Israeli security expert: In the Middle East you are either a tiger or a sheep

The so-called Middle Eastern conflict is neither about territories or two-state solutions but a clash between incompatible belief systems medieval Islam against Western secularism.

 

JERUSALEM. During our lunch in the Knesset the Israeli parliament Israel Hasson asks Dipatch Internationals reporters to look out the window and points to a range of hills a couple of kilometers to the east.

That was where the 1967 border ran, he says and returns to the table.

We get his meaning: Israel will never allow the border of a potential Palestinian state to follow the armistice line also called the green line that resulted from Israels 1948-1949 War of Independence. Following Israels conquest of Jerusalems Old City and the rest of the so-called West Bank during the Six Day War in June 1967, the actual border had been moved several kilometers to the east and Israel has established a number of Jewish settlements that completely surround the Arab-speaking East Jerusalem.

The Arabs and most Western governments say that Israel is illegally occupying and colonizing Palestinian territories, whereas Israel maintains that there has never been a peace agreement after the war of 1948-1949 and that consequently there is no legally binding agreement on how to divide the West Bank. As long as there is no such peace, Israel has the right to look to its own security. That has been the position of successive Israeli governments.

 

To get the story from an Israeli perspective, there is no better man to ask than Israel Hasson.

The 58-year-old Knesset member from the center-right Kadima Party was born in Damascus but came to Israel in 1962. For 23 years he worked for Shin Bet, Israels internal security service also known as Shabak, where he advanced to become deputy chief. He has participated in several high-profile peace negotiations, among others in Wye River, USA, in 1998 and the Camp David talks between Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2000. He has also been Israeli envoy to several Arab capitals.

 

There are, says Israel Hasson, enormous stumbling blocks to a credible peace:

It is part of Islams essence that no other religion than Islam should be permitted to establish a state in the Middle East

The Palestinians may perhaps be forced to accept the reality of Israel but that does not mean that they acknowledge Israels right to exist. There is a vast difference, says Hasson. According to Islamic religious law, Muslims cannot grant Israel legitimacy as a state.

Until three years ago, the Arabs were not even interested in setting up a Palestinian state.

They needed their hatred of Israel and did not wish an end to the more or less permanent state of war that has existed since Israels creation in 1948.

They need us as an excuse for not being able to solve their own problems. But we are not the problem. We have nothing to do with, e.g., the Arab-Iranian conflict or the Syrian civil war which have claimed far more casualties that all of Israels wars combined.

 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to do with territories, says Israel Hasson

At Camp David the Palestinians were offered 97.5 percent of the West Bank, but Yasser Arafat declined every offer.

After the Camp David meeting Israel Hasson and then Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami visited all the Arab leaders to present the Israeli offers and met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria, where Ben-Ami delivered an hour-long report on the negotiations at Camp David.

Nothing came of these contacts. Arafat proved adamant.

Several times during the negotiations with the Palestinians, I have handed them a blank piece of paper and asked them to write down precisely what they demand in exchange for peace. Every time the paper came back with no text. They simply dont want to tell what they want to end the conflict, says Israel Hasson. This makes him think that the Palestinians dont want to end hostilities.

During the discussions between Mubarak, Ben-Ami and Hasson, there was an interesting exchange about the right to the Temple Mount in Jerusalems Old City which is considered holy by both Jews and Muslims.

Mubarak remarked that he had been in the peace business for 29 years and now he wanted to se proof that there was in fact a 3000-year-old ruin on the Temple Mount. (The ruin he referred to was evidently the temple that is believed to have built approximately 1000 years BC.)

I answered him in Arabic: If you give proof that God (Allah in Arabic, ed.) exists, I will prove to you that the ruin exists.

 

Given present conditions in the Middle East with no prospect for a lasting peace, Israel Hasson believes in a separation between Israelis and Palestinians.

I dont want to decide over the Palestinians. By the same token I dont want them to decide over the Israelis but that requires Israel to remain strong.

In this area you must either act like a tiger or a wolf. Whoever behaves like a sheep ends up in the barbecue.

But it is by no means an easy task to keep strong enough to survive.

To be prime minister in Israel is the worst job in the world. You cannot compare our situation with that of any other country. If Germany occupies France, it does not mean the end of France as a nation. If we are occupied, that will be the end of Israel and of Jewish presence in the Middle East, says Israel Hasson and points to the fact that 125,000 rockets are pointed against his country.

 

From the USA and Europe there is no help to be got. They have no policy at all except that they believe in democracy, which they imagine can be imposed on the Arabs.

But democracy makes no sense among the Arabs. The first condition for democracy is a separation between religion and politics. If that were to be realized, it would entail a jump from the 12th century and to our time.

They might begin by giving drivers licenses to women.

DI: You seem very certain that Israel will manage. Are you not afraid that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons an eradicate Israel?

In 1997 Israels top operational chief gave me the task of seeing to it that Iran did not get nuclear weapons within the next three years. Now another 13 years have passed and they still dont have them.

Dispatch International refrains from asking by what methods that has been prevented. There is no reason to ask questions that will not be answered.

 

While we eat lunch in the Knesset, we ask Israel Hasson about his opinion on Europe. Is he worried that Europe is being increasingly Islamized as a result of Muslim mass immigration?

Not at all. In the past Europe has proved capable of solving that kind of problems.

He doesnt mention the Nazi extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust but that is clearly what he has in mind.

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