drawing near. What would you like to see happen after the disengagement is carried out?

All of the activity of my movement Tafnit - A New Agenda for Israel, is geared towards the day after. We say that Israel must disengage from the Palestinians to ensure that it remains a Jewish and democratic state. It needs a socio-economic agenda alongside its security agenda and it needs a zero tolerance policy towards corruption.

How do we move forward towards these goals?

The first thing we need to disengage from the Palestinians is to make this historic decision. If there will be a partner to the process, so much the better - if not, we have to do it as well. To achieve this we have to continue to fight terror, which will not disappear, and we have to continue the process of disengaging from the Palestinians also in the West Bank.

Does this mean that after the disengagement it is important to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians?

The path that I recommended to Prime Minister Ehud Barak before Camp David, and later to Sharon, which neither followed, was not only to declare that the Israeli goal is to separate from the Palestinians, but to realign our forces along a temporary border line, also in the West Bank, and then call upon the Palestinians to enter into negotiations which will last for a given amount of time. If the result is a permanent agreement, good. If not, the temporary line should become the de facto border of the State of Israel. This is less desirable than an agreement, but its advantage is that it will create a reality of coexistence, which in the long run can become the basis for a peace process.

What is more effective, civil society action or direct political activity?

Political action is much more effective. In the long-term, there are two effective channels of activity - educational and political. Civil society should bridge between the two, to ensure that education will be tied to reality, and to ensure that politics will be much more educated, to ensure the quality of the political leadership.
We want to live in a state where political activity and civil society activity compliment each other. I would like the state to care for the basic needs of its citizens, security, education, to ensure places of work and a basic social security safety net when things go wrong, and civil society should not relieve the state of its basic responsibilities. It should promote empowerment of the citizens, the added values beyond the basics.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility of achieving all of these goals?

I'm an optimist. They say that short people tend by nature to be optimistic. Why, because from our height, we only see the half-filled glass and not the half-empty glass… I'm an optimist because I'm a great believer in the spirit of man. In the final analysis, people want to do the right thing. One of the reasons for optimism today is that there is great tension everywhere between the desires and aspirations of average people, their readiness to arrive at understandings and compromise, to live in a better world, and today's leadership. People want to leave their children and their children's children a much better world than we are living in today. This tension between what the people want and the inadequate leadership that is serving them will not hold. That's why I am optimistic.

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