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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace


Keynote Address by MK AMRAM MITZNA

Israel’s Road to Peace: Current and Future Directions
Brit Tzedek’s 2nd National Conference

November 1, 2003
Boston, MASSACHUSETTS

I'd like to begin with telling you that just a few hours ago thousands of people gathered in the Square. And I'm talking about Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. I remind you that it is 8 years since Rabin was assassinated by extremists for the Jewish organizations in Israel. And I think that we should do the same as the people in the Square did. Lets stand up for one minute of silence.

Rabin was assassinated 8 years ago after he was so brave to change his mind and to understand that the reality in the Middle East is not what we thought.

Rabin was the minister of Defense through the first Intifada. I saw him when he was dealing with the issues that this Intifada raised. I was with him and I think that both of us — I can say very modestly — learned through the first Intifada that the situation in Israel — the reality —  will not be in the future like it was in the past.

In 1987,20 years passed since the war in ‘67, and many people in Israel thought that it is possible to continue to occupy —  then 2.5 million Palestinians, now 3.5 million Palestinians, and we did it so easily, without any real problems. But the Intifada in 1987 showed that it is over. And Rabin, I think, as Begin before, realized, that instead of fighting the Palestinians, and losing almost everything that we have, we will have to reach the idea of "Two States for Two People". Instead of fighting, lets negotiate. Instead of occupying people, lets see what kind of concessions that we have to make —  painful concessions —  if we want to live as a Jewish and a Democratic state.

He was assassinated, and for the last 8 years, well one or two years in between that we tried all that, we went "off-road." I think that the Geneva Accord —  the Geneva Initiative — the Geneva Agreement is a sign that we are back, talking about "Two states for two peoples", with a just conclusion to the conflict, and with an attempt to change our priorities in order to deal with our own issues, own problems, and to go back to educate our people, our youngsters, and to show what kind of achievements a country like Israel, a Jewish state, can achieve.

Oslo was a big breakthrough. And I think that in years to come, when historians will look backward, they will see Oslo as an historic turning point. Unfortunately, Oslo failed because of many reasons. The first one was, of course, the behavior of the Palestinians that didn't realize that it is time to accept what they are able to get, and to continue to dream. As Ben Gurion said in 1948 "lets take what they give us; no one will forbid us to dream about other issues and other things." But the Palestinians failed to understand that that they had to quit terrorism and use other terms of negotiations in order to achieve their goals. And I think also that the idea of a "phase by phase" process was also a reason for the failure because the next phase was always held hostage by the current phase. If the current phase is not successful, there is no way to continue to the next one. And there were enough forces in the region, that their aim was to show that it is impossible. And the idea of building confidence between the partners —  "confidence building measures" was the slogan that was used —  was an idea that didn't work. On the contrary, I think that confidence was lost [with each of the] failures and [subsequently,] Oslo failed

Because the idea that we can do it alone without any third party —  to control, to monitor, and to say who is wrong who is right —  was also a mistake. And maybe the parties were not ready enough. Maybe we didn't suffer, we both peoples didn't suffer enough in the Middle East. Because many many times we say, "it is not bad enough?" And there is always, we say: "Well, it can't be worse!" But then other day we see: well, it is not the bottom yet!

Unfortunately again, I think it will take time. I know that a lot of people are very enthusiastic and have a lot of hope, but I think the challenge is to take breaths [because] it will take time. It will take time and I'm sure the Geneva Agreement will be at the end of the day the agreement that will be signed by the parties. The only question is: how much time it will take, and how many people will lose their life along this process.

Barak appeared to build a hope, but as the hope was so big that the disappointment was the same. In a way [the] Barak government’s collapse brought the collapse of the peace camp in Israel. Again, I don't want to go into details, because it is not so important this evening, but since the last 3 years it was very very difficult, not only here in the United States, to gather forces to talk about peace, to try again and again and again, but also in Israel. Hopefully now that we have an agenda, we will be more successful.

But the idea, after the government of Barak collapsed, that there is no one to talk with, and nothing to talk about, was the idea that was the atmosphere in Israel for so many years. And the Israelis were weak, well brainwashed, along the last 3 years that there is nothing to do. There is nothing that we are able to do. And I think for a state, for a country, for a society, to think in such terms that there is nothing to do, you just have to sit and wait, it is very very problematic. A state, a country, a society must always initiate, try to bring solutions, try again and again and again, and we didn't do it in the last 3 years.

Sharon becoming Prime Minister 3 years ago brought back the idea and the slogan "Let the IDF win". And maybe the only positive outcome of this is that most Israelis, including Sharon, understand now that there is no way to win this conflict military-wise. By the way, I said it when I was in uniform, as the commander of the central command responsible for the West Bank. I said it then that we are able, the army is able to contain, to give time to the politicians, but there is no way and no one should think wrongly that there is a way to win militarily using power, because no one win[s]!

And I think that today, many Israelis understand it better. But Sharon came and with his right wing government, the first government, the second one, gave the IDF all the authority to do what they thought they should do in order to fight terrorism. But terrorism is the outcome of the situation. So if you are not dealing with what brought the terrorism, you are not able to fight terrorism. What can you do against a young woman, 28 or 29 from Jenin, a lawyer, who decides to commit suicide and to take with her Jews in a very quiet restaurant near the seashore in Haifa on Saturday? How you fight? How can you find her? How can you prevent, if you just want to fight terrorism and kill each and every one of the potential terrorists of tomorrow.

And I must admit that the Labor party, joining the first Sharon government was a big mistake, and of course led to the question mark of the people: Who is the Labor party? And: why should I vote for the Labor party if they were part of the Sharon Government along the first two years? And as you know, the idea that there is nothing to do, "we" gave them all — you know when you talk with right wing people, they say "we", not "you," not you the left wing, "we" gave them everything, what can "we" do now?

And this was what led us along the last few years. And the current situation is characterized, first of all despair and loss of hope, which is a very dangerous situation for a person, for an individual, and it is much worse for a society, that is, a [status quo] of despair and loss of hope: "We have tried everything there is nothing to do!" "We are able only to manage the conflict, we are not able to solve the conflict."

Therefore there is no policy; there is no strategy; there is no target that the government is looking for; and there is a vacuum. And by the way, this vacuum led the chief of general staff to give an interview just two days ago, and it was very important, it is very important, and I'm sure that it will serve the idea of trying to do something in this despair very well. Because the chief of general staff said after he saw there is no strategy, only tactics, and maybe he is succeeding to prevent the "tomorrow" terror event, but by this he is generating the terrorist activities in the next week or next month. And the measures that are being taken in order to prevent terror, the same measures are generating the next terrorism and its effect on our life.

Of course, our econom[ic] situation…—  "without peace" or even "lets have at least have a peace process," —  there is no way to recover the economy without a solid and stable situation, no investment. And when you don't have economic growth, there is no income for the government, and when you don't have income there is no budget, and when you also cut the budget you hurt very very seriously the social security net. And in our country, you know [in] Israel [it] is very difficult, we have still to deal with a lot of newcomers and with the Arab society in Israel, and the gap between the people that have and the people that haven't, is the largest in the free world.

So Israel, in a way, is in a disaster, in a collapsing situation. And the strength of a country is not just its military might; it is the combination of military power, but also the will of the people, economic strength, and social strength. And I'm very worried to say that in these terms, Israel is very weak. Even [though] we have the strongest military organization in the Middle East and in the region. So this is the situation today. No hope, and nobody trusts politicians or leaders. There are a lot of risks and dangers in this situation. The time is not in our favor. The voice of those who are talking about "two states for two peoples" is now [over] shadowed by the voice of people that are talking of one state, one nation, which is the end of the Jewish democratic country, the end of the Zionist movement. And so the situation is very dangerous.

I just read an article by Professor Ali Jarbawi from Ramallah, and he is telling in his article that he was 13 when Israel occupied the West Bank, and how he has a child 14 years old. And he thinks maybe it is time to go back and take away the Palestinian Authority to wait another 5 or 10 years, and then demand that it will be one country, from the river to the sea. We heard some people talking about one state from the river from the sea, but we forgot there are today a balance between Jews and non-Jews between the river and the sea. And the demographic question is coming to be the reality. People talked about it 10-20 years ago, Ben-Gurion said it after 1967, and it is the reality now. Not a complete surprise, but now its not just numbers, it is reality. The second risk is that there is no answer to the security, the personal, the physical security for people. And those of you that visited Israel recently, you understand what I mean. Thirdly I think the conflict [is] begin[ning] to become not just a national conflict, but a religious one.

I'm talking with terminology of "become" it is much more than that. It is reversible, I think, but this is a big risk. You have to understand for the last few years, there is an Arab cable television, Al Jazeera and another two. So the pictures from Israel is being transmitted daily, 24 hours a day, to every tent, to every remote place in Saudi, to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, places where the Islam was a moderate one. And every day, pictures, every day, how the Jews are trying to conquer the Holy Temple, the mosques on the Temple mount, and how the Jews behave. And I think we have to be very careful listening to what the Prime Minister of Malaysia said. Again, Malaysia, Indonesia! Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in the world, I visited once officially and the Islam there was completely different from the Islam in the Middle East. But if we are not careful enough, we will provoke all the Muslims in the world against us, and it is not an easy task to deal with.

Of course I talked about the collapse of our economy and the social problems and we are isolated in the Free World. I think there is always a risk that what we achieved in Egypt and Jordan, signing peace agreements, will also be in danger. And another thing, that I think you also think about a lot, is anti-Semitism. When Israel is isolated in the world and where the state of Israel is being considered to behave as we behave, then the dangers of anti-Semitism and the dangers for the Jewish communities around the world is becoming a real issue, and we have to understand it. Not to excuse ourselves —  "well the world is against us, as always". This is not an excuse because it is our problem. We have to take care of all these risks. There may be another risk; you know the bottom line of all these risks I described is the question whether the situation is reversible. I think it is reversible. The orderly alternative is to go back to negotiating table and to try to achieve a permanent agreement, because if it is not possible then we will have to separate ourselves from the Palestinians unilaterally. There is no other alternative. The current alternative is not an alternative. The idea of one state for two people is not an alternative.

So this is the idea and Geneva agreement Geneva Accord Geneva Initiative — we are being blamed to say Geneva agreement because we are not authorized to sign an agreement so it is Geneva initiative — is a model and it is an answer to the people who say there is no one to talk with and nothing to talk about. If we are ready to talk about the most sensitive issues, we do have partners.

And I say it loud and clear. This is the idea, and the uniqueness of the Geneva Accord is first of all who are the two groups, and the most important is who are the Palestinians behind the agreement? I can tell you I know the Palestinians for many years. I was the Commander of Central Command, I was part of negotiations when I was in uniform, and later on, and the group which is behind the agreement from the Palestinian side is the real one, the authentic one. I wouldn't have signed this agreement if 6 months ago a very important group [had not] joined the initiative. And I'm talking about people that are coming from the refugee camps, from the Tanzim, from the youngsters of the Fatah, people that those of you who are familiar with names, are part of "the revolution" The revolution is against the traditional leadership, and then they joined it. Bargouti, who is now in prison, and we are going to make him a real leader, like Nelson Mandela in South Africa —  and its very important, but his people are the people who participated in this experiment or initiative. There is a man, Ishan Abdel Razak. He is from Jabaliya, the largest refugee camp in Gaza. He was in Israeli prison for 21 years after an attempt — he didn't succeed —  to put a charge —  a bomb —  in Rishon Letzion, he was injured very seriously. He was one of the people who signed this agreement. And he said, "When I will stand in the middle of Jabaliya, in the square of Jabaliya, and I will say I signed this agreement, a lot of people will sign, even not reading what is written in this agreement".

There is a lot of other people, and maybe next time when I come to speak with you, I'll come with a partner from the Palestinian group to be here with you!

Because the idea is to work together. I told the group that I met, the leading group of the organization, that we decided after we met that we will communicate daily, not just because we miss each other after 3 days together in a beautiful hotel in Jordan, but mainly because we want that both of us will talk in the same language. Not in the same language — they will talk Arabic and we will talk Hebrew —  but we'll say the same things. Because it very important that we will continue to brief our people and to try to pressure them in, by using the same terms, not cheating each other. Therefore, we are planning, not only here, as I suggested, but also in Israel to go from town to town, from university to university, for both Palestinians and Israelis to talk, to show that it is possible. And the Palestinians that will speak up will say who he is and what he did and why he came to the conclusion that this is the time to do it. Now this is the first uniqueness of this agreement. The second one is that we went down to the last detail. We did not leave aside any even the most sensitive issues —  Jerusalem, Old City, holy places, borders, the issues of refugees. Everything we put on the table, we didn't push it under the rug. And this is the uniqueness, because never before was it done. And the result, of course, is maps with a resolution of 10-20 meters. You have to understand that its very easy to speak about principles, and a lot of Israelis agree to principles, but when you go down to the details, it is much more difficult.

And the third uniqueness: that this agreement is the end of claims. And it is written in the agreement, and the agreement replaces all the UN resolutions, and once governments will sign this agreement — and fulfill it, of course, and implement it —  it is the end of all arguments and everything. Now to the principles, and maybe the achievements, of the full part of the draft.

First[ly], the Palestinians recognize the state of Israel as the Jewish homeland. This is very important we didn't meet this announcement before.

Secondly, Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, will be the largest ever – [larger than in the times of] King Solomon and King David —  if anyone want to bring the history and the bible, this is the largest Jerusalem under Israeli —  under Jewish rule, recognized borders, and of course, recognized by the world, which is not the situation today.

There is a solution for the refugee issue. There is no right of return. Israel, in a very sensitive formula, will accept [under] its own sovereignty a number of Palestinians, but it will be Israel's decision, how many, who, when, along what time, by the way like it will be the US decision, because in the agreement there will be an appeal to third countries —  US Canada Switzerland Japan Korea —  to ask them to accept a number of Palestinians, and each of these countries will independently and sovereignly take a decision if and how many. And Israel is in the same category. So there is no right of return. It is a way, and I think we found a formula which I hope will lead to solve this very sensitive issue. Because you have to understand there is no way to reach an agreement that, on our side, will be a no right of return to Palestinians, and, from the Palestinian side, a wish for a right of return. So we have to go into a very sensitive formula, but the bottom line, I know there are a lot of arguments, but trust me, we checked it with a lot of professional people in international law. It is well written; every citizen in Israel, and of course you, will be able to read exactly the document and there is no right of return.

The fourth principle and achievement is involvement, international involvement in the Old City, in the holy places, controlling the Palestinian state will stay demilitarized and many other issues.

The Fifth: the permanent borders will be basically the ‘67 line; exceptions about 2.5% of the land behind the Green Line will stay under Israeli rule, we will have to give 2.5% in another place so the idea, the principle is one-to-one. It means that 75% of the Jews that live now on the other side of the Green Line will be able to stay in their homes, which will be under Israel rule.

As I said the Palestinian state will be demilitarized. A lot of security measures like a lot of strongholds and many other things to do.

The next one is very important: There is a door open, as it was mentioned in the Arab Initiative what is known as the Saudi Initiative. There is a door to the other Arab countries, after we reach agreement with the Palestinians, to recognize the State of Israel, to open formal relations with the State of Israel. It is not just a door; I know that the Jordanians and Egyptians are talking about it. Both of them are very very pro and support the initiative, they are not able to say it now officially, but they are involved since the beginning. By the way, when we went to Jordan for 3 days of trying to conclude, which was successful, the Egyptians wanted very much that we would come to Egypt, not to Jordan. So Yossi Beilin had to fly immediately to Egypt to relax them and to say well we will brief you, you are part of it. Because I think its very important that these two countries will lead the Arab world, once the agreement will be implemented, to come to a conclusion of this big conflict.

And as I said before the final important issue is that it is the end of the conflict. It is written in the agreement that no other claims can be on the floor after it will be signed. It is the end of the refugee status, for example, UNRWA will be dismantled [as] it will no longer be necessary. As I said before, this agreement is instead of all the resolutions – 194, 338, 242 and others.

What is behind the Geneva? What is the next step? The next step first of all is to motivate the public opinion in Israel. Not just to motivate but to mobilize the Israeli people, to say "well, that's a strong agenda." We will start, I hope, in less than 2 weeks. We will send every address in Israel the booklet, which is 45 pages, it will be probably more because it will be a smaller edition, the size will be smaller than full page, with all the maps, and everything will be written. By the way the English edition is the official one. But we are now translating to Hebrew and Arabic. And both parties have to confirm the translation is okay. As I said before, we know from the past that you have to go through this process —  that there will not be someone saying, "I read the Arabic version and it is completely different what they are talking to their people!" Of course motivating or mobilizing the Israeli public opinion is the most important thing. But the politicians that are part of this group, which is more civil society idea. Informal groups [of] the politicians will take it to the political arena, because without politics, without making it a party agenda, there is no way of course to implement it later on. We hope, and we are saying to government "take the model, use it!" If not exactly as written, but the idea! We'll be very happy if it will happen, I doubt it. But then we will have to work very hard that it will become the agenda of the majority of the people of Israel for next election.

The international partnership is very important. You probably know that one of the leading forces behind it is the Foreign Minister, [who] is a lady, from Switzerland. She didn't even back off after the Government of Israel and the Foreign Minister of Israel called the Ambassador of Switzerland in Israel and said very tough words to him. They are backing this agreement. They even guarantee supporting [it] financially, because we will need a lot of money in order to campaign in Israel. And many other European countries are behind it, some of them are not able officially to say it, but they were participating in the negotiations along the last few months, including Japan, not just European countries. And it's very important for us, even that we are being criticized in Israel —  "what are you going to Europe? Europe is against us. You have to start at home." Its nonsense. Its nonsense it is important that we are part of the open and free world, even being isolated today. And I think that we have to do it. I personally visited Switzerland more than two times and Brussels in the EU and it is very important that they will be with us.

I want to say a few words about the fence. I was one of the people that was for the fence in the beginning. I think that the fence is a very important idea, an important solution to secure the State of Israel from terrorists like those who commit suicide in buses and restaurants. But the implementation and the way the government is doing it, I'm looking for a word —  in Hebrew I have a lot, but in English, [it is] a "catastrophe!" We have to fight against the idea of the government building a fence like it is doing now. The original idea was that it would serve as a security fence and not a political border, and that the best place was approximately the Green Line, which could be accepted by both sides. But the government and Sharon, which objected to the idea in the beginning, accepted it in the end because of pressure from the people, the public, but took it completely to the wrong direction. So the idea of securing the people of Israel will not be achieved because the fence as they are going to build it, will not give security. This is the fact: We will pour millions of dollars; we will cause and provoke a lot of unrest on the Palestinian side. We will raise more world and moral objections against us. We — the Jews —  will put Palestinians into ghettos. And nothing good can come out of it, even not security!

Now it is very important that the Jewish communities in the United States will raise their voice. You know, as I know, and you are not alone —  it is in Israel also, that the right-wing communities or organizations are much stronger; their voice is much louder in the last few years, because of many reasons. But now we have an agenda. And I think that what you are showing to me and yourself today is very very important. And it means that if we will work hard we can gain back at least part, an important part, of the Jewish community's opinions here and Israel to support the idea that there is an alternative, and to support the idea that if we are not going in this direction, I already mentioned all the risks that we will face in the future, not just in Israel but every place else. And the risk to lose the movement, the Zionist movement, is a real one. I must tell you very honestly that I don't think that ever the State of Israel, the idea of the Jewish democratic state was in danger as it is now. It is so easy to understand when there is a danger of war. It is not so easy to explain and to let people understand that the real danger is today with what we are doing, or with what we are not doing —  not initiating something in order to change the situation. Therefore, as it was in the past, we have to join forces, even that you don't have the right to vote in Israel. But you have the right to say loud and clear —  because we are partners —  it is not just the Israeli state, it is the state of the Jewish people, and you have the right —  you have the duty! —  to say loud and clear, to stand on your own two feet and to be partner in this struggle for the benefit of the State of Israel.

To sum up, as I said the situation is very very severe, very very difficult, problematic. But we have alternatives. The situation is reversible. You know an individual is allowed to think from his belly, from his stomach: Revenge! No power! But government responsibility must be to look beyond the horizon in order to give answers maybe not for tomorrow, but for the day after tomorrow. And we, the Israelis, are going to face very very difficult decisions to make and we will have to do it; otherwise as I said, I don't know what will happen.

And it is very ridiculous or absurd that those who are leading today the State of Israel claim [that] they are nationalists, [that] they are patriots,[but] in the name of empty slogans they are risking the State of Israel. And I represent people who are not less patriotic. In our group there is the former Chief of General Staff, other high rank officers, writers, people that are coming from a lot of other places in Israel. Each and everybody is a patriot. I was born in Israel and I lived and grew up with the country. I served for 30 years in the army 30 years in uniform and I am very proud of it. And I was starting from being a tank driver, and I finished my 30 years tour as a Major General, being partner in all the very important decisions and crossroads along the last tens of years. I am not a leftist. I am not a rightist. I am an Israeli, a patriot to my country, and I believe the price of war is much more expensive than the price of peace.

I believe we were so brave in wars and in combat we are able to be brave in taking risks in peace attempts and peace initiatives. The existence of the State of Israel as a developing country, Jewish and democratic, with a moral base to what we are doing is so important, and it is so important not just to Israelis but to the Jewish world around Israel. We need you, you need us, and I'm sure that with what I experienced here we will be able to do it. Thank you very much.

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