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PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT BOULDER
All of the suffering in Gaza -- indeed
all of the suffering endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation for the
last eight years -- could have been avoided if Israel had negotiated a peace
agreement with Yass
Arafat when it had the chance, in 2001.
What chance? The official
Israeli position is that there was no chance, “no partner for peace.” That’s
what Israeli leaders heard from their Military Intelligence (MI) service in
2000, after the failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David. Arafat
scuttled those talks, MI told the leaders, because he was planning to set off a
new round of violence, a second intifada.
Now former top officials of MI say the whole story, painting Arafat
as a terrorist out to destroy Israel,
was an intentional fiction. That’s the most explosive finding in an
published in Israel’s
top newspaper, Ha’aretz,
by one of its finest journalists, Akiva Eldar.
Much like our own CIA,
it turns out, MI ha d two
versions of every story. MI analysts g ave
their findings to government policymakers in oral reports that simply t old
the political leaders what they want ed to
hear. The oral story was shaped by the political
winds. The truth was kept secret,
filed away in written documents, waiting to be pulled out to cover MI’s
posterior if the government’s policies turned out to be failures.
Much of the information in the Ha’aretz report
comes from Ephraim Lavie, an honors graduate of Israel’s National
who rose through the ranks in MI's research
eventually became head of MI's Palestinian research unit during the era of the Camp David talks. “Defining Arafat and the PA as 'terrorist elements' was the
directive of the political echelon,” according to Lavie. “The unit's written analyses were presenting
completely different assessments, based on reliable intelligence material.”
So the idea that "there is no one to talk
to and nothing to talk about," simply because Arafat rejected the Israeli
offer at Camp David, just was not true. But it
was what the politicians wanted to hear.
Journalist Eldar found others who had
worked inside MI to corroborate Lavie’s story. General
Gadi Zohar, who once headed
the MI terrorism desk, agrees that the heads of the MI research unit
"developed and advanced the 'no partner' theory and [the notion] that
'Arafat planned and initiated the intifada' even though it was clear at that
time that this was not the researchers' reasoned professional opinion.”
In fact, the intelligence veterans say, MI concluded
after Camp David that Arafat was willing to follow the Oslo process and abide by interim agreements.
He wanted to keep the negotiating process alive. He even told his staff to
prepare public opinion to accept an agreement that would include compromises. He
thought violence would not help his cause. In late September, when violence did
erupt in a second intifida,
it was purely a popular protest, MI found. Arafat and his advisors never expected it,
much less planned it.
They did let the violence go
on, in order to put pressure on the Israelis in future negotiations. But
Israeli leaders had already made it clear that they
had no interest in further compromise on
their part. That’s exactly why MI invented the story of Arafat’s
intransigence and commitment to violence; MI , as always, was giving the political leaders oral
briefings that supported policies the politicians had already agreed on. As Lavie puts it, the MI research unit was an instrument in
the politicians' propaganda campaign.
“The conception underneath the
'no partner' approach became a model with grave national implications,” Zohar points out. The
most serious result, says Lavie, is that Israeli
leaders have “ignored the connection between Israel's acts and their
implications for the Palestinian arena.” Instead,
that it is
an innocent victim of the Palestinians, who are bent only on violence , set
in motion a vicious cycle that has been spiraling downward ever since.
MI told Israel’s
leaders that the violence was all Arafat’s fault, hiding what it knew about the
broad popular support for acts of resistance. By undermining the power of
Arafat, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli leaders created a
governmental vacuum. Then they turned around and said, “See, we have no one to
negotiate with, no partner for peace.” Instead, Israel responded to the intifada
with heightened violence of its own, which of course provoked even more
Palestinian popular resistance and even more Israeli suppression.
The combination of Palestinian political vacuum and Israeli violence
also boosted the fortunes of Hamas, another development that MI kept hidden
political leadership. To
reinforce the “no partner for peace” story, MI treated Arafat as the only significant
political force on the Palestinian side. So it ignored the growing power of
unit predicted a tie between Hamas and Fatah in the January 2006 Palestinian
election, or at most a tiny advantage for Hamas. Hamas, of course, won a major
victory, in election
that outside observers found free and fair.
All of this,
according to journalist Eldar and his sources, is crucial
background for the tragic Israeli relationship with Gaza. The MI oral briefings (to repeat Lavie’s crucial words) “ignored the connection between Israel's
acts and their implications for the Palestinian arena.” So they encouraged Israel’s
leaders to believe that they could separate their own nation from the neighbors
they continued to control. In the West Bank
they began building a physical wall. In Gaza,
they withdrew their occupation troops, hoping to leave Gaza to live or die on its own. The idea
that Hamas might be strong enough to gain popular control in Gaza was simply ignored.
The evacuation from Gaza
was tied up with a larger strategy, again spurred by telling leaders what they
wanted to hear. When the Bush administration endorsed the so-called Road Map
for Middle East peace, MI told the Israeli
government not to take it seriously; it was just an American
to mollify the Arab states. Israeli leaders were unprepared when it turned out
that Washington expected Israel to take the road map
at the time, Ariel Sharon, then announced his plan to get Israeli
troops and settlers out of Gaza.
He hoped to avoid pressure from Bush to continue negotiations. Sharon's senior advisor, Dov Weisgla ss,
disengagement [from Gaza]
is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is
necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians...
This whole package that is
called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda
But the message to Hamas was that Israel would act unilaterally,
refusing to negotiate with the ascendant Palestinian party. Instead, the Israelis would
rely on brute force. Tragically, as the events of the past two weeks have
shown, the level of force just goes on escalating. Hamas, like any political
party, has more moderate and more intransigent wings. Israel’s policies have consistently
undermined the moderates, who would want to pursue negotiations if they saw any
chance. Israel has denied them that chance,
leaving violence the
Yet in Gaza, especially, Israel’s
underestimation of Hamas power is still proving a fatal mistake.
But these new revelations
show, as Lavie notes,
that the policy of
unilateralism and brute force did not originate with Sharon and his right-wing Likud Party. It
goes back to 2000, when the Labor Party, headed by Ehud Barak, refused to agree
with Yass ir
Arafat that the path of negotiation -- as difficult and tedious as it was --
should be pursued to a successful end. The one attempt to revive the
negotiations, at Taaba in early 2001, collapsed when
Today Barak, as the Defense
Minister in charge of the Gaza
attack, sees his once-fading political fortunes rapidly rising again. the
Israeli public still believes what MI tells the political leaders, in briefings
that are often leaked to the press: Israel is a helpless victim of
Palestinian violence, violence that Israeli policies did nothing to provoke.
we know that Israel’s own
Military Intelligence service ha s long
known how false this story is.