Former Shin Bet head issues dire warning

TORONTO —Israel will face an upsurge of terrorism and further international criticism and isolation if current peace talks with the Pa­lestinian Authority collapse, warns Ami Ayalon, the former director of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domes­tic intelligence ser­vice.

Ami Ayalon [Sheldon Kirshner photo]

The negotiations, launched early last month in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., under the sponsorship of the United States, were thrown into doubt after the partial 10-month-old construction moratorium in the West Bank expired, prompting the Palestinians to suspend their participation in the process.

In an interview in Toronto last week, conducted before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his cabinet to discuss the possibility of extending the partial moratorium in exchange for U.S. security guarantees,  Ayalon said that if the Palestinians pull out of the talks, Israel should expect severe long-term consequences.

“Security will deteriorate and there will be more terror,” said Ayalon, who headed the Shin Bet from 1996 to 2000  and served as minister without portfolio in the Israeli cabinet from 2007 onward. He currently runs AKIM, an organization that assists Israelis with intellectual disabilities.

The chaos following a breakdown of talks might well create a situation in which Hamas eventually seizes control of the West Bank through elections or violence, noted Ayalon, a former naval commando who commanded the Israeli Navy from 1992 to 1996.

The suspension of talks would further radicalize Israeli Arabs, isolate Israel internationally and embolden Iran to lead the Muslim world, added Ayalon, who came in second to Ehud Barak in a Labor party leadership race three years ago.

Ayalon said that if the two-state option fades away and Palestinians in the West Bank are denied equal rights by the Israeli government, international opinion could well downplay Israel’s struggle for security and brand Israel as an apartheid state.

An agreement between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the People’s Voice peace initiative, he said.

Jointly launched in 2003 by Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian peace activist and university professor, the initiative is based on a negotiated two-state solution.

Under the initiative, Israel would be the state of the Jewish people, while Palestine would be the state of the Palestinians. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized

Permanent borders would be drawn on  the basis of the June 4, 1967, lines, and border modifications would be based on an equal 1:1 land swap taking into account security, territorial contiguity and demographic considerations.

If the initiative is implemented, Ayalon observed, Israel would retain from two to four per cent of the West Bank hugging the old Old Green Line.  

After the establishment of agreed borders, Jewish settlers would leave the Palestinian state, which will be composed of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He estimates that upward of 90,000 Jewish settlers would return to their former homes in Israel.

Jerusalem would be the capital of the two states, with freedom of religion and full access to holy sites guaranteed to Israelis and Palestinians. Neither side would exercise control over the holy places, but Israel would be the guardian of the Western Wall and the Palestinians would be the guardian of the Temple Mount.

Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods in Jerusalem would, respectively, come under Palestinian  and Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinian refugees would return to a Palestinian state rather than Israel, and an international fund would compensate them for their suffering.

The conflict would be terminated and all claims from both sides would end.

Ayalon said the goal of the initiative was to canvas support for its broad principles by collecting Israeli and Palestinian signatures. According to Ayalon, 450,000 signatures, of whom 190,000 are Palestinian, have been collected.

Ayalon and his Palestinian partner have not actively worked on their plan in recent years.

“According to polls, most Israelis and Palestinians are ready to accept our ideas,” Ayalon said.

The initiative has been endorsed by leaders on both sides, he said, citing Ehud Olmert, Israel’s former prime minister, and Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister and current leader of the opposition Kadimah party.

“People around [Mahmoud] Abbas – the president of the Palestinian Authority – and in Jordan and Egypt have told me that the parameters of an agreement will be based on our initiative.”

Netanyahu has not endorsed the initiative. But several years ago, Netanyahu’s current national security adviser, Uzi Arad, told Ayalon he had urged him  to embrace it.

“Our initiative defines what is vital for Israel,” he said. “Israel will be the state of the Jewish people. Palestinian refugees will return to a Palestinian state. The conflict will end and no more demands will be made on Israel.”

Ayalon expressed confidence that the principles of his initiative will be reflected in a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

Turning to Iran, Ayalon said it is on its way to becoming an existential threat both to Israel and Arab states.

In an allusion to an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites, he said, “We shouldn’t exclude any options from the table.”

But he suggested that Iran may yet become a nuclear power.

“We have to accept the idea that one of our enemies one day will acquire weapons of mass destruction. We should be ready for that day.”

Ayalon said the problem posed by Iran’s desire to build a nuclear arsenal can also be addressed by resolving Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.