"I Am a Short-Term Pessimist and a Long-Term Optimist"
An interview on the Israel-Palestine peace process with Major General (res.) Shlomo Gazit

Dan Leon: Do you regard the implementation of the Oslo and Cairo Agreements up to now as satisfactory?
Shlomo Gazit: I have mixed feelings on the question. The implementation has both bilateral and unilateral aspects. The bilateral aspects are almost entirely within Israel's sphere of responsibility - withdrawal of troops, their redeployment, handing over facilities to the Palestinians etc. In the unilateral sphere each party is responsible for its own affairs.
1 am not too happy about the fact that the particular bilateral responsibilities of the Palestinians have not as of today been implemented. We have even been witness to attempts by the Palestinians to bluff their way out of their commitments, for instance their trying to "smuggle" four terrorists into the autonomous area, which is against the Agreement. They have not nullified the PLO Charter, which demands the destruction of Israel. Now neither of these points are important in themselves, not even the Charter. When all is said and done, they can adopt any policy they like regardless of the Charter. But they must carry out their commitments. We are trying to stick to a tough timetable while up to now they are not carrying out their side of the agreement.
Then we face serious problems of security and violence. Though I am satisfied in this respect with the mainstream PLO (Fatah) which has not initiated a single act of terror since the Agreement, acts of terror both in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank continue. This is a cause for concern as regards the next stage, especially in Gaza, since no wide autonomy is envisaged yet on the West Bank and Jericho is a small town without a record of violence in the past.
Yet the fact is that we were forced out of Gaza; could there not be a
similar attempt in the West Bank?
The continued terror is a bad omen
because we have to go back to the Israeli public for a mandate to make further concessions and public opinion will find it hard to accept this if the terror does not stop.
I said I have mixed feelings because on the other hand I have been surprised for the better by the way in which the Palestinians took over their responsibilities in Gaza. Everything went smoothly. The Palestinian police were effective. The new administration is handling local problems efficiently and the people in the street look happy. I was surprised at Arafat's decision to make his home in Gaza for the time being and I hope that as Chairman he intends to take over responsibility not only symbolically but in practice, especially as far as the economy is concerned.

Can the Hamas and Palestinian Jihad terror stop the peace process?
I hope not but I can't rule out such a possibility. There are two sides to this tragedy. A "successful" act of terror against a school bus in the West Bank, for example, could blow up the whole thing. The other side of the coin is that there is a rejectionist Israeli movement which is quick to capitalize on such acts for its own political interests. The possibility of terror stopping the peace process exists.

So how do you evaluate the relative prospects of success or failure for the peace process?
Were public opinion to have been very satisfied with the implementation up to now, giving full marks to Arafat for his performance, then there would have been a good possibility of Israel now agreeing to go on to the next stage of early empowerment in the West Bank. On too many scores Arafat has failed this test. The Palestinians complain that we don't release all the prisoners but meanwhile it is they who are breaking their agreement, as noted. The episode of smuggling people into Gaza is not in itself serious except in terms of a symbol, but at least we could have expected Arafat to denounce it.
There have also been positive developments, as I said. So I have mixed feelings.

Is Arafat interested in elections?
It is hard to know. If he is interested, it is on two conditions. First, he must be convinced that his mainstream PLO will win; second, he must solve the problem of the new younger leadership in the Territories, the heroes of the Intifada and of twenty-seven years of struggle against the occupation. It is not clear to what extent he is prepared to give them a dominant role. The clash is not only inter-generational- people in their 20's and 30's and those in their 50's and 60's - but also between the local Palestinian leadership and that from the Palestinian Diaspora.

The Declaration of Principles envisages a long interim period. Would it not be preferable to speed up the negotiating process on the final settlement?
The DOP permits the negotiations to start now - it lays down starting "not later than" a certain date and not "not earlier than". In principle, it is of course preferable to start negotiating the final settlement now. Why the interim stage? Because the gap was so wide in August 1993 that there could have been no chance of success for negotiations on final settlement.
Meanwhile, the gap has unfortunately not disappeared and nothing has changed on the hard core issues of contention: a Palestinian state, borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and security, as well as the wider conflict with Syria, Lebanon and to some extent Jordan. There is therefore no chance for a permanent settlement today. The interim stage was to have been used by both sides to develop a new mindset and attitude, based on flexibility and moderation. These do not manifest themselves today.
I do have one recommendation - that we should at least agree now on the ultimate goal, whenever it may be achieved. One of the deficiencies of the DOP was to leave this open. We should declare that the ultimate aim is the establishment of a Palestinian state within agreed borders, with Jerusalem as capital. We should at least acknowledge that the end of the process is Palestinian independence and sovereignty. I believe that public opinion in Israel is ripe for such a move, and expecting it.

What is your opinion on Jerusalem?
I will tell you what is my personal opinion. Since public opinion in Israel is not ready to accept it, I am not sure that it helps to publish it but these are the guidelines.
a. From the Palestinian point of view, no settlement is possible without their having some sort of hold in Jerusalem.
b. Contrary to Israel's position of a "reunited Jerusalem", Jerusalem is today more divided than it was twenty-five years ago after the reunification.
c. From a demographic point of view, in any overall solution Israel should minimize the Arab presence in the state of Israel: therefore we have no desire to absorb into the state over 150,000 Arabs in an annexed Jerusalem.
d. There is no other city in the world which has the international sensitivity of Jerusalem. From the Jewish point of view, it should be top priority and a vital interest that we have no responsibility for Christian or Muslim Holy places. The only known "Jihad" in history was that by the Christians to free Jerusalem from the Muslims. We don't want to see another Jihad by the Muslims or Christians to free Jerusalem from the Jews.
e. There is nothing sacred in the municipal borders as defined and legislated in 1967, or for example in the inclusion of the Arab village of Hizma within the Jerusalem Municipality. There are two sides to a solution here. The first is to negotiate a redefinition of the municipal borders in accordance with the present separation into Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. The Palestinians should be given full responsibility for all their neighborhoods, alongside Israeli responsibility for theirs, including those established after 1967. Second, the Old City within the walls should be a separate entity under the joint responsibility of the three religions. There would be restrictions on residence since it should be a religious-historical site rather than a residential area, with emphasis on churches, mosques, synagogues, museums, parks etc. All faiths will be respected. Nobody will be harassed there because of his religion.

Are the settlements an obstacle to peace?
I prefer to talk of borders rather than settlements and I don't accept the June 1967 lines as the final borders. What should be the considerations in re-defining our borders?
1. Security: the borders must minimize the threat of an offensive against us from the West Bank.
2. Demography: Israel should include a minimum of Arab residents and as many Jewish settlements as possible.
3. Historical, religious and ideological considerations: if possible, Jews should be able to go to the Tomb of Rachel without depending on the goodwill of others and in conjunction with the borders.
4. Settlements outside the redefined borders will have to be removed.
Now there are two reasons why Jews will not be able to continue living in areas outside the borders. The first is that while some Jews may be ready to live as loyal citizens in Arab countries, many of the settlers are not normal Israeli citizens but people bearing a messianic message of a greater Israel. The second is that most of the settlements were established on land which is a vital reserve for local Palestinian rural and urban development.

What is your view on developments with Syria?
I am not sure, but on this issue I belong to the "hawks". Meanwhile I see no single indication of a Syrian desire for peace and coexistence between neighbors. There is no reason for us to accept their conditions if all they want is a withdrawal by us and an improvement of their relations with the USA, in this case, at the expense of our military needs. I don't see why we should show flexibility. The situation is not that of the West Bank, where in any settlement we have to find a solution for the local population. There is no Syrian population on the Golan Heights. If need be, we can wait another twenty-seven years for a settlement.

Israeli doves started meeting Yasser Arafat from 1974. At that time, the PLO adopted policies which implied recognition of Israel in pragmatic terms. What is your response to the idea that it might have been possible to start peace negotiations years ago?
It is now 1994 and I still have misgivings about the sincerity of the Palestinian party. I cannot ignore a number of Arafat's recent statements - I am frightened, for example, by his appeal to the Palestinians in the Negev and Galilee. And these doubts of mine come after the OOP has been signed by both parties, not in 1974. Even today, the Israelis and the Palestinians can't find a compromise on central issues, including the Palestinian Right of Return. I want to see it written in Arabic in the Arab press that the Palestinians don't see the Right of Return as applying to Israel. Of course we could have made peace in the 1970's - on Arafat's terms. Looking at the present negotiations with all their problems, it is nonsensical to believe that the peace process could have started in the 1970's, let us say.

Your views seem to contain a mixture of pessimistic and optimistic, of "dovish" and "hawkish" elements. Could you sum up your hopes and fears?
On the immediate short-term issues, a three to five-year period, I am a pessimist. I think it will need a miracle for the Labor government to survive the next elections. The miracle could occur in one of two areas: the sort of political breakthrough with the Palestinians and/or the Syrians which will enthuse everyone (though any agreement will face doubters and will be met by demonstrations), or economic success and prosperity. On the internal front Rabin will pay in the future for the way Shas and Yi'ud are being brought into the coalition and for indications of corruption as in the State Comptroller's report. In the next elections, the Right will attack the government not so much on peace issues but on corruption.
However, in the long run I am an optimist. There is no alternative but to reach a settlement with our neighbors though it may take until 1998 or 2002. This is true even in the event of yet another armed struggle. Oslo was primarily a turning-point insofar as it put an end to the ideological struggle over non-recognition. Now it is vital that we reach full and effective mutual recognition and if we are not there yet, sooner or later it will corne.

This interview took place shortly before The Washington Declaration was signed between Israel and Jordan.