Interview with former Head of GSS Yuval Diskin

Interview with former Head of GSS Yuval Diskin

By Dror Moreh, Yediot Aharonot
04.01.2012
via Yediot Aharonot News
 
Yuval Diskin, former Head of the Israeli GSS, explains "There is a moment in which you understand that we have to do everything, I mean everything possible, to find a different path, a path of dialogue and compromise, in order to try to ensure the chance of a better future for our children. And what I am saying does not come from a place of political right wing or left wing"
 
Former Shin Beit Chief, Yuval Diskin (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
 
 
[Excerpts]
 
Q: But Olmert, as it is always claimed, was willing to give Abu Mazen almost everything and he too was given a negative answer.
 
“At that time we enjoyed very high quality quiet in Judea and Samaria. There was a very fertile security dialogue taking place with a diplomatic dialogue going in in the background between prime minister Olmert and Abu Mazen.
 
“I’m not about to get into the details of the negotiation, but I will try to explain why they did not succeed: the main reason was Olmert’s political hourglass, which was quickly running out, and Abu Mazen did not feel confident that Olmert was in fact the person with whom he could close a deal—not because he did not personally trust Olmert, he saw that Olmert meant what he said—but I think he did not believe that Olmert had the ability and the time to complete the job, and when Abu Mazen had to make very important decisions in the Palestinian arena, and also had the impossible problem of the Gaza Strip, which he didn’t even control, he decided to wait.
 
“And then a new government came along, the Netanyahu government, and while it’s true that Netanyahu made the Bar Ilan speech, it very quickly turned out that this was meant to sound good for the international community. and ‘two states for two peoples’ is not exactly what we are hearing now in the Likud corridors.
 
“It’s not that there was no attempt to open all sorts of channels for some sort of negotiations with the Palestinians, or to create the impression that we are trying, but this was not done seriously, persistently, and I would say, with actual intent. And now we are seeing how slowly and gradually this business is eroding and dissolving. At the same time, we are slowly elevating Hamas.
 
“Notice the following fact: the Netanyahu government’s main power, since the day of its establishment and to this very day, is in maintaining the impasse. As long as there is an impasse in almost any sphere, the government and the coalition survive—and that is Netanyahu’s main goal. But beyond that, Netanyahu fears ideologically taking a step toward the two-state solution, and furthermore—he is not built for this by nature, he cannot make decisions of the magnitude made by Begin or Rabin or Sharon.
 
“And worst of all: he is surrounded by people who are taking the Likud even farther to the right, and he has a coalition that is outflanking him. Unfortunately, even the Americans are not wielding their influence to get both sides to make progress and we have arrived at where we’ve arrived.
 
“But matters don’t stop there. In the last few months we are beginning to see growing agitation of the Palestinian street in Judea and Samaria. And when the ground roils we will have to take steps to put down this unrest. Forceful actions by us will lead to forceful responses, and to more steps and more steps, and a process is thus created that will lead to an Intifada that is out of control.
 
“I’ve been in this game for most of my adult life. In the end, the security forces have to do the hard work, sometimes also the dirty and unpleasant work. But the job of the security forces is to create the conditions so that the political echelon can do something with it, and the quiet that was achieved in recent years was an opportunity that the political echelon should not have missed. So you can call Abu Mazen a peace rejectionist. I say that he is not a peace rejectionist. He is not an easy partner for peace, but let’s admit the truth—are we easy partners?”
 
Q: So the security forces gave the political echelon the conditions for holding negotiations, and instead of doing this, we build in the settlements.
 
“Look, Abu Mazen and Fayyad and the heads of the Palestinian security organizations cannot, over time, be depicted as looking out for the interests of the State of Israel, while Israel, as they see it, steals more and more land in Judea and Samaria from them every day and builds more and more settlements, further distancing their dream for a state, parceling the land into areas that will be very hard to link, even in Naftali Bennett’s interchange plan that is completely divorced from logic. I don’t know if we can make peace, but these steps certainly make even the last chance left even smaller.
 
“I am very disturbed that we are creating a sort of ‘death grip’ in which both sides will be so intertwined with each other that it will be impossible to separate them, and in such a scenario, we will be fated to endless fighting, to growing extremism on both sides, with the gulf between the sides growing, and getting into a cycle of another clash and another clash that will not lead us anywhere.” […]
 
“We are simply creating a situation that will be insoluble, because it will be impossible to reach a decisive outcome. Impossible. This illusion that the State of Israel will be able to control so many people and suppress their aspirations and their freedom over time, is frightening. Believe me, I was there and I am intimately familiar with the situation. Even if we settle another 200,000 or 300,000 or 500,000 Jews in the territories, the problem will only increase, because the Palestinians are also multiplying at the same time.
 
“I believe that the solution to which the State of Israel must strive is an agreement with the Palestinians, which will create two states for two peoples. We must not remain in this situation of a deadlock, because there is really no such thing—things happen all the time. So there is a diplomatic deadlock but the settlements continue, the Palestinian frustration continues, the unrest grows, Fatah weakens, Hamas gains strength and the matter continues to become more complicated all the time. And under the surface, things continue to seethe and burn.”
 
Q: Netanyahu declared that he was committed to a two-state solution in the Bar Ilan speech. When you were GSS director, did you discuss this issue at all?
 
“It came up in a lot of discussions, but I never had the sense that Bibi truly intended to do it. It’s kalam fadi (empty words—DM). He paid a great deal of attention to the technical details of who would talk with whom, and who wouldn’t talk with whom, and which track would be opened and which track would be closed, but in truth there was very little content to this [talk]. Until the end of my term, at the very least, I did not feel that there was an actual desire.
 
“There may have been a certain point when I thought that Bibi was waking up. He asked me after a work meeting between the two of us, in which I presented to him the need to initiate a diplomatic move with the Palestinians—to come to a meeting of the forum of eight and present my view on the subject. I came and presented and there were a great deal of questions and objections, and during the discussion I saw Bibi backing down and withdrawing into himself, and of course not backing up the things that we had discussed in our meeting, but sitting and mainly remaining silent. In the end it wound up with the usual summary of countless discussions held by Bibi—we’ll hold another discussion on the matter. And what happened in the next discussion I can let you guess on your own.”
 
Q: And what is happening today?
 
“We are making Abu Mazen weaker every day, and believe that this is a success. I think that we have to decide with whom we want to hold the discussion, with Hamas or with Abu Mazen. If we want to hold the discussion with Abu Mazen, then let’s talk to him. But what is done in practice is that we are almost not talking to Abu Mazen, most of the time we humiliate him.
 
“And the most absurd thing: If we look at the situation over the years, one of the key people who contributed to the rise in Hamas’s strength is Bibi Netanyahu, back from his first term as prime minister. One time because of the entanglement of the operation in Amman he freed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin […]. After that he released all the prisoners in the Shalit deal, which was another push for Hamas, and in the end he permitted Khaled Mashal to enter the Gaza Strip like a king after Operation Pillar of Defense.
 
“If I look at where Hamas was before we assassinated Ahmed Jaabari and launched Operation Pillar of Defense and where it is today, then in political terms it is in a much better place.
 
“Hamas is in a state of euphoria, because the Palestinian public has a feeling that it managed to turn this into a victory for itself once again. Hamas fired at Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion and Jerusalem, and came out of it at a relatively low cost. From the standpoint of the average Palestinian citizen on the street this is a huge achievement. No one dared to do such things in the past.
 
“From Hamas’s standpoint, Israel negotiated with it; its leader Khaled Mashal, who was unable to enter the Gaza Strip before, entered it; the legitimacy that Hamas receives internationally has increased; and despite all the attacks by the State of Israel, it looks as if it were afraid to enter the Gaza Strip.
 
“Israel upgraded Hamas’s status. It weakened Abu Mazen even further, because now Hamas has gained strength in Judea and Samaria as well. We saw the demonstrations staged by Hamas in Judea and Samaria, why is that? Because Abu Mazen understands that the energy of the public and of Hamas is strong, and he cannot come out against them at the moment, he has no choice but to sit quietly. When he sits quietly Fatah weakens and Hamas gains strength.”
 
Q: So where will things go from here, in your assessment?
 
“I can tell you my opinion on the matter. There is a great lack of clarity in the media when people ask whether a third Intifada will break out. There is no clear definition for an Intifada, and those who started the previous Intifadas did not believe that they would last for years. There are events in which you can assess how they will start, but it is difficult to assess how and when they will end.
 
“The main thing that causes an Intifada, in my experience, is immense frustration in the public, with a sense of hopelessness and no way out. That is what gave rise to Intifadas in the past and that is what created the Arab Spring.
 
“When people on the Palestinian street begin to lose hope—when there is no peace process, when the economic situation deteriorates, there is no freedom of movement, and there are more and more settlements—it creates a sense of a dead end, and this is what generates the most pressure. Conversely, I will remind you that the Palestinians also see what happened in the Arab states in which the Arab Spring broke out, and they understand that an attempt can be made to emulate this model. For this reason, I believe that the concentration of gasoline fumes in the air is very high at the present time. And now there is the question of what will be the spark that will cause them to ignite. Sometimes it is one spark, and sometimes it is a series of sparks that causes an explosion.
“I speak to Palestinians and I feel that this process began long ago. I feel the frustration, their lack of hope that anything can be changed with our current government and coalition. I don’t know how long the deterioration process will last, meaning when it will start to gain stronger momentum, and I don’t want to say that it is irreversible, I actually think that it is still reversible. The question is what we will do to make it reversible.
 
“In the meantime, we have to understand what is happening to Fatah now. As it fails to implement its political agenda, two things will happen to it: Either it will have to change its political platform and say that Palestine has to be liberated only by force of arms, or else it will vanish and become a minority. In Judea and Samaria it appears that Hamas will not be able to take control of the area physically, but this doesn’t mean that it won’t capture people’s hearts.
 
“As the sense of futility continues, as Hamas shows its staying power in the Gaza Strip against the ineffectuality that we demonstrate, the chance that the West Bank will remain an isle of Fatah in the heart of the Muslim Brotherhood is dropping. Now all it needs is a spark or an incident that spins out of control, so that this affair will gain very great momentum.”
 
Q: Don’t you think that Netanyahu sees this?
 
“Look, I haven’t sat in security and political discussions in the past 18 months. I presume that the security officials understand and they also have more data before their eyes than I have now. I base myself on gut feelings and my long-standing experience. I have been in these situations too many times, and I also think that the elections in Israel could be an accelerator for this matter.
 
“The Palestinians told me on several occasions that they are waiting for the outcome of the elections. I said to them, ‘what do you think you’ll see in the elections?’ they say, ‘we’ll see what coalition there will be, and from this we will understand where Israel is headed.’ They’re realistic and understand Israeli politics very well.”