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
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
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
Is the Sderot Conference an alternative to the Herzliya and
Caesaria conferences, which focus on security and
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
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
What is your evaluation of the state of Israeli democracy
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
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
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
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
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
Thus, you don't believe that the current route will be the
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
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
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
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
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.