A few months ago former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy shocked Israel in an Al Jazeera interview, saying that the occupation generates Palestinian violence, and Benjamin Netanyahu was misusing the Holocaust to try to deny that reality; and now Haaretz had gotten Halevy to extend his analysis in a stunning interview of 5000 words with Dalia Karpel.
The most important moment in the interview comes when Halevy likens imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to Nelson Mandela as a former terrorist whom the country must negotiate with in order to make peace: i.e., the man Israel calls a terrorist really is the other side’s freedom fighter, and– Israel is practicing apartheid. Barghouti, 57, was imprisoned in 2002 and charged with directing the Second Intifada.
As you read Halevy’s comments, consider, that none of this analysis has ever been in the American press, though Palestinians offer it all the time; and that the American press is doing nothing to support Haaretz in its effort to reform Israeli society, even as the newspaper executives receive death threats for their work.
Let’s get to Barghouti. Halevy speaks frankly of the humiliation and corruption of Palestinian leaders by Israel. And of the inability of Israel to dictate who Palestine’s leaders should be.
Whom should Israel talk to? Whom would you start with?
“Israel cannot choose. In the past, attempts were made to intervene in the Palestinian situation and crown leaders there – because the senior leadership of the Palestinian Authority is dependent on Israel, which has the ability to promote and demote people, both in terms of their public status and also in economic and security terms, etc. But past attempts to determine the partner for talks failed. Some say that [former Fatah leader] Mohammed Dahlan is the partner – that we can engineer the situation, and that he’s someone it will be possible to talk with. In my opinion, we need to talk to figures whom we do not know inside-out from their security roles.”
“An Israeli who served as head of Shin Bet [security service] and had thick folders on his desk about some Palestinian politician or military leader who was tried and sentenced to imprisonment in an Israeli facility, will not be able to talk to that Palestinian leader from a position of equality. The appropriate Palestinians for a dialogue with Israel are people who were not involved in combat and terrorist activity, and whom the Israelis have not seen in their underwear [in interrogation rooms]. It’s also not desirable for the Palestinian candidate for dialogue to have sat opposite Shin Bet representatives who dealt with him around the clock.”
Is Marwan Barghouti a partner?
“If the Palestinian leader Barghouti – who was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences and another 40 years for planning terrorist operations – is the person the Palestinians choose, we have to talk to him. If Israel sets conditions for the appointment of the Palestinian chosen as leader, it won’t work. Nelson Mandela, the statesman, former president of South Africa and Nobel laureate, was a terrorist, too, and negotiations were held with him while he was in prison. The ties with him began to be cultivated years before the incarcerated leader was exposed to the public. A few months ago, I met someone who was involved in top-secret talks that were held in England in the 1980s with Mandela’s representatives, and that have not been fully revealed to this day. If you want to reach a settlement, some sort of coexistence, the only people to speak to are those who hold the reins on the other side.”
And not just Barghouti but Haniya, Meshal, and Nasrallah.
What about Hamas leaders, such as Ismail Haniyeh?
“We have to talk with him and also with the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshal, and his deputy, Dr. Moussa Abu Marzuk. Things are a lot more complicated regarding [Hezbollah leader] Hassan Nasrallah. Nasrallah is also Iran, but if the government of Israel thinks it wants to reach a settlement with Lebanon, and Hezbollah is a component of the Lebanese government, we need to speak with them, too. Otherwise we will get into another war.”
It is implicit here that Israel prefers war to negotiation, it’s what the state knows. Also it is worth noting that when Mandela died three years ago, the obits tended to paper over a central fact that Halevy is fully aware of: the African National Congress and its allies resorted to terrorism. Mandela himself said that “sabotage,” as he described acts of violent resistance directed against strategic targets, was necessary to convince white South Africans that they were “sitting on top of a volcano.” He wrote in Long Walk to Freedom: “Black South Africans realized that ANC was no longer an organization of passive resistance, but a powerful spear that would take the struggle to the heart of white power.”
Oh, and here Halevy questions Benjamin Netanyahu’s sanity:
Q. [In his UN General Assembly speech] Netanyahu repeated the mantra: “The world must support our battle against terrorism.” In your opinion, is the use of rhetoric to the effect that Hamas is a merciless terrorist organization and that peace will come only when the Palestinians confront their extremists, meant to sanctify the status quo?
A. “I do not have the tools required to conduct an authentic psychological analysis of the speaker in order to determine that his conclusions serve as an excuse
He offers this analysis of Netanyahu’s “policy,” such as it is.
Netanyahu wants a Greater Israel, but he isn’t capable of holding onto the territories. When there’s an outburst of rage and knives, as in the past few weeks, he reacts like someone whose underpants were pulled down. He doesn’t know what to do. Our ability to maintain the situation, from a security point of view, is being eroded. The Elor Azaria episode [a reference to the soldier who killed an incapacitated Palestinian in Hebron in March] is another link in a chain of small links, random and intractable. It’s not a situation in which you say, ‘Because I have power, I will set policy and start to implement it.’ No policy is being implemented. Nothing is being done. It’s all maintenance; maintenance is not policy.”
Halevy says that because of the lack of understanding about the occupation, Israel faces its greatest crisis. That includes 56, 67, 73 — and this time it is self-generated:
“We are experiencing the greatest crisis since the state came into being. I don’t recall a period in which we were so bereft of meaningful leadership backbone. When I look at the political landscape in Israel, let’s say at 15 [senior] people, some in government and some in the opposition – I don’t see a reservoir of individuals who are sustaining the state.
Yes, Israeli leadership is cracking up. And you’d never know it from the American press. How steep is the new New York Times bureau chief Peter Baker’s learning curve, and how much intestinal fortitude does he have?