PIJ: What is your evaluation of the Annapolis conference?

Shulamit Aloni: I'm not very hopeful about anything coming out of Annapolis, but still, peace is essential. That is our goal.

The problem is that myths are taking over our lives. Actually, it began with the Six Day War in 1967. The problem was not the victory itself, but how it was interpreted. Suddenly all the myths came out. Yesterday I heard on television people talking about how this was always our home; this was where Abraham lived. However, for 2,000 years no one actually tried to return here. And others were living here as well.

The influence of myths is very powerful. The first person who suspected this was Prof. Gershon Sholem, in a letter he wrote back in 1926: "Are we aware of what could happen when we return to the Hebrew language and to the country, what effect this would have?" And all his suspicions were fulfilled by these myths.

But all of these myths only erupted after 1967?

This was the true result of the Six Day War. I was in the first [Yitzhak] Rabin government in 1974, and we could have easily made peace at that time. King Hussein [of Jordan] … told us: If you give me Jericho, we will start negotiations on returning the territories. There were three ministers in favor, Aharon Yariv, Gad Yaacobi and I. The others did not want it because they were afraid that he would want to return to the Green Line, the 1967 borders. The approach of Minister Yisrael Galili and his associates was that they wanted the National Religious Party (NRP) to join the government, and when Golda Meir had been prime minister, she had promised them that no part of the Land of Israel would be returned without a referendum.

Some argued that since it was the Syrians and the Egyptians who fought Israel in 1973 and not the Jordanians, there was no reason to give the Jordanians a prize.

That was not the issue in 1974. Rabin said Golda promised them that they would not return land without a referendum or elections. And Rabin decided that he would not hold elections over such an idea. I am a lawyer, and I asked: Is Golda's promise to the NRP a government decision or a personal discussion with them? If it was a government decision, I want to see the decision; you could cancel it but you have to deal with it. If it wasn't a government decision, if it was a personal conversation, it does not matter.

What is your view of the Arab Peace Initiative?

I think that the Arab Peace Initiative, what people in Israel call the Saudi Initiative, is very important. I think it is very important that the Arab states participate in the peace process, and that the State of Israel should be more attentive to what the Arab states are saying.

In 1973 there were a total of just 7,000 settlers. What should we do today about the settlements? How do we deal with them?

We won't have a choice. We must deal with the problem. The settlements are a scandal and a constant financial drain on the nation, most of which doesn't appear officially in the annual budget's records. The government is deceiving itself, the Israeli public and the world.

We built this terrible wall and we stole a lot of land, so in the beginning all of the settlers beyond the wall will have to return. It depends on which government and which prime minister we have.

Do you see any chance with the government we have today?

In my view [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak may be even more dangerous than [former Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, because of his military mind, even though he may support an "evacuation for compensation" program. He may support it, but where is the money to carry it out? In his ideology Barak is not a man of peace. And the Labor Party is no longer a labor party.

We also have a government with too many former generals. The Second Lebanon War happened because there were too many generals. Everyone blames [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert, [but] imagine Olmert saying, "We are not going to war." While [former Chief-of-Staff] General Dan Halutz was saying about everything, "We took care of it; it's ok," and in the government we have former Generals Ephraim Sneh, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Matan Vilnai and Shaul Mofaz, as well as two ministers who were in the General Security Services. And there was also Shimon Peres, who lied to the Winograd Commission about his position on the war. He claimed that he was against it, and only supported it out of loyalty to the prime minister. Peres always said "yes" to whatever the army asked. He has a feeling of inferiority toward the army, because they always remind him that he never was in uniform.

Also, the statement is always made that we will not release prisoners who have "blood on their hands." Well, we should remember that we have even more "blood on our hands." Whoever drops one-ton bombs on people, and whoever has decided that it is possible to eliminate people without evidence and due process of law, has a lot of "blood on his hands." [A senior minister in the current government] has more blood on his hands than l00 or 200 Palestinian prisoners.

So your conclusion is that we need an international intervention?

I always say that a strong third party has to intervene.

Do you think the Geneva Initiative model will be the basis of the solution?

I don't know. We could have advanced the negotiations during Camp David II with Barak, where progress was made. However, when the talks collapsed, he claimed that there was "no one to talk to."

At the Taba talks the negotiators almost arrived at an agreement, and then Barak withdrew from the talks.

That's when he began the spin of having no one to talk to, and we knew it was a spin, and the military understood it. [Head of the research section of Military Intelligence] Major General Amos Gilad appeared all the time on television, saying that "Arafat wanted the second intifada." Yet Arafat came to Barak the night before [then-Likud Party leader Ariel] Sharon went to the Temple Mount and begged him, "Don't let him go up." What was Barak's answer? "This is a free country." Why did Barak let him go there? He knew he had no majority in the Knesset. So he thought he would come to an agreement with Sharon, who would become defense minister in a Barak government, or the other way around. I believe Barak wanted an alliance with Sharon. In addition, only two weeks ago he said that he has great sentiment and sympathy toward the settlers in the illegal outposts.

On the other hand, there are Palestinians who say that President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has no authority to make peace.

You are referring to Hamas. First of all, we should remember that we, the Israelis, helped to found Hamas, and also that we are carrying out provocations so that things will not be calm. Did you see the TV movie "One Million Bullets in October" [about how the IDF did not carry out governmental orders in October 2000 aimed at limiting and possibly stopping the second intifada - ed.]. There is a lot of evidence.

Things are getting worse. On the one hand, we hear more voices saying that there is no alternative to a one-state solution, and on the other hand, we see polls in Haaretz which say that most Israelis don't trust the Arabs and even fear them.

Do you believe that it is possible to talk with Hamas?

I am for speaking even with the devil. I am for talking to everyone. But we are purposely heating up the atmosphere. Why are we sending soldiers to Nablus and other places? We are a country without the death penalty, and yet we kill people. What is the targeted assassination policy if not murder? And we do it with such ease - and [to even] children and elders and women - what is this? It's hard for me to say a good word about the future.

How important is the role of the international community in general, and of the Americans in particular, in promoting the peace process?

Without the intervention of the international community, we won't be able to achieve peace.

As for the Americans, their involvement is very important, but I think that we are too dependent upon them, which is why I would also like to see a strong European involvement.

We are too dependent upon the Americans, and upon the American Jewish lobby there. We even have a Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which revives the specter of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In addition, if we only work with the Americans, the American Jews will eventually be accused of dual loyalty [to Israel and America].

Therefore I think that it is very important to have a general international involvement in the process, the Europeans together with the Americans. And I'm not trying in any way to belittle the importance of a constructive American involvement.

What should the Israelis - both Israeli civil society and the Israeli government - do to promote peace today?

The Israeli public has undergone a systematic brainwashing. We are one of the strongest countries in the world, definitely the strongest country in the region, yet we are constantly being told that we are facing threats to our very existence.

That part of Israeli civil society that thinks like I do, that we are strong and we must have consideration for the rights of the Palestinians, that we can make peace and are obligated to make peace, must say so.

What can the Palestinians contribute to the process?

First of all, the Palestinians are justifiably insisting that we release more of the [over l0,000] Palestinian prisoners as a confidence-building measure.

The Palestinians have a major problem with Hamas. We contributed to the establishment of Hamas [as a counter-force to Fateh and the PLO], and now that we refuse to speak with them, we are only exacerbating the situation.

The strong side is the side that has to do the maximum to move the process forward, and we are the strong side. We are the ones who are stealing their lands in the West Bank, are uprooting their trees, are placing them in prisons and are killing them without trial.

Are you pessimistic?

I despise what the army is doing. They now want to enter the schools to be the educators of our children. They think that they are the lords of the land. … Some high schools are carrying out a plan that enables the army to present their ideas to the 10th graders. … And they want to start with them from kindergarten. What is this? I want human beings to enter the army.

Look what just happened in a West Bank village. The settlers said they had come to "erase this village," and seven buses full of settlers came, and the military and the police stood aside and didn't stop their pogrom.

So I am pessimistic today. My biggest anger is about the cult of the army. I think that today we could take many millions away from the army's budget and give it to education, to allow education to flourish. Instead of giving it to the army, we could give it to research in the universities.

What is your wish for 2008?

Very simply, we have to make peace in 2008. We have to release prisoners. We have to stop building apartheid-like separation roads [that only settlers are allowed to use] in the West Bank.

Will 2008 be a "year of decision" as the media says?

We have been living years of decision for 60 years.
With Barak as defense minister and all the generals in the government today, it's hard to be optimistic that they will make peace, but we must pressure them. That's why I want third-party involvement, and particularly from the Europeans.