With the horrific and genocidal civil war raging in Syria, Israel’s occupation of lands captured in the 1967 war and its refusal to abide by international law there has taken a back seat.
But as J.J. Goldberg, eminent editor and columnist of the New York based The Forward reminded a Montreal audience last month, there is a growing consensus among security and military leaders that a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s security. Canadian Friends of Peace Now and the Labour Zionist Circle sponsored the talk.
Goldberg pointed to the central message as delivered by six living former heads of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet (Shabak), in the Oscar nominated film The Gatekeepers about the need to end the occupation.
They highlighted “the moral quandaries that an Israeli security officer has to face trying to keep down a population that doesn’t want him there, the quandaries of assassinating people, even though you know they are guilty.”
“All are saying that Israel must get out, it must sign a peace treaty with the Palestinians: Whatever the terms will be, they will be better than what Israel is headed for right now,” he told the audience of more than 100 at the Temple Emanu-El Beth Sholom.
“These are the people who interrogate the Palestinians, listen in on their private conversations, who at times drag them into dark tunnels and break their knuckles – they know the Palestinians better than almost anybody who is not a Palestinian!”
Goldberg noted that since 1988, the central Palestinian leadership has been committed to a negotiated path to a two-state solution, but many supporters of Israel inside and outside the country fail to accept this.
In 2014, after the last Gaza war, an initial 103 of some 600 ex-Israeli generals, former directors of Mossad and Shin Bet, formed Commanders for Israel’s Security and wrote an open letter to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start negotiations based on the Arab Peace Initiative – the position adopted in 2002 by 22 members of the Arab League offering peace and normal relations with Israel if it agrees to a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders.
“Israel never accepted those borders, and (the late) Abba Eban called them the Auschwitz borders, indefensible,” Goldberg noted.
A year later, the group of ex-generals and former security service directors had increased to about 250 and they issued an open letter urging Israelis, because of his hardline on peace initiatives, to vote for anyone but Netanyahu.
He recalled a conversation he had with a colonel, an aide to former defence minister Moshe Dayan, in 1974, who warned that the Yom Kippur War of 1973 demonstrated that the settlements are an impediment to security.
“When the Syrians crossed the Golan border with hundreds of tanks Israel had to counter attack but lost several hours evacuating children and civilians.”
According to Goldberg, in the eyes of the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, in agreeing to accept negotiations based on the 1967 borders, the Palestinian leadership accepts that Israel essentially gets 78 per cent of historic Palestine and is settling for 22 per cent, with possible adjustments.
When the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 became public, he recalled that Efraim Halevy, then head of the Mossad, “went running to the boss, Ariel Sharon, and called it an incredible opportunity, an historic change.”
“Sharon said ‘I don’t trust them’. Halevy told me that Sharon asked for an invitation to Beirut, and they responded by asking what he would say. Sharon said, ‘I’ll decide when I get there’. That was the end of that.”
“One year later, four then living heads of Shin Bet in an interview with Israel’s largest newspaper, Yediot, said, ‘We can’t stay there. We are creating more terrorists. We need a border between us and the people who hate us, and we need to pull the settlers out of the deep territory, so that we’re here and they’re there.”
A month later, Sharon announced he would pull out of Gaza and part of the northern West Bank. Why did he do it? According to Dror Moreh, director of The Gatekeepers, Sharon’s then chief of staff, Dov Weissglass, told him to “read the Yediot article.”
“There are now 16 ex-heads of the Shin Bet, Mossad, and Israel Defence Forces, who accept the Arab Peace Initiative and only one who doesn’t — former IDF head and ex Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon.”
Israel’s military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevy, says that Israel does not now face any existential threats, and earlier this year told the cabinet that to end the spate of stabbings, Israel should allow more Palestinians into Israel with work permits “so they’re not hungry.”
“Lift the checkpoints on the highways so they can get to school and get to the dentist, instead of making their lives miserable, and let some prisoners out,” Halevy suggested.
Unfortunately, he concluded, there is no leader in Israel now with enough credibility to advance the cause of peace.