Israel, the Palestinians and Gaza – Past and Present

Aug 10, 2017


Update from AIJAC

Update 08/17 #02

Today’s Update features two pieces on Israel, the Palestinians and Gaza – one looking at current events and one drawing lessons from past Israeli policy. It also includes some broader thoughts on the state of Israel-Palestinian relations from an important Israeli strategic thinker.

We lead with a piece on the lessons of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and a large section of the northern West Bank, which took place 12 years ago, in 2005. Written by former senior General Amos Yadlin and negotiations expert Gideon Sher, they look at some advantages – such as ending control over a large Palestinian population and gaining some measure of international legitimacy for using force against terror attacks – but also note some serious errors and downsides – such as relinquishing control over the corridor between Egypt, which allowed Hamas to arm on a large scale, and not setting clear consequences for violence emanating from Gaza. They then argue that unilateral engagement as in 2005 will not occur again, given the outcome, but that a different process of disengagement from parts of the West Bank might be possible if the lessons of 2005 were carefully applied. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE. Also arguing recently for a new, carefully constructed Israeli policy of gradual disengagement from the West Bank, was Dan Schueftan, the Director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

Next up is Israeli Arab affairs reporter Yoni Ben Menachem, who explores the consequences and implications of an Egyptian plan to give Mohammed Dahlan, a key Fatah rival of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a key role in Gaza as part of a deal between Cairo and Hamas. Ben Menachem says Dahlan, the former head of Fatah in Gaza, is seen as a protege of Egypt and the UAE, and this move is in part an attempt to promote his efforts to succeed Abbas as head of Fatah. Ben Menachem also argues that, while Hamas dislikes Dahlan, given the campaign across the Sunni Arab world against key Hamas patron Qatar, they felt they had no choice but to accept Egypt’s offer in order to overcome their increasingly difficult economic situation. For Ben Menachem’s full analysis of what is really going on between Hamas, Egypt and Dahlan,  CLICK HERE

Finally, this Update features a fascinating interview with Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former chief of the research division in IDF Military Intelligence, about the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations generally. He argues that the key barrier to Israeli-Palestinian peace is the Palestinian narrative, which continues to say there is no such thing as a Jewish people, and therefore they can have no right to self-determination in their own state. Based on this insight, he explores a number of contemporary issues, including Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists, the Trump Administration’s Mideast efforts, and Israeli security policy in the West Bank. For all of Kuperwasser’s insights and arguments,  CLICK HERE. A similar recent argument about the need for the Palestinians to accept Jewish history for peace was written by American academic Yehuda Mirsky.

Readers may also be interested in…


The Disengagement, Twelve Years On

Implications, Lessons, and an Eye toward the Future

Amos Yadlin, Gilead Sher

INSS Insight No. 961, August 6, 2017

The perspective of twelve years since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank confirms that this significant political and security-related event was a correct strategic decision. Regarding the West Bank, it appears that unilateral disengagement as a stand-alone event will not repeat itself. However, a political and security independent process with similar attributes could enable Israel to continue striving for a reality of two states for two peoples, based on a gradual, secure, and responsible end to Israel’s control over the Palestinian people. Efforts should be made to reach agreement with the Palestinians regarding interim measures throughout transitional stages. However, if it becomes clear that an agreement cannot be reached, measures should be implemented independently (regardless of Palestinian consent) aimed at improving Israel’s situation without impairing its security. These measures will need to be carried out in close coordination with the United States and in accordance with US-Israel understandings.

The Israeli PM Ariel Sharon during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank

The perspective of twelve years since Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank enhances the lessons that can be derived from this significant political and security-related event. In retrospect, it is clear that against the background of the second intifada, the numerous casualties of the ongoing terrorism, and the deep disagreements within Israeli society regarding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the government of Ariel Sharon made a correct strategic decision. The decision’s implementation, however, suffered from serious shortcomings in planning and execution in the realms of security, diplomacy, internal discourse, and the democratic process within Israel, as well as the treatment of those evacuated.

Discord and rifts rooted in the disengagement with regard to identity, the sense of belonging, and the narrative itself continue to fester. The different lexicons relating to the event – with terms such as “expulsion,” “decree,” and “trauma” on the one hand, and “disengagement,” “separation,” and “ceasing to control another people” on the other hand – attest to  the divide within Israeli society. Furthermore, the disengagement has continued to affect Israeli political discourse over the years. It was a major factor in the bang that rocked Israeli politics a few months later, when in November 2005 Prime Minister Sharon and other Knesset members left the ruling Likud party to establish Kadima. And after three rounds of violent confrontation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip over the years, large portions of the Israeli public view the disengagement as a strategic error.


Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank achieved four positive goals. First, Israel ceased its control over a Palestinian population that at the time numbered approximately 1.7 million people. In doing so, it greatly mitigated the scope of the occupation (though some disagree with this assertion) and achieved a large degree of legitimacy – in the short and medium terms – for the use of force against terrorist activity originating in the Gaza Strip. Second, Israel parted ways with a significant portion of the demographic threat to the Zionist vision. It conveyed a clear message that it had no intention of endangering its Jewish and democratic character by retaining control of all Palestinian territory, even that which is partially populated by Israelis, and that it would act as it saw fit without giving others the opportunity to contest its identity. It was a message aimed inward, toward Israeli society, but also outward, toward the Palestinians, the Arab world, and the international community. The third achievement of the disengagement was the establishment of a clear border, with Israel on one side and others – whether enemies or friends – on the other. If Israel is forced to take action against an enemy, it will enjoy greater international legitimacy, and the confrontation will assume the character of an inter-state conflict, which is better suited to Israel’s military capabilities. Fourth, it unburdened the IDF of its policing role in the Gaza Strip and freed it up to engage in its original purpose: to defend the State of Israel.

Failings and Errors

At the same time, serious errors were made while implementing the disengagement plan. In the realm of security, withdrawing from the Philadelphi axis and leaving it open for the smuggling of weapons enabled Hamas to arm itself and pursue its military buildup without disruption. In addition, Israel did not clarify what the rules of engagement would be following the pull-out. That is, it was not initially clear what the repercussions would be for firing on Israel from within the Gaza Strip, and even when these rules were finally clarified, Israel did not act in accordance with them.

One mistake during the disengagement was withdrawing from the Philadelphi corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt (above), which allowed Hamas to pursue a large-scale military build-up.

In the diplomatic/political realm, there should have been attempts to transfer the evacuated territory by agreement to Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate moderate representative of the Palestinians, in order to provide him with a political achievement for the entire world to see. Instead, Israel withdrew from the territory unilaterally, leaving Hamas to take credit for the Palestinian accomplishment. In addition, Israel began coordinating the disengagement plan with the United States at an extremely late stage of the process, and once the Americans understood that Israel was going to withdraw from the territory in any event, they refused to provide it with any substantive political return or to support the plan with requisite resources.

Regarding Israel’s borders and the settlements, the disengagement established a precedent of complete unilateral withdrawal, ostensibly with nothing in return, from 100 percent of a territorial area back to the 1967 borders. Instead, it would have been wiser to leave a settlement bloc in place in the northern Gaza Strip, even if only as a bargaining chip for future negotiations for an agreement. Leaving a settlement bloc in the northern Gaza Strip and refraining from evacuating the entire Jewish population could have provided a basis for similar processes in a future West Bank measure. It could also have provided Israel with security advantages, and reduced the pain and cost of the evacuation.

Internally, there were serious mistakes. The evacuees were not provided with an empathetic, supportive framework, and an opportunity for comprehensive national planning for settlement elsewhere, such as in the Negev and the Galilee, was missed in the process. An opportunity was also missed for solidarity discourse within Israeli society despite the severe public divisions regarding the plan. The evacuees were treated as individuals as opposed to communities. According to a report by the state commission of inquiry that was established under the leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Matza to examine the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank, the state failed in its treatment of the evacuees and commitment to make the treatment of evacuees an urgent national undertaking. “A gap emerged between the lofty rhetoric of all the prime ministers and the practical functioning of the state,” the commission found. With regard to a similar measure in the future, the commission determined that the state would need to make advance preparations and establish a proper planning and land infrastructure on a national scale to help rehabilitate people from evacuated areas. Inter alia, it would need to approve a special national outline plan for up to 100,000 potential evacuees. The commission concluded that responsibility for this undertaking lies with the government, and primarily the prime minister. It also determined that it would be necessary to engage in overall preparations – including specific legislation, the allocation of resources, and the establishment of an integrated, multi-realm body that would be charged with responsibility for the issue.

In the realm of the democratic process in Israel, large segments of the moderate Israeli population from the political center and the left, as well as the major media outlets, chose to ignore the political manipulations of Prime Minister Sharon and the manner in which he bent the basic rules of parliamentary democracy that often accompany such critical decisions in the life of a nation. These include the decision to disregard the binding referendum among Likud party members, and the plan’s presentation to the government for approval before it was presented to the Knesset.

The Security Situation

Prior to the disengagement, senior IDF officers remained divided regarding the question of what was more effective from a security perspective: retaining the Gaza Strip or providing defense and deterrence from behind a clearly defined border and assigning responsibility for security breaches to a political party on the other side of that border. Presence on the ground in Gaza provided a better intelligence and operational foothold but also presented disadvantages in the densely populated Gaza Strip, most of which was not under Israeli control, such as long, deep, exposed lines of friction and vulnerability to terrorist attacks carried out under conditions that were ideal from the perspective of Hamas and other Palestinian factions operating in the area. Providing defense from outside the Gaza Strip, on the other hand, did not sufficiently address Hamas’s massive military buildup. The rounds of armed confrontation in the Gaza Strip (in 2009, 2012, and 2014) were not conducted in a manner that maximized IDF’s capacity to achieve better results in targeting and maneuvering. Also problematic was high trajectory weapons of varying intensities fired from Gaza at population centers in Israel. An analysis of the three rounds of fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas is beyond the scope of this article. Clearly, however, the political debate continues with regard to the quality of the security response to threats emanating from Gaza before and after the disengagement.

Lessons for the Future

The Zionist vision for the State of Israel – a democratic state of the Jewish people as envisioned in the Declaration of Independence that is secure, moral, and enjoys international legitimacy – is inconsistent with Israel’s ongoing slide toward a single binational state. The complete lack of trust between Israel and the Palestinians and the inability of the two sides to agree on the parameters of a peace agreement, or even the terms for the resumption of the political process, requires that Israel engage in an integrated process that does not require a high level of trust with the Palestinians and that includes the active involvement of the international community. One necessary condition of progress in the process of political and territorial separation from the Palestinians is that security not be impaired. Moreover, the citizens of Israel must be convinced that state officials have learned and implemented the lessons of the 2005 disengagement in order to prevent a decline in security, and that progress is made toward a better political and security reality.

It appears that unilateral disengagement as a stand-alone event will not repeat itself. However, a political and security independent process with similar attributes could enable Israel to continue striving for a reality of two states for two peoples, based on a gradual, secure, and responsible end to Israel’s control over the Palestinian people. This would be a positive development for the country in terms of national security and internal resilience. At the same time, Israel will need to maintain the conditions for a future solution of two states, or two separate political entities, while also bolstering the Palestinian Authority as a stable, responsible, and functioning entity. Israel will need to shift from maintaining the status quo and retaining footholds everywhere on the ground to shaping the situation and determining the border around the major settlement blocs, even if this is would be a provisional rather than a permanent border.

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank differ from one another in terms of the scope of Israeli settlement, the Jewish historical and religious attachment to the respective areas, and the potential security threats they pose to essential Israeli infrastructure in the center of the country. Any political and territorial separation from most of the West Bank must be considered in light of the experience that left Israeli society with serious security-related, political, and social scars. Precisely for this reason, and despite the differences between the territories, Israel will need to take into account the lessons that were learned from the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and to implement them as part of future processes in the West Bank. Gradual progress toward a reality of two states, even in the absence of a full-fledged agreement, must be a major component of Israeli policy. Efforts should be made to reach agreement with the Palestinians regarding interim measures throughout transitional stages. However, if it becomes clear that an agreement cannot be reached, measures should be implemented independently (regardless of Palestinian consent) aimed at improving Israel’s situation without impairing its security. These measures will need to be carried out in close coordination with the United States and in accordance with US-Israel understandings.

More effective progress toward Israel’s strategic aims will require a number of measures, including advance agreement with the US administration regarding gradual progress toward a reality of two states and the contours of a final status agreement that is acceptable to Israel; regional dialogue; bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians; and independent measures that further the aim of a future two-state solution, or that at least bring Israel closer to a reality of two states. This will enable Israel to build a desirable situation, even in the absence of a Palestinian partner for dialogue for a long term agreement, while maintaining flexibility and initiative for other strategic trajectories to the extent necessary.

One of the most important national lessons of Israel’s 2005 disengagement is that the government must conduct an internal dialogue regarding the measures it intends to implement with the citizens of Israel in general, and with the population that would ultimately be designated for evacuation in particular. The dialogue will not repair the deep division that exists in Israeli society regarding such decisions. However, it can help cultivate tools and suitable mechanisms for democratically contending with national decisions of this nature.

 Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin is Director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Previously he served as the IDF’s Chief of Defence Intelligence as part of his 40 years of service in the Israeli military. Gilead Sher heads the Center for Applied Negotiations (CAN) and is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University


Article 2

Mohammed Dahlan: The Representative of Egypt and the Emirates in the Palestinian Territories?

Yoni Ben Menachem
Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, Aug. 7

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan in 2014.

  • Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian political activist since his teens, served as the Palestinian Authority’s head of the Preventive Security Force in Gaza. A Fatah leader, he brutally clamped down on Hamas in Gaza. After the 2006 elections, Hamas launched an armed offensive to push Fatah out of Gaza. As a Gazan, he had only limited opportunities to take a leadership position in the West Bank, where strong reservations are rampant about Palestinian elites from the Gaza Strip.  Today, Dahlan, 55, lives in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
  • After recent Hamas-Egyptian talks, Dahlan is expected to return to Gaza to serve as a sort of foreign minister of Gaza, fundraiser for its economic development, and contact man with Israel on daily affairs. 
  • Dahlan is the unofficial representative and protégé of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He is their preferred candidate to be the next chairman of the PA. He also enjoys strong support from Fatah in Gaza.
  • It is expected that Dahlan will conclude a deal to substantially ease the blockade on the Strip, resolve its electricity shortage, and lead the Strip toward economic development with Gulf contributions.
  • From Dahlan’s standpoint, Gaza is only a springboard toward the main goal, which is to take over the PA headquarters, the Muqata in Ramallah.

Preparations are in progress in the Gaza Strip for the arrival of Samir Masharawi, the right-hand man of Muhammad Dahlan.

Masharawi is supposed to come to the Strip from Egypt in a few days after a forced absence of more than 10 years. He will be honored by thousands of Fatah activists with a gigantic reception approved by Hamas.

Masharawi’s return to the Strip symbolizes the implementation of the understandings recently reached between Hamas and Dahlan under Egyptian auspices, to the great consternation of Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

The next stage will apparently be Dahlan’s return to Gaza. According to the understandings, Dahlan is supposed to serve as a sort of foreign minister of Gaza, fundraiser for its economic development, and contact man with Israel on daily affairs.  

Dahlan’s return might occur close to the time of the long-term opening of the Rafiah crossing to the passage of people and goods, which is planned for Eid al-Adha in the beginning of September 2017. The opening will signify the start of the easing of the blockade that has been imposed on the Strip since 2007.

Hamas took over the Strip after winning the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, violently expunging the PA’s governing apparatus.

Dahlan is the nemesis of Qatar, which is the main supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab world. Nevertheless, Hamas, which is a sister movement of the Brotherhood, has taken a decidedly pragmatic approach and reconciled with Dahlan out of its own perceived interests.

Dahlan is the unofficial representative and protégé of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. He is their preferred candidate to be the next chairman of the PA.

Dahlan’s Ties with Hamas and Fatah

From a previous era: Mahmoud Abbas flanked by Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh (left) and Mohammed Dahlan

He also enjoys strong support from Fatah in Gaza. Born in the Khan Yunis refugee camp, he has been acquainted since childhood with Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in Gaza, and with Muhammad Deif, chief commander of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam military wing.
The new three-way deal between Hamas, Dahlan, and Egypt gives Hamas its pound of flesh. The deal is supposed to substantially ease the blockade on the Strip, resolve its electricity shortage, and lead the Strip toward economic development with the help of funds that Dahlan will recruit from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Gulf States, and the international community.  

Hamas has already received a perk: it has been removed from the terror list of the “Arab Quartet” (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain) that was published last month after the crisis with Qatar began.

Egypt began providing the Strip with industrial diesel fuel via the Rafiah crossing for Gaza’s power plant.

Hamas was forced to toe Egypt’s line in light of Qatar’s crisis with the Arab Quartet and President Trump’s calling Hamas a “terror organization” during the Riyadh summit.

Hamas’ Facelift Didn’t Work

The latest gimmick of the Hamas leadership has failed. For several months senior officials of the movement worked hard on a new diplomatic document, a sort of facelift of the anti-Semitic Hamas Covenant of 1988. For now, though, the Trump administration and the European Union are not buying it.

Hamas had to go along with Egypt and Dahlan out of a realization that Qatar’s days in Gaza are numbered, and the UAE will assume its role of providing economic assistance.

During talks in Cairo, Dahlan promised Sinwar that he would obtain large-scale aid from the UAE for building a new power plant as well as a hospital in the Strip.
The sanctions that PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas imposed on Gaza further strengthen Hamas’ motivation to make amends with Abbas’ bitter foe, Dahlan, and to enhance cooperation with Egypt, which has frosty relations with the PA chairman because of his opposition to Dahlan.

At the same time, Hamas must pay a steep security price for the easing of the blockade and for a new page in its relations with Egypt. It must cease its terror activities within Egypt and its close cooperation with the Islamic State branch in northern Sinai.

Hamas has agreed to establish a buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Egypt and even started work on the project. It has also launched intelligence and operational cooperation with Egyptian intelligence against the Islamic State in Sinai.

Dahlan Returns to the Palestinian Stage

These steps boost Dahlan’s political power. His understandings with Hamas under Egypt’s patronage entrench his status in Gaza, restore him to the Palestinian arena as an important player, and open for him a future window onto the West Bank.

Even today, Dahlan already has strongholds and armed groups that are loyal to him in most of the West Bank refugee camps.

From Dahlan’s standpoint, Gaza is only a springboard toward the main goal, which is to take over the PA headquarters, the Mukata in Ramallah, with the political support of his close friend Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.

According to Fatah sources, Dahlan reached an understanding with Sinwar that Barghouti’s name would be included as part of a new prisoner-exchange deal with Israel, one that would also include the four missing and imprisoned Israelis held by Hamas.

The implementation of the understandings between Dahlan and Hamas will bolster Egypt’s and the UAE’s influence in Gaza while distancing Qatar from the Strip.
Hamas will have to comply by force of circumstances despite its close ties with Qatar.

In the short term, the Dahlan-Hamas understandings will stabilize the security situation in the Strip. Hamas’ developing relationship with Egypt and Dahlan will, along with the easing of the blockade, constitute a moderating and restraining factor, dissuading Hamas from a further round of fighting with Israel even though it is continuing its military preparations, which include manufacturing rockets and digging tunnels.

If Dahlan proves able to recruit funds for the Strip’s economic development from the UAE and the Gulf states, that too should contribute to calm along the Gaza-Israel border.


The tripartite axis of Egypt-Hamas-Dahlan constitutes a convergence of interests between the three sides. Although contingent, it could continue for a long period.

This convergence of interests may contribute to easing the blockade on the Strip and to achieving security stability and calm along its border with Israel.

As the understandings between the three sides are carried out, the humanitarian situation in Gaza is expected to improve. Egypt will increase its influence in the Strip; the UAE will gradually assume a presence there and push Qatar out.

The augmenting of Egypt’s status vis-à-vis Hamas will enable it to be the main mediator between Israel and Hamas on all the issues, including a new prisoner-exchange deal.
The main loser is Abbas, who has been trying in every possible way to subvert these understandings and to reconcile with Hamas so as to neutralize Dahlan, but meanwhile with no success.

Egypt expects to gain greater security quiet from this new state of affairs, along with cooperation from Hamas in the war against the Islamic State in northern Sinai. Egyptian intelligence is closely monitoring Hamas’ military wing. Its experience with Hamas over the years has been bitter and it does not trust the group; if Hamas violates the understandings that were reached, they will collapse like a house of cards. Egypt will not sacrifice its national security concerns.


Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.


Article 3

‘We have to share the land somehow. But for peace, the Palestinians must change their narrative’

An interview with Yossi Kupperwasser

Former chief of researrch division  of IDF Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser was chief of the research division in IDF Military Intelligence, and until recently, director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. He is now the Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. In this interview with Fathom assistant editor Sam Nurding, he challenges the idea that Israel is no longer committed to the two-state solution. This is to radically misread the reasons for the failure of previous negotiations, he claims, missing the baleful role of both the Palestinian commitment to a maximalist narrative that recognises neither the Jewish people nor the legitimacy of the Jewish state and of its campaign of incitement which poisons the minds of the Palestinian people. Suggesting that the international community, and not only Trump, is now beginning to understand this, as well as the need to apply pressure to encourage change, he argues that ‘if the Palestinians would change this narrative, Israel would be more than happy to find a solution’.

Israel and the Palestinians: partners for peace?

Sam Nurding: You wrote in May that there is no Palestinian peace partner for Israel, and you gave a variety of reasons which many would agree with. What would you say to those of our readers who are sceptical that the current Israeli government represents a viable peace partner for the Palestinians?

Yossi Kupperwasser: First of all, there is an Israeli partner for peace. Israel has repeatedly said it is interested in peace negotiations and that it is ready to make painful concessions in the interest of peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said in the context of peace that there is going to be a Palestinian entity that will be called a state, but he acknowledges that there has to be some limitations.

SN: A ‘state-minus’?

YK: Something like that, yes. But we have to realise this cannot happen before the Palestinians make some substantial changes to their narrative. As long as the narrative of the Palestinians espouses a commitment to all of Palestine, it is clear they continue to refuse to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Likewise, if they continue to regard terrorism as heroism, then there remains a serious issue to address. I think the message the Palestinians are getting now, more clearly than before, is that this strange narrative is unhelpful and must be reconsidered.

The absence of peace is not because Israelis don’t want peace; Israelis are more than eager to have peace. But Israelis understand that there cannot be peace as long as the other side refuses to change its position. In Israel there are all kinds of people who are not interested in a peace solution, but the vast majority of Israelis are in favour.

SN: Many of those people are in the current government; Education Minister Naftali Bennett has said he doesn’t want a Palestinian state.

YK: Yes, but when these people say ‘we don’t want a Palestinian state’ what they are actually saying is: ‘We don’t believe the Palestinians are going to change their narrative. And as long as the Palestinians don’t change their narrative we don’t want a Palestinian state, because it is going to constitute a threat to Israel.’

If there was a change in the Palestinian narrative, for example if the Palestinians – now under pressure on the issue of the salaries to terrorists – cancelled the law of 2004 according to which salaries are paid to terrorists, and stopped calling terrorists the fighting sector of their society, Israelis would see this as a wonderful move and be more forthcoming on the issue of peace.

The Palestinian narrative says there is no such thing as a Jewish people, and because of this, Palestinians argue that Jews should not be allowed a state of their own under the principle of national self-determination. If the narrative was changed, and Palestinians recognised that there is a Jewish people, so they must be allowed a state of their own under the principle of national self-determination, with full civil rights for minorities, then many Israelis would change their mind about the viability of the peace process and the Palestinian partner for peace.

Prospects for negotiations would be improved further if the Palestinians said that they accepted the Jews as a people with historical connection to Palestine, and that this explains not only why they are entitled to self-determination, but why this self-determination should be realised in the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. Palestinians should reach the conclusion that we have to share the land somehow, acknowledging that the Jews have a just cause.

Conversely, what we have seen today is that the Palestinians are trying to force UNESCO to adopt resolutions that say that the Jews have nothing to do with Jerusalem, and that the Jews don’t have any claim on the Patriarch’s Tomb in Hebron. When this happens, it is very easy to understand why Israelis tend to say: ‘Why should we allow these people, who don’t want us to live here, have a state that would be used by them to promote their current narrative?’

‘Incitement’ is the broad effort to incubate in the hearts and in the minds of Palestinians the following elements of the Palestinian narrative: That there is no Jewish people, that Jews don’t have any sovereign connection to the land of Israel, that Jews are a problematic people that should be demonised, that Israel is an apartheid state, that the struggle against Zionism should continue until the end of Zionism and that any kind of activity to these ends is justified, including terrorism. This narrative justifies the Palestinians paying salaries to terrorists and considering terrorists to be heroes.

Moreover, in this narrative, the war against Zionism is against all expressions of Zionism. Not only in the 1967 lines, but also the 1948 lines. The Palestinians are still fighting the 1948 war. The Palestinians realise now that they cannot get the 1948 territories, and this is why they say to the international community that they are ready to negotiate for the 1967 territories. However, they want these territories without indicating any readiness to give up their claim to the 1948 territories. That’s why they continue to speak of the right of return.

All these aspects of the Palestinian narrative are integrated with the view that Palestinians are the only victims in this conflict, and Jews do not constitute victims even if they are killed in terrorist attacks. The Jews cannot be victims and cannot complain about being attacked because they insist on living here; that’s the attitude. And this perspective is supplemented by the idea that the fight in Israel is based on Islamic grounds.

When you take all of this together you begin to understand why some Israelis are, at this point in time, against the creation of a Palestinian state. It’s not that they don’t want a Palestinian state in any conditions. If the Palestinians would change this narrative, Israel would be more than happy to find a solution that satisfied the revised Palestinian aspirations.

Is the status quo sustainable?

Israeli Housing Minister Naftali Bennett says the conflict cannot be solved at the moment so must be managed. But can the status quo continue?

SN: Naftali Bennett said at a recent conference that when something is unsolvable, you need to manage it. But is it possible for Israel to manage the conflict in the long term, given the international consensus that there should be two states and that Israel should not be in the West Bank?

YN: I think Israel can manage the situation for a long time. The stupidest thing for us would be to insist on moving away from an unpleasant status quo to another status quo that is even worse. There is not much sense to all the ideas of unilateral moves that would give something to the Palestinians and enable them to carry out attacks from a better striking position. We have to do things that would improve the situation, not just to do something for the sake of doing it. We can manage the current situation. To say the situation is unsustainable is wrong. It is sustainable. It’s not in the benefit of anybody to have it sustained, but as long as nobody offers a preferable alternative, it is sustainable, and we will sustain it.

Importantly, what people fail to understand is that the reason the Palestinians have not changed their narrative – and the reason why there is no progress for peace – is because the Palestinians have never felt that there is an international expectation or pressure for them to change their narrative. They feel that they can cheat the world again and again because the international community doesn’t invest the time needed to really study the issue.

Where you can see this clearly is in the suppression of the two-state solution. Everybody speaks about the two-state solution. When the Palestinians speak about the two-state solution, they mean a Palestinian state (Palestine), and a state without an ethnic identity (Israel). Or, if they are pushed, they say Israel will be the state of the ‘Israeli people,’ a term they have invented which includes all the people, be they Jews or Arabs. In short, not the state of the Jewish people, not a Jewish homeland with full civil rights for minorities, because as I said before, according to them there is no Jewish people. When they say two-state solution this is what they mean.

When Israel says two-state solution, we mean two states for two peoples. One of them is the state of the Palestinian people, and the other is the nation state of the Jewish people. With mutual recognition, so that the Palestinians accept us as the nation state of the Jewish people; otherwise, they remain committed to the idea that eventually they will return to Haifa and Jaffa.

The international community is vague on this issue. It speaks about a two-state solution without really going into the question of what the two states will be. For the international community it is obvious that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, so the mantra is that ‘there is no need to clarify and repeat this’. But it has to be said, or the Palestinians will continue to believe they have successfully misled the world on this.

I think the Americans in the last 25 years have started to acknowledge this problem, and have started to remind the Palestinians that Israel will be a Jewish state. Even John Kerry understood it, and included this in his six points. And this was the reason why Abbas refused President Barak Obama’s offer. Abbas was presented with Kerry’s six points, and there is this myth that he didn’t respond to Obama’s offer. He did respond! He stood in Ramallah and he explained his response: that they would remain committed to no Jewish state, and committed to Safed, and Haifa, and Jaffa. And the crowd shouted: ‘Israel should know that there is no substitute for the right of return.’

The Palestinians realised what the US was getting at. Yes, it was really the feeblest way of expressing the idea that the Palestinians should accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, by the way, but the Palestinians still refused to agree to it because they didn’t feel that there was any pressure behind it. Ultimately, they were right. They did not face any pressure from the Americans; on the contrary, Israel faced US pressure in the form of the Americans allowing UN Resolution 2334 to pass in the UN Security Council. Given this, why would the Palestinians change their narrative?

Times may be changing, and now there is a golden opportunity to make progress on this front because the new administration in the US is willing to speak a different language to the Palestinians and the US Congress is discussing the Taylor Force Act[1]. Also, because the Knesset is moving forward with a law that calls upon Palestinians to stop paying salaries to terrorists, otherwise Israel will deduct it from the money it transfer to them.

Taylor Force, the American veteran stabbed to death during a visit to Israel in 2014, is the namesake of a new US bill designed  to pressure the PA to end salary payments to convicted terrorists.

The Taylor Force Act and Commanders for Israel’s Security

SN: I’m sure you saw that recently the Commanders for Israel’s Security sent a letter saying that while they supported the aim of the Taylor Force Act, they believed that the legislation needs to be changed to avoid a situation in which the PA loses money earmarked for security coordination and economic and social projects between the PA and Israel. Do you think the act should be changed?

YN: I am a ‘commander for the security of Israel’ just as much as the people in this group. I think people should be very cautious with the names they take for themselves. All the commanders of Israel are for Israeli security, not just this group. I strongly oppose what they say. What they say is that regardless of what the Palestinians are doing, no pressure will be brought to bear on them. I do not see the logic in this. Are we going to allow them to continue taking the money we give them in order to keep paying the terrorists who kill us? It is self-defeating to succumb in the face of terror.

On the contrary, I believe that pressure must be put on the Palestinians on this issue. Only if the Palestinians feel pressure will they consider changing their policy. I think that this declaration is totally wrong in its understanding of the reasons that have led to the cooperation between us and the Palestinian security forces. The PA is not doing it because they get money; it is doing it because it’s in the PA’s own interest to do so. The cooperation is about stopping terrorist attacks from Hamas. The Palestinians are more afraid of Hamas then we are. We can lose people, but they can lose their control of the West Bank. They fight against Hamas because it is in their interest, not because someone gives them money for it. So, at best, this way of thinking is ridiculous, if not self-defeating.

I am working with colleagues to issue a counter-declaration because people have to understand that the aforementioned letter is not the unanimous opinion of ex-Israeli commanders. There are many commanders who think differently.

Trump and the Palestinian narrative

SN: You mentioned earlier about how a new US administration has taken a different line with the Palestinians. Overall, what have you made of US President Donald Trump team’s handling of the conflict?

YK: In every beginning there is a new hope. And then, during the learning process, many of these initial hopes become tempered as a more realistic understanding is arrived at. I think, as President Trump has said many times, that he is committed to promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as every US president has been upon arriving in office. He thought that this was something that had to be dealt with, that he could make happen and that it’s going to enable him to make the world a better place. And who doesn’t want that?

Trump is trying to detach himself from the conventional wisdom. As Albert Einstein said: ‘If you do the same thing and you fail, then you try it again expecting a different outcome, you’re stupid!’ So Trump is trying something new. This new approach has two elements. Firstly, not imposing a specific solution on the two sides. His approach is to bring the sides together to discuss their issues and try to reach an agreement. If they need assistance on the way, he’s going to provide them with assistance, but he’s not going to say you need to do this or that.

The previous administration was deeply involved in the details, and this made it very difficult. They were trying to actually form the agreement by themselves. There was this feeling along the way that the Obama administration was more committed to the agreement than the sides themselves, which made it very difficult for them to promote it, because it made them vulnerable. So Trump is trying to adopt a different approach, which could be summarised as: I am interested in peace, but I cannot be more interested in the peace than you are. I don’t care what kind of peace you reach as long as you reach a peace agreement.

The second element is that Trump is the first person who is ready to consider challenging the Palestinian narrative. The Palestinian narrative was the main obstacle, if not the only obstacle, to reaching peace since this narrative was shaped back in the 1920s. He is the first one who is trying to say, ‘Let’s not try to make peace with this narrative, let’s try to change this narrative and then make peace.’ This is key to the success of Trump’s peace agenda. If he manages to get the Palestinians to change their narrative, then he doesn’t have to worry about Israel, because once Israel sees that the Palestinians have changed their narrative it will be easy for Israel to move forward.

The problem is whether he is actually going to be able to convince the Palestinians to change. Here, he has taken upon himself an immensely challenging task. The first reaction from the Palestinians has of course been a refusal. However, that is to be expected because the Palestinians believe that just like in the past no real pressure will be put on them. Therefore, we will have to wait and see if real pressure is put on them or not.

This will only work if Trump’s words are translated into real action, like the Taylor Force Act or the legislation that is now in the Knesset.

The UK could also do something. It has already started paying aid money directly to nurses and the teachers so that the PA cannot use the money for salary payments to terrorists. This is progress, but all it has done is made the PA use other money for this purpose. If the UK also threatened to withhold money, like Denmark and Holland did, the PA may recognise a new situation has developed and that their behaviour must be reconsidered. By doing this, states contribute to the peace process much more than by caressing and hugging the PA. As long as states allow Palestinians to speak about two states without saying what the other state is, and as long as states let them pay salaries to terrorists and don’t punish them, then they will stick to their narrative. We have to put real pressure on the PA. They may decide not to change their narrative. There is a real possibility Trump could fail. I saw in Al-Hayat (London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper) recently that ‘Trump has already decided. There is no way we will get milk from this goat’.

SN: Can Israel take some immediate steps to stabilise the situation?
YK: Israel can look at ways it can improve living conditions for the Palestinians without changing the core of the situation. But in this case the Palestinians should know they will not get a state, just a little bit of improvement here and there.

On the improvements, I think we are making another mistake. I am totally in favour of building around Qalqilya and letting the Palestinians have a better life. But the real problem is that there are still people living in poor conditions in what people term the ‘refugee camps’. They are not exactly refugee camps, but refugee centres. And many of the villages are in relatively poor conditions. If the Palestinians want to improve housing conditions this should be the first concern, not the well-being of the rich people in Qalqilya who want to have nicer houses.

First, let’s build for the refugees. The people in the Balata or Askar refugee camps are the people who came from Jaffa in 1948, waiting to go back to Jaffa. The problem is they are not going to be able to come back to Jaffa. In light of this, instead of keeping them living in poor conditions, Israel should give them a chance in Area C, around Nablus, or if they want, to live in Qalqilya and enable those refugees to improve their living conditions. What is happening right now is that the Palestinians and the international community are abusing these people – keeping them in those centres and forcing them to live in poor conditions based on the assumption that one day they will come back to Jaffa. Why torture them? These people should be the first people to get better living conditions.

Of course, the refugee issue is sensitive. So we eternalise the problem of these poor people. The young people that are born in the camps are definitely not going to accept a change in the Palestinian narrative as they feel the suffering every day. We should let them have a better life, better opportunities, and better education. These people should be the priority, and not the rich people of the West Bank.

[1] The Taylor Force Act is a legislative bill in the US Senate that proposes to stop American economic aid to the PA until the PA changes its laws to cease paying stipends funnelled through the Palestinian Authority Martyr’s Fund to individuals who commit acts of terrorism and to the families of deceased terrorists. On 3 August 2017 the bill advanced through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 17-4 vote.




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