Palestinian Self-Rule, Israeli Security - An interview
Victor Cygielman: On one side you have the Palestinians who aim
at an independent state with Jerusalwhem as its capital, the return
of the refugees and so on. This we know.
David Bar-Illan: No, we don't. That is what they say they want. I
don't believe this is their final aim. As you know, what they are
asking for now is a return to the 1967 lines plus East Jerusalem as
the capital of the Palestinian State. (Actually, lately, Arafat
usually says East Jerusalem, but most of the time they say
Jerusalem.) We do not believe that this is their real final goal,
because they use the map of the whole country from the Jordan to
the sea. They often mention the partition plan of 1947 as the goal
to which they aspire; there is talk of autonomy for the Arabs of
the Negev and the Galilee. Their songs and slogans, as well as
their statements, indicate that they consider the return to the
1967 lines with Jerusalem as their capital, only as a first step
toward what I would call not the final status but the final
solution: Palestine, from the Jordan to the sea.
I read what Mr. Netanyahu said to a group of ambassadors about a
Palestinian State. I would like some clarification about
Mr. Netanyahu has often said that he wants the Palestinians to have
as much self-rule as possible, as long as it does not endanger the
security of Israel. Now if you have a sovereign state, obviously
you can have as large an army as you can raise, you can produce or
import all sorts of weapons.
It is not historically true. Germany became an independent state
after the First World War, but there were agreements and
This is a marvelous example because you saw how easy it was to go
back on those agreements. Germany rearmed exactly after all these
agreements. If agreements are kept, it is only because of the
goodwill of the people who want to keep them. If they do not want
to keep them, a sovereign country cannot be forced to keep an
agreement unless the countries that want it to do so are willing to
It is also a function of the countries that are bordering
Only in the sense if they are willing to invade it and enforce an
agreement. This is something that France and Britain were not
willing to do after the First World War and that is why those
agreements were abrogated. If a country is sovereign, it can arm
with conventional or non-conventional weapons, make alliances with
other countries, in this case possibly with very radical
anti-Israel countries, like Iraq, Iran, or Syria. In this specific
case, it can control two-thirds of Israel's water resources, and
the air space over Israel.
We believe that 80 percent of Israelis would object to the
establishment of such a sovereign state which endangers Israel,
while perhaps half the population would not object to the idea of a
Palestinian State on condition that you specify what kind of a
state is being talked about.
You want me to believe that an Israel which is not afraid
militarily of a coalition of countries like Egypt and Syria would
be afraid of an armed Palestinian mini-state?
A mini-state like Lebanon has been able to attack us and make our
lives intolerable for more than 15 years. Even with Lebanon we had
to make a security belt in order to make it possible for the
Galilee to stay alive. A coalition of Arab states is dangerous to
Israel, whether or not we can win in a war against Arab states. If
a coalition like that had an ally which bordered on Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem, not like Syria or Egypt which are relatively
from the population centers, it would be a coalition, similar to
that in 1967, which endangered Israel's life, but much more
And autonomy or self-rule?
How do we give the kind of self-rule that would be acceptable and
at the same time control the security situation? The prime minister
mentioned those countries which have limited sovereignty. There are
many such examples in the world. Austria has accepted certain
limitations. In Austria's case I think it depends tremendously on
the goodwill of the people and government. It is a democracy and
one can trust the obligations of a democracy much more than those
of a police state, which is obviously what the Palestinian entity
is developing into.
Puerto Rico is an example. There are a lot of other situations
around the world which should be studied, the prime minister
believes. I am not talking about the State of Palestine, a state
implies sovereignty, but the entity of Palestine, commonwealth,
whatever you want to call it, that is what the prime minister meant
when he talked about a possibility of limited sovereignty, at least
for a time. In a democracy this is usually something that you can
expect to work. Whether one can trust a police state to keep an
agreement of this kind is really the big question. The Palestinian
population would choose to become a total sovereignty. We would
like to have them choose their own destiny themselves, but it has
to be reconciled with Israel's survival.
Even countries which are not democracies keep agreements, even
unwritten ones. For example, there has been no formal agreement
with Jordan for almost 50 years. But it was understood that no
foreign army can come into Jordan. Jordan respected that. So what
has this to do with a democratic regime?
No, I am not saying that dictatorial regimes don't keep agreements.
The Soviet Union also kept some agreements.
An agreement with a Palestinian entity can, for example, exclude
military alliances with other countries; can define the size of the
army - no offensive weapons, no tanks, no combat planes. There is
no reason why such an agreement should not be kept. It would be in
the Palestinians' interest. They want to develop their country,
they want to be as independent as possible. They wouldn't decide
easily to spite a powerful neighbor like Israel.
Had the Palestinian entity behaved according to what we consider
its own interest, there would have been peace in this country long,
long ago. They would have been able to get a Palestinian State
according to the UN 1947 partition plan in 1947. They have
interests that are quite different from ours, they have a much
longer view of history. They want a Palestinian State from the
River Uordan] to the Mediterranean Sea. Even today they break every
single important item in the Oslo agreement, including the items
that have to do with the size of their army and the number of
weapons they may carry. We had decided on 9,000, then it was
increased to 18,000. Today they have at least 45,000, we believe it
is closer to 50,000, people under arms.
The present Hashemite Kingdom is a sensible, Western-oriented
court. If it is overthrown, we do not know how Jordan will behave.
And if Israel is back to the 1967 borders, it is doubtful it would
be treated with the kind of respect and awe with which it is
You're talking about a limited sovereignty. Assuming that, the
question is of negotiations. You negotiate what form the
Palestinian entity or state will have. What powers it will have. If
I understand you, the demand you make is one of security, border
corrections, all the things about which there is a general
consensus in Israel, including the opposition Labor party. I do not
see, neither in the prime minister's remarks nor in your
clarifications, a blank opposition to the idea of a Palestinian
State. Through negotiations you might come to an agreement with the
Palestinians on certain limitations.
Semantics don't matter. If Palestinian sovereignty is limited
enough so that we feel safe, call it fried chicken. But the
limitations on a piece of paper with a police state mean absolutely
nothing. There is no democratic state around us, including Jordan,
including Egypt, and, if we reach an agreement with it, Syria. The
agreement with a non-democratic state is only as good as your
deterrent capacity to enforce it. According to foreign sources,
Israel has tremendous power, or has nuclear power, but that doesn't
mean a thing. We know one cannot use nuclear power against Nablus
or Ramallah. Ramallah is only 20 minutes from Jerusalem.
Israel is a superpower.
Yes and no. In 1967 the relationship between the numbers of tanks
and airplanes between us and the Arabs was much more favorable to
us than it is today. We cannot ignore Iraq after the sanctions are
lifted, or Iran. We cannot enable such a coalition to also have a
foothold, a bridgehead right next to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. That
would be foolhardy, suicidal.
We do not want to bring about a situation in which we would have to
go to war. We want peace and we do not want to endanger
There are several important issues to settle in the final-status
agreement. Jerusalem, borders, the refugees, the future of
settlements, water. Do you have a blueprint of what the Netanyahu
If you think very carefully, in this respect there is not that much
difference between the Labor party and us. There are certain
differences and nuances, but to say that there is a gap between the
two is wrong, and Likud and Labor people are discussing
final-status negotiations, which cu:e much easier to discuss than
the interim part of the Oslo agreement. In the interim agreement we
object to many points that Labor accepts, but on the final status
we seem to agree on many things. Labor says we are willing to call
it a state as long as there are limitations. The point is not
whether you call it a state but what the limitations are going to
What is Israel's position on questions like Jerusalem and
On Jerusalem, at least officially, the Labor party also says it is
the eternal, undivided capital of Israel under Israel's
sovereignty. We all agree on special privileges in all the holy
places. The Beilin/Abu Mazen document presumed to call something
else Jerusalem. I do not think anybody will agree to that on the
other side. So on Jerusalem we have a problem with the Palestinians
no matter who in the government is, Likud or Labor.
On refugees it is a small question of degree. I think the Labor
party would probably agree to a larger number of returned displaced
persons, as the refugees of 1967 are called, to the areas of the
Palestinian entity, but that is a question of negotiations. And
again you would say their interest is not to crowd too many
refugees in because it would cause havoc economically. This is what
we are saying because this is the Western attitude. But that is not
their logic. Their logic is this way we can make Israel miserable.
We are going to put these refugees on the borders and say that they
are going to get back to their real homes which are in Haifa, in
Jaffa, in Acre, in Nazareth.
I talk to Palestinians about refugees. They say two things:
first, a formal recognition by Israel of their UN-recognized right
to return or to receive compensation. Second, they add that the
practical implementation of this right is to be negotiated betweeen
Israel and the Palestinian National Authority.
They are saying that to you, but in all their speeches, including
Arafat's, there is talk of unlimited return of all displaced
persons and all refugees.
If you take the Beilin/Abu Mazen project, the borders of Israel
would include Gush Etzion, Ariel... The Alpher Plan.
Yes, the Alpher Plan. The only thing that's missing in it, if I
remember correctly, is the Jordan Valley. Again, the Jordan is not
a sentimental thing. If we say the Palestinian entity must have
limited sovereignty, we can impose it primarily if we are still on
the Jordan River, because we can immediately close any connection
between the Palestinians and the Hashemite Kingdom if we want to.
If we are not there, it's impossible to close that border. That is
even more important for Jordan than it is for us because, if you
have a Palestinian State, it will endanger the survival of the
Hashemite Kingdom. It will direct its energies towards Jordan
rather than towards us because Jordan is weaker. And besides, they
have about 70 percent, 80 .percent Palestinians there. There is a
danger of rekindling the kind of tribal hatred which you never
thought existed. This is a potential we should not ignore,
especially after the experience of Yugoslavia which, after all, is
a European country. I am not saying it is just because it is in the
Would you rely on the Jordanian army to defend and secure the
frontiers with the Palestinians?
Of course, at this point I would, but I don't know what the
composition of the Jordanian army would be in five years. Now it
relies mostly on Bedouin officers. What would happen to the
Jordanian army if a Palestinian State with a Palestinian flag
exists next door?
What about water?
Water is a very big problem, a huge problem. I believe that water
supplies should, of course, be used for the Palestinian population
and adequately so. Ultimately, we will probably have to find
alternate water supplies, possibly through desalinization.
Presently, it is very dangerous if we do not have access to the
water aquifers in the West Bank.
Do you have a blue print? Has there been a discussion about
No, we never put it in writing. We are just beginning the final
status. We had
You now are entering negotiations for Area C which is the third
stage of the Oslo plan. Some 350 villages in the West Bank will
have to be evacuated by Israel.
It does not have to be negotiated; it's already in the agreement.
What has to be discussed is the implementation of the interim
agreement. Do not forget the very open and all-encompassing
limitation which says that Israel can keep all the areas of the
settlements, which is very small (four to five percent) and
everything that it may consider essential for its security -- and
that can encompass a large area.
But would this government agree to implement it?
Yes, of course, except if the Palestinians accept going straight
into final-status talks with us without implementing. Only by
agreement, of course.
I understand that Israel still occupies 70 percent of the West
More, 75 percent. The situation on the ground is such that we are
afraid that if we leave large areas to themselves, they would be
used as springboards for terrorist attacks against us more than
now. Security is always what is on the ground. Are the Palestinians
importing arms? There are rumors allover the place of their
importing anti-tank weapons.
The next thing we are going to discuss is the airfield next to
Rafah. An airfield that is completely under Palestinian control can
bring in tanks, thousands of tanks, by an airlift. What are we
going to do about it? Of course we can shoot the planes down, but
that is war. On the other hand, as long as we have control over the
borders, which means also borders at the airport, we can control
What about the safe passage from Gaza to the West Bank, as
agreed in the Oslo agreement?
This is a tremendously difficult problem. A safe passage means an
extra¬territorial road, which we can't pass. How can we pass
that road? Are we going to cut our Negev in half?
A highground road maybe ....
A highground is one possibility, but that is a very expensive
business. Or underground, a long tunnel. The question is: Will the
Palestinians wait until it is ready? Will they insist on a railroad
going through there and which they could cut? That is why we
believe it is wiser and safer for the agreement if we go into the
final-status talks now. What we are trying to eliminate is not
dangers to Israel only, but to the agreement per se. Actually, it
is one and the same thing, because anything that endangers Israel,
makes terrorism easier, costs us lives, is the end of the
agreement. We want to salvage the agreement. We want to save it
from itself, so to speak, by going on to the final status right
away. We hope that in the final-status discussions we can reach a
form of workable agreement with the Palestinians which will
eliminate the dangers inherent to the interim period.