Palestine-Israel Journal: Most of the Israeli protest activity
and initiatives after the war have dealt with the management of the
war and how to prepare for the next war. Your letter is one of the
few initiatives that talk about preventing the next war.
Shaul Arieli: The role of every government in Israel, once it puts
the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into action, is twofold: The first
is to defend the sovereignty of Israel and the life of its
citizens. All of the criticism that you mentioned dealt with this
issue. But it has ignored the second role, which is the most
important, to delay as much as possible the time the IDF has to be
activated again. This is the actual meaning of preventing the next
war. This is the political role, and both these goals are
Our letter dealt with this role of the government. We said two
things: It is possible that there were military failures, and an
investigative committee will check this out. But politically, we
believe the government is not doing enough to prevent the next war.
We are suggesting what has to be done to prevent the next
The letter suggests that there is a window of opportunity after
the war to renew the peace process.
The situation is undoubtedly complex, and this is why we see the
window of opportunity in the regional context. We recommend that
these things be dealt with simultaneously - the Syrian, the
Palestinian, and the Lebanese arena. The situation is very
dependent on what happens with Syria but the Palestinian issue also
stands on its own. We suggested the Israeli government address
these three channels simultaneously, on the agreed-upon basis for
the solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict - UNSC Resolutions 242
and 338. That basis, the concept of land for peace, has proved
itself in the two peace agreements we have signed with Egypt and
with Jordan in 1979 and in 1994. We now say to the Government of
Israel: Go for these three channels at the same time in order to
reach a regional peace with the countries encircling us: Lebanon,
Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.
Let's deal with the channels one by one. First the Palestinian
channel, which is the core of the issue.
Today, considering the lack of trust and an effective government on
the Palestinian side, and of an Israeli willingness to proceed to
an encompassing long-term arrangement, we think we must complete
the process in several steps. The first necessary step is to create
stability, and this stability can be reached via a package deal
that includes the release of Gilad Shalit and of Palestinian
prisoners. We have nearly 13,000 Palestinian prisoners, half of
whom don't have blood on their hands. A quarter of them are common
criminals. They include some 500 children and 100 women. We can
reach a deal that releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners.
The second thing is total ceasefire, both in the Occupied
Territories and in the State of Israel within the Green Line, from
both sides. The contact with Hamas, which wants quiet in the
Occupied Territories, will be handled via Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and Israel will refrain from any
offensive acts. The third thing is lessening the restrictions on
movement and trade. These three things, if brought about together,
can create a new situation in which we can renew the
This can be followed by two possible two stages:
The first stage, which I do not recommend, is a Palestinian state
in temporary borders, or even the Third Redeployment as specified
in the Oslo Accords. We can also undertake a realignment, not
unilaterally, but as a part of an agreement.
The second possibility, which I recommend, is to go directly
towards a final-status arrangement: To open negotiations, after the
situation is stabilized in two or three months, on a final-status
agreement with the PLO headed by Abu Mazen. The parameters for the
final-status agreement are clear to everyone.
I always say there are four conditions: 1. a solution to the
refugee problem, but not through return to the State of Israel; 2.
the 1967 borders as a basis, and then mutual exchange of territory;
3. two capitals in Jerusalem with the division of East Jerusalem
between the Palestinians and us according to the Clinton
Parameters; and 4. the cessation of terrorism and violence. I
believe that with intensive negotiations, the whole thing can be
concluded within a year or less.
OK, and now for the Syrian arena.
The Israeli interest in the Syrian arena is to disconnect the
Shiite ideological connection that exists today between Iran and
Hizbullah. Today the Lebanese population is 40% Shiite, and the
great danger today is that Hizbullah will take over Lebanon and
turn it into an Islamic-Shiite country. The only factor that can
succeed in making that happen is Iran. Syria is an intermediary
agent. What Israel must do is take Syria out of the loop between
Iran and Hizbullah - and we also know what the price is: the Golan
We must say this loudly. The State of Israel needs to get to the
resumption of negotiations, whether secretive or not, with the
Syrians on the basis of 242. The great debate about whether the
border will be the international line, or the borders of June 4,
1967, is something that can be solved in negotiations. Since the
price is known, there is not too much to talk about. We need to
agree on this and get into a final-status settlement with Syria.
Five minutes later, Lebanon can sign with us, because we have no
territorial dispute with them. On the contrary, we have to sign an
agreement with the Palestinians before we sign the one with
Lebanon, in order to permit a solution to the over 200,000
Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. There is no territorial dispute
with Lebanon, and no security issue.
Thus Israel will close the Lebanon-Syria-Jordan-Egypt circle. It
sounds easy and simple; it is not easy and simple, but on the other
hand, it is not impossible, and most importantly, it is clear to
all of us that it is necessary. Otherwise we are deteriorating,
both in terms of the Israeli interest and in terms of the moderate
Arabs interest in regional stability, and in terms of international
interest in fighting terror and the ambitions of organizations such
What about the Lebanese arena? Some Israelis have been talking
about the possibility of a renewal of warfare in a few
We must utilize UNSC Resolution 1701. There is within this UN
decision many things we need to nurture. We need to maintain daily
discussions with the international forces there. The second thing
is to connect with and start negotiations with Lebanese Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora.
Is that possible?
Yes, under the auspices of Resolution1701. I would also try,
through the UN, through the international forces, to initiate an
economic development program for South Lebanon. Not to leave it to
Hizbullah and Iranian money. I say, projects that can be of use to
the Lebanese in the south, and maybe even in the future even joint
projects. When I am talking about the future, I mean in terms of a
few years, not tomorrow.
These are all things that must be done. And when I say, "They must
be done," I like to use the phrase we all know: "Seek peace and
pursue it." If you really seek peace, you must pursue it; look for
every crack, every opportunity, every possibility in order to make
this peace attainable. And if we don't do that, as the Government
of Israel has been avoiding entering a genuine peace process, we
reach the result we have now. At the same time we must remember
that simultaneously, Israel must preserve its military capabilities
to attain regional military superiority.
One of the things that don't appear in the letter is the
international aspect. What is the possible international
When Israel respects international decisions and agreements, it
also enjoys international support. The Second Lebanese War taught
us this. Some will say that 1701 is not a great achievement, but it
is an achievement. Israel needs to learn from this that
international engagement is necessary. The Iranian issue, for
example, is not an Israeli issue. It requires international
preparedness to prevent the possibility that Iran will gain nuclear
capabilities for military purposes, or worse than that, creates
nuclear bombs that can be used by one or another terrorist
organization. The entire international order will thus be put in
disarray. That is why international cooperation is necessary.
Every final-status agreement signed between us and Syria will
require first and foremost a redeployment of the IDF which will
cost billions - to evacuate bases, to deploy weapons to counter
potential threats. Israel does not have the budgets for the
billions that that this will entail. The evacuation of settlers,
their re-absorption into Israel, also requires money beyond
We will also need the physical involvement of the international
community in the implementation of international agreements. For
example, the whole issue of early warning in the Golan Heights. And
we have talked about a demilitarized Palestinian state. Someone
must supervise this, not the IDF, and this is why we need the
presence of international monitors.
The international community will also have to give the formal seal
of approval to the agreements. For example, a decision of the
Security Council that the agreement replaces all the previous
decisions accepted by the Council. So the international community
has a decisive role, and Israel must create ongoing contact with
them in order to strengthen us.
And in the Middle Eastern arena, is there a role for Egypt,
Jordan, the Saudi initiative, etc.?
The agreements with Egypt and Jordan have proved themselves to this
day. They are being kept. Perhaps better with Jordan, and in a
colder way with Egypt, but we also see the Egyptian contribution to
the Israeli-Palestinian process. We have to remember that in the
newly formed regional situation, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan are on
the same side - the moderate, pro-Western and pro-stability side,
contrary to Iran, which is trying to undermine the order and
hegemony in the Arab world and in the Middle East in general. So
the strengthening of connections with Egypt and the Gulf States and
Saudi Arabia against the Iranian tendencies is something Israel has
Your letter recommends the initiation of "serious cautious and
secretive contacts and negotiations" with all the Palestinians,
Syrians, and Lebanese. Are you talking about government, Track Two
contacts, or what?
Once everything is public there are leaks and pressures from all
directions, and this creates the background for the various terror
organizations to try and disrupt the political process. We say
Israel needs to aim to do this officially. I am not talking about
Track Two or NGO channels. I am talking about the State of Israel.
It can make use of private, unofficial sources, but it needs to
initiate these negotiations to prepare for an international
regional conference at which things can be concluded. An
alternative is to create a full agreement, like Oslo, in a secret
avenue and make it public only after things are agreed upon. The
idea is that Israel needs to enter into the negotiations but it
needs to do it secretively.
The letter says "to talk to whoever is willing to talk." Does
this include Hamas?
What we are saying is that there is a basis that was determined for
the Israeli-Arab peace process. That basis is Resolution 242.
Whoever recognizes 242 is welcome to sit with us. If Hamas
recognizes 242, it is welcome. This is where most of the Israeli
public is also confused: Israel does not have to negotiate with
Hamas. The legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian
people is the PLO. Towards the end of the year, elections are
planned for the Palestinian National Congress and the Executive
Committee. If Hamas will take over the PLO by those elections, then
we will have a different PLO that will also have to do two things:
to say whether it continues to hold all the decisions of the PLO
about the changing of the Palestinian National Covenant,
recognizing Israel, or if it accepts decisions that cancel those
decisions; and then the world will need to respond to whether to
recognize this PLO as a partner.