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My Vision of Peace-Ami Ayalon

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My Vision of Peace

By Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon

Thank you very much for joining me. I want to start by saying something about myself–not to describe what I did in the Israeli Navy which, I think, is irrelevant but I want to mention the fact that my parents came to Israel in the 1930’s. My father was an illegal immigrant and my mother came as a child o study in Jerusalem. Together, they helped to create a Kibbutz in the Jordan valley. My father retired several years ago at the age of eighty, for the last ten years he was the carpenter on the Kibbutz.

I joined the Navy and served for 32 years. I retired in January 1996. It was two months after the assassination of our Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Upon retirement I planned for a business career but after one week of interviewing I received a telephone call in the middle of the night from Shimon Peres. He asked me to be the Director of the Israeli Shin Bet (internal security). This was a strange request because I refused the offer when it came from Prime Minister Rabin twelve months earlier. The fact that I didn’t take the job then has stayed with me ever since.

I joined the Israeli secret service as Director for four and a half years. The first ten days were probably the most painful days for Israel. Between the last week of February and the first week of March 1996 we lost fifty-five people to terror while 215 people were wounded. It was clear to me that unless we faced this wave of violence the whole peace process would collapse.

After one year we dramatically reduced the level of terror. Between 1998 and the start of the intifada in 2000 we brought terror to levels that seem amazing low by today’s standards. In the twelve months before the intifada we lost only one Israeli citizen as a result of terror. This seems strange; we have to remind ourselves that during the last four and a half years we lost more than one thousand Israeli citizens to terror.

The question is: how were we able to reduce terror? This is an important question because if we understand what happened then we will be able to repeat it. This is something that we have been trying to do with the People’s Voice campaign over the past three years.

Let me tell you why terror levels fell. It did not happen because of the Israeli Shin-Bet, I was the director most of the time and I can tell you that Avi Dichter who replaced me is a very good Director. From an operational point of view the Israeli Shin-Bet is doing a great job.

There are reasons other than the Shin Bet that terror levels fell. We analyzed these and found a very interesting correlation between three factors. The first was Palestinian public opinion, as it was measured by Doctor Khalil Shikaki. The second factor was the terror policy made by Hamas, and the third factor was the prevention and security policy of the Palestinian Authority.

As we understood it then, when support for the peace process was high amongst the Palestinian street the Palestinian Authority made greater efforts to prevent terror and Hamas used terror less often.

Allow me to explain. We Israelis see Hamas as a terror organization and we are right. But we must understand that Hamas is not only a terrorist organization. It is also a way of life and a religious movement. Hamas has charities, they have municipal organizations, and they have financial organizations. Hamas will not fight against the will of the Palestinian street. They will not use terror when Palestinians do not approve of terrorism as a legitimate tool.

When Palestinians see progress in the political process (the peace process) they do not approve terror as a legitimate tool. This is why when the Palestinians felt like they were achieving freedom, less humiliation, and an improved economy they did not approve of Hamas or terror. For this reason the PA could fight against terror and Hamas without being perceived as Israeli collaborators.

I used to meet the Palestinian security leaders monthly. People like Jibril Rajub, Mohammad Dahlan, Hamin al-Hindi and others. We met to share information and cooperate in fighting terror. They used to tell me, “We are not meeting with you and sharing information because you are paying our salaries.” They used to tell me that they did not view themselves as the South Lebanese Army. They cooperated with me because they understood that at the end of the road they will achieve their freedom as a result of the process which included fighting terror.

What we understood then was that the hope of the Palestinian people was the main reason why we were able to reduce the level of violence the way we did it during the late 1990’s.

In a way this is the main assumption of the People’s Voice campaign. We have to create hope amongst Palestinians and Israelis because this will create the necessary energy to do what needs to be done. For the Palestinians this means fighting terror the way they did in the late 1990’s.

The People’s Voice is based on two assumptions. The first is to start from the future and go backwards. Meaning to describe the future – where we want to go – to create a hope for our vision of the future. Only then can we go backwards and see what needs to be done to reach the future and what the consequences will be. The second assumption is that we must go back to the people. This means that only the people are able to show the way forward to our leaders. Our leaders use diplomacy, they keep their cards close to their chest, and by doing so they are not able to deal with the future and to tell us where we are heading. When we launched our initiative three years ago we faced difficulties; we faced opposition from our side. We were not very popular. On the Palestinian side they faced not only opposition but also violence.

Today according to our polls between 68-75% of the Israeli public approves of our six principles for negotiation of a final status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis (http://www.mifkad.org.il/en/principles.asp). If we add to our six principles two additional principles (a security fence along the agreed border and security guarantees made to Israel by the international community) we reach beyond 75% approval amongst the Israeli public.

The public approval rates amongst Palestinians are very similar. This represents a dramatic change that has taken place over the past four years. I think that what we see today is that the two people, not only agree to a two state solution, but agree and are ready to pay the price in order to get there. Most Palestinians understand that a Palestinian State alongside Israel will mean giving up the right of return (to Israel). Israelis understand that in order to get where we want to be, which is for Israel to be a safe and democratic home for the Jewish people, we must give up most of the territories, most of the settlements, and to share Jerusalem. This was not as clear three or four years ago but according to the polls this is the price Israelis and Palestinians are willing to pay for peace.

I want to finish by saying that these principles resonate beyond the Israeli public today. Our principles are penetrating the political community as well. If you listen to Likud Members of Knesset and Minister like Ehud Olmert, Tzippi Livni, Meir Shetreet, and Micki Eitan you will hear that they accept our six principles. They didn’t see the light one morning but they understand success in future elections—whether they will be in twelve months or two years—will depend on accepting what the Israeli public believes will lead to stability and security.

This is why in spite of the fact that the present situation is not very hopeful, I am still optimistic. If we see the disengagement plan in the context of the six principles of the People’s Voice we will see that this is the first step on the Road Map leading to a two state solution. I believe that we shall see stability and security in my generation if the disengagement ends up being a step in the right direction. If, for example, disengagement will lead to the creation of additional settlements in the West Bank there will be no security, no stability and the economy will go into further decline; we will have repeated the same mistakes that we made in the past. This is why the Peoples Voice is so important.

Let me finish just by saying that after sailing for thirty-two years in the Navy I learned that if a Captain does not know where he wants to sail no wind on earth will be strong enough to bring him there. It is not important where we withdraw from but where we go to. The six principles that the Mifkad Leumi or People’s Voice propose is where Israel should go.

Source - http://www.ameinu.net/perspectives/current_issues.php?articleid=55 at  Ameinu Progressive Zionist Organization

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