The 8th of March marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Dr. David (Dave) Kimche, an Intelligence officer, a diplomat, a historian, and an activist. Aa a junior fellow in the Center for Policy Research, I met this impressive and towering Director General of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Jerusalem. For us, at the MFA he was the ultimate diplomat. However, he had devoted his best years to the service of the Mossad, Israel’s Secret Service, and most of his diverse and colorful activities there have not yet been declassified. Upon his death, the press described him as the Mystery-Man, the Spymaster and even as “Israel’s James Bond”. His Mossad colleagues spoke admiringly of a man, who could easily change identities or run assets, but also as the caring commanding officer who always put before him the welfare of his subordinates.
Dave Kimche was born in the U.K. to a devoted Zionist family. Making Aliyah in 1947, he saw combat service in Jerusalem and was wounded in the battle. After the 1948 war, he was eager to resume his studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he read Middle Eastern History. However, in 1953 he was recruited to the Mossad and was able to finish his Ph.D. thesis only on a special leave he took in the mid-1960s. In fact, he had written six history books, all of them based on very thorough research, using primary sources.
In this small monograph, I would like to shed some light on Dave Kimche’s scope and vision. This aspect of his activities and contribution is not commonly known, as he was a civil servant of the defense and security breed. He had reached the peak of his career under Prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. However, it was after he left government service that he turned to public activity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. In these troubled days that we currently undergo, it is important to remember how a defense and security chief like Dave Kimche, who was intimately familiar with the threats surrounding Israel and was ever so conscious and concerned with the country’s security, became intensely active with the two-state solution as the right solution for Israel’s defense challenges.
His integrity as a civil servant was well known. His widow, Dr. Ruth Kimche, remembers how PM Shamir had summoned him and tasked him with the position of Director General of MFA. Dave responded by saying that his views about peace with the Palestinians do not necessarily match those of a Likud-led government. Shamir, however, brushed those reservations aside. He insisted that Dave should take-on this assignment and become his right-hand man in foreign affairs.
Kimche’s conviction that peace with the Palestinians was the only option for Israel was rooted in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War of June 1967. He was on leave from the Mossad, completing his Ph.D. dissertation when he was called for military duty as a reserve commissioned officer Together with his old friend Captain Dan Bavly, Lt. Kimche was tasked by PM Levy Eshkol with the job of surveying the atmosphere in the West Bank. The findings would later be discussed and a final report, with recommendations, was to be laid before the decision-makers, who must have been overwhelmed with the magnitude of the newly acquired territories that were occupied in the Six-Day war. The two junior officers conducted interviews with local leaders, including mayors, villages’ dignitaries and various other authorities including radical elements. Surprisingly, the Palestinian leadership was eager to shed off their Jordanian masters and expressed its willingness to negotiate an agreement for a Palestinian state, side by side with Israel.
The report, dated 14 of June 1967, was titled, “A Proposal for settling the Palestinian issue”. Based on the survey and signed by senior intelligence officers, the report called for immediate action in order to avoid interference by external elements like the Soviet Union. The first principle for the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would be to constitute an independent Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, adjacent to the state of Israel, which would continue to maintain security.
The report suggested that In order to keep face with other Arab states, future negotiations should deal with core issues such as compensations for the 1948 refugees, the status of Jerusalem, demarcation of permanent borders, or assurances for economic facilities like access to ports. In his book, The Last Option (Scribner, 1992) Kimche described the post-1967 period as a major missed opportunity for peace. Many more would follow. He maintained close relations with Aziz Shehadeh, a prominent Ramallah Attorney. Together with some forty West Bank dignitaries, Shehadeh suggested convening a conference in Jericho to begin negotiations with Israel and was determined to carry on with his plan in spite of fierce opposition from both Jordan and the PLO. Following their report, PM Eshkol appointed both Bavly & Kimche to serve on a Special Committee in charge of political contacts in the Administered Territories; but within one month and due to the opposition within the cabinet and the Knesset, the idea was abandoned, but its basic principles re-appeared in future peace proposals.
The report was submitted to PM Eshkol and other cabinet ministers. No further action was taken and no further discussion was held. The moderate voices in the government and Knesset were too few and were soon overcome by opposing groups, even within the coalition government including Eshkol’s own party.
Kimche went back to the Mossad to pursue his brilliant career as an operative with outstanding qualities in switching appearances and fitting in various intellectual environments with both charm and elegance. He set up the Psychological Warfare unit that required innovative and sophisticated thinking, and was leading the clandestine approach to form relations with countries and international bodies that had no diplomatic relations with Israel, but could share mutual interests. Among them were groups of Kurds of Iraq and the Christians in Lebanon.
As the Director-General of the MFA Dave strove to end Israel’s isolation and establish new relationships in Asia and Africa. Deputy Director-General Avi Primor described his ability in establishing contacts with key figures in Africa and Asia, as well as in persuading career diplomats to serve in Africa. However, he had to cope with complicated crises hurting Israel’s image and standing, such as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Sabra and Shatila massacres and the failed attempt to establish peace with a Christian-led Lebanon. Later on, he was confronted with the fallout of the Iran-Contra affair in the United States and its Israeli aspect. All the while maintaining close intelligence relations with Israel’s allies, the U.S. and the U.K.
Following his retirement, he became a peace-activist. He founded the Israeli Council for Foreign Relations and took part in meetings with many Palestinians, who may have not accepted Israel’s government policies, but still respected Dave’s integrity, creativity and his devoutness to finding new routes for peace. Everyone was enthralled with his personality and wanted to hear his message. He was also a signatory to the Geneva Initiative.
Dave Kimche thought that official Israel may have missed several opportunities to advance the political process. He had therefore participated in a number of initiatives to restart the process. It was Herbert Pundik, the legendary Danish-Israeli editor of the Copenhagen daily, Politiken, who initiated these meetings, which were held in Copenhagen and Cairo. The Danish government hosted those meetings between civic associations from Israel, the Palestinian territories and Arab countries, in order to promote understanding and agreement with regard to the road to peace. One of the better meetings was held in 1997, in order to promote regional peace and to support the political process. This meeting brought in Egyptian intellectuals who had traditionally opposed normalization with Israel and the peace process, Jordanians who were close to the Hashemite court and even Palestinians who were close to radical organizations supported by Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the U.S.S.R. In an interview in an interview during that conference, Dave said that this group would form a lobby for peace: “We will give hell to our governments if they procrastinate from the peace process. We are going to monitor our governments to see [that] they go ahead and lobby our governments in order to keep on track…”
An Israeli patriot, Dave Kimche was a warrior for peace. One of his Mossad colleagues characterized him as a civil servant throughout his life. Indeed, since his combat service in the 1948 war and through his almost thirty years career in the Mossad he was fighting for his country. As a diplomat, he was struggling to get Israel out of her isolation during the war in Lebanon, and as a Peace activist, he was fighting for an end to the conflict, convinced that it was not just the last option, but the only option for Israel.