Israel cannot achieve genuine security unless the Palestinians can acquire statehood, says Ami Ayalon, the former director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service.
Drawing a direct connection between these imperatives, he said, “We have to create hope for the Palestinians so that Israel can attain security.”
He made these comments in a webinar on December 13 sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.
Calling for a two-state solution to resolve Israel’s protracted conflict with the Palestinians, he noted, “This land is ours, but not only ours. We have to divide it to maintain our Jewish identity and democracy.”
Now a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, Ayalon is the author of Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and the Hope for its Future, which was published earlier this year.
Ayalon urged the Israeli government to establish a “political horizon” so that Israel and the Palestinian Authority can resume direct negotiations, which collapsed in the spring of 2014.
Inferring that partition is the most practical and realistic method of breaking the current deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, Ayalon expressed confidence that both sides will eventually reach a peace agreement.
Claiming that the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians are ready to accept the concept of two states for two people, he said that a minority of 15 percent to 20 percent of Israelis and Palestinians oppose this solution.
He reached this conclusion while directing the Shin Bet from 1995 to 2000 and while working with Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian academic from eastern Jerusalem, on The People’s Peace initiative in 2003.
A decorated solider who fought in the Six Day War and the War of Attrition and commanded the Israeli Navy from 1992 to 1995, he said the Palestinians cannot be militarily deterred by Israel because they have nothing to lose. “We shall never come to agreement (with them) if they’re left without hope,” he said.
He was not surprised by the eruption of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000 because he and his associates at the Shin Bet had read the writing on the wall.
In his view, Israel is trying to deny national self-determination to the Palestinians. “If we don’t change our policy, we will bring Zionism to an end,” he warned.
Ayalon, 75, was born in Tiberias and raised on Ma’agan, a kibbutz on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Elected to the Knesset as a Labor Party candidate in 2006, he ran for its leadership, losing the race to Ehud Barak, the former prime minister and chief of staff of the armed forces.
In 2007, he was appointed to the cabinet as a minister without-portfolio. He left his post, and the party, in 2008.
Ayalon said his belief in partition crystallized after he realized that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip was cruel and counter-productive. “There was something wrong with this concept of Zionism,” he noted. “I began seeing a different reality.”
He added, “I used to think in black and white terms. We were the good people defending ourselves against bad people, the Palestinians.”
Ayalon said he learned they are “human beings” rather than “targets.”
During a question-and-answer session, Ayalon confessed that Israelis behaved like “liberators” after the 1967 Six Day War.
“We didn’t understand the Palestinians’ national feelings. They began using violence against us. We sent in more troops, set up more road blocks and built more settlements, which are not security assets but liabilities. It was a vicious circle.”
Ayalon predicted that, unless Israel and the Palestinians sign a peace agreement, further violence and terrorism will ensue.
“The only way to change the status quo is for Israel to present the Palestinians with a political horizon,” he said. “I don’t want us to face a third intifada.”