Palestine-Israel Journal: Most of the Israeli protest activity and initiatives after the war have dealt with the management of the war and how to prepare for the next war. Your letter is one of the few initiatives that talk about preventing the next war.

Shaul Arieli: The role of every government in Israel, once it puts the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into action, is twofold: The first is to defend the sovereignty of Israel and the life of its citizens. All of the criticism that you mentioned dealt with this issue. But it has ignored the second role, which is the most important, to delay as much as possible the time the IDF has to be activated again. This is the actual meaning of preventing the next war. This is the political role, and both these goals are intertwined.
Our letter dealt with this role of the government. We said two things: It is possible that there were military failures, and an investigative committee will check this out. But politically, we believe the government is not doing enough to prevent the next war. We are suggesting what has to be done to prevent the next war.

The letter suggests that there is a window of opportunity after the war to renew the peace process.

The situation is undoubtedly complex, and this is why we see the window of opportunity in the regional context. We recommend that these things be dealt with simultaneously - the Syrian, the Palestinian, and the Lebanese arena. The situation is very dependent on what happens with Syria but the Palestinian issue also stands on its own. We suggested the Israeli government address these three channels simultaneously, on the agreed-upon basis for the solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict - UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. That basis, the concept of land for peace, has proved itself in the two peace agreements we have signed with Egypt and with Jordan in 1979 and in 1994. We now say to the Government of Israel: Go for these three channels at the same time in order to reach a regional peace with the countries encircling us: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

Let's deal with the channels one by one. First the Palestinian channel, which is the core of the issue.

Today, considering the lack of trust and an effective government on the Palestinian side, and of an Israeli willingness to proceed to an encompassing long-term arrangement, we think we must complete the process in several steps. The first necessary step is to create stability, and this stability can be reached via a package deal that includes the release of Gilad Shalit and of Palestinian prisoners. We have nearly 13,000 Palestinian prisoners, half of whom don't have blood on their hands. A quarter of them are common criminals. They include some 500 children and 100 women. We can reach a deal that releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners. The second thing is total ceasefire, both in the Occupied Territories and in the State of Israel within the Green Line, from both sides. The contact with Hamas, which wants quiet in the Occupied Territories, will be handled via Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and Israel will refrain from any offensive acts. The third thing is lessening the restrictions on movement and trade. These three things, if brought about together, can create a new situation in which we can renew the discussions.
This can be followed by two possible two stages:
The first stage, which I do not recommend, is a Palestinian state in temporary borders, or even the Third Redeployment as specified in the Oslo Accords. We can also undertake a realignment, not unilaterally, but as a part of an agreement.
The second possibility, which I recommend, is to go directly towards a final-status arrangement: To open negotiations, after the situation is stabilized in two or three months, on a final-status agreement with the PLO headed by Abu Mazen. The parameters for the final-status agreement are clear to everyone.
I always say there are four conditions: 1. a solution to the refugee problem, but not through return to the State of Israel; 2. the 1967 borders as a basis, and then mutual exchange of territory; 3. two capitals in Jerusalem with the division of East Jerusalem between the Palestinians and us according to the Clinton Parameters; and 4. the cessation of terrorism and violence. I believe that with intensive negotiations, the whole thing can be concluded within a year or less.

OK, and now for the Syrian arena.

The Israeli interest in the Syrian arena is to disconnect the Shiite ideological connection that exists today between Iran and Hizbullah. Today the Lebanese population is 40% Shiite, and the great danger today is that Hizbullah will take over Lebanon and turn it into an Islamic-Shiite country. The only factor that can succeed in making that happen is Iran. Syria is an intermediary agent. What Israel must do is take Syria out of the loop between Iran and Hizbullah - and we also know what the price is: the Golan Heights.
We must say this loudly. The State of Israel needs to get to the resumption of negotiations, whether secretive or not, with the Syrians on the basis of 242. The great debate about whether the border will be the international line, or the borders of June 4, 1967, is something that can be solved in negotiations. Since the price is known, there is not too much to talk about. We need to agree on this and get into a final-status settlement with Syria. Five minutes later, Lebanon can sign with us, because we have no territorial dispute with them. On the contrary, we have to sign an agreement with the Palestinians before we sign the one with Lebanon, in order to permit a solution to the over 200,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. There is no territorial dispute with Lebanon, and no security issue.
Thus Israel will close the Lebanon-Syria-Jordan-Egypt circle. It sounds easy and simple; it is not easy and simple, but on the other hand, it is not impossible, and most importantly, it is clear to all of us that it is necessary. Otherwise we are deteriorating, both in terms of the Israeli interest and in terms of the moderate Arabs interest in regional stability, and in terms of international interest in fighting terror and the ambitions of organizations such as Al-Qaeda.

What about the Lebanese arena? Some Israelis have been talking about the possibility of a renewal of warfare in a few months.

We must utilize UNSC Resolution 1701. There is within this UN decision many things we need to nurture. We need to maintain daily discussions with the international forces there. The second thing is to connect with and start negotiations with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Is that possible?

Yes, under the auspices of Resolution1701. I would also try, through the UN, through the international forces, to initiate an economic development program for South Lebanon. Not to leave it to Hizbullah and Iranian money. I say, projects that can be of use to the Lebanese in the south, and maybe even in the future even joint projects. When I am talking about the future, I mean in terms of a few years, not tomorrow.
These are all things that must be done. And when I say, "They must be done," I like to use the phrase we all know: "Seek peace and pursue it." If you really seek peace, you must pursue it; look for every crack, every opportunity, every possibility in order to make this peace attainable. And if we don't do that, as the Government of Israel has been avoiding entering a genuine peace process, we reach the result we have now. At the same time we must remember that simultaneously, Israel must preserve its military capabilities to attain regional military superiority.

One of the things that don't appear in the letter is the international aspect. What is the possible international role?

When Israel respects international decisions and agreements, it also enjoys international support. The Second Lebanese War taught us this. Some will say that 1701 is not a great achievement, but it is an achievement. Israel needs to learn from this that international engagement is necessary. The Iranian issue, for example, is not an Israeli issue. It requires international preparedness to prevent the possibility that Iran will gain nuclear capabilities for military purposes, or worse than that, creates nuclear bombs that can be used by one or another terrorist organization. The entire international order will thus be put in disarray. That is why international cooperation is necessary.
Every final-status agreement signed between us and Syria will require first and foremost a redeployment of the IDF which will cost billions - to evacuate bases, to deploy weapons to counter potential threats. Israel does not have the budgets for the billions that that this will entail. The evacuation of settlers, their re-absorption into Israel, also requires money beyond Israel's means.
We will also need the physical involvement of the international community in the implementation of international agreements. For example, the whole issue of early warning in the Golan Heights. And we have talked about a demilitarized Palestinian state. Someone must supervise this, not the IDF, and this is why we need the presence of international monitors.
The international community will also have to give the formal seal of approval to the agreements. For example, a decision of the Security Council that the agreement replaces all the previous decisions accepted by the Council. So the international community has a decisive role, and Israel must create ongoing contact with them in order to strengthen us.

And in the Middle Eastern arena, is there a role for Egypt, Jordan, the Saudi initiative, etc.?

The agreements with Egypt and Jordan have proved themselves to this day. They are being kept. Perhaps better with Jordan, and in a colder way with Egypt, but we also see the Egyptian contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian process. We have to remember that in the newly formed regional situation, Israel, Egypt, and Jordan are on the same side - the moderate, pro-Western and pro-stability side, contrary to Iran, which is trying to undermine the order and hegemony in the Arab world and in the Middle East in general. So the strengthening of connections with Egypt and the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia against the Iranian tendencies is something Israel has to cultivate.

Your letter recommends the initiation of "serious cautious and secretive contacts and negotiations" with all the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. Are you talking about government, Track Two contacts, or what?

Once everything is public there are leaks and pressures from all directions, and this creates the background for the various terror organizations to try and disrupt the political process. We say Israel needs to aim to do this officially. I am not talking about Track Two or NGO channels. I am talking about the State of Israel. It can make use of private, unofficial sources, but it needs to initiate these negotiations to prepare for an international regional conference at which things can be concluded. An alternative is to create a full agreement, like Oslo, in a secret avenue and make it public only after things are agreed upon. The idea is that Israel needs to enter into the negotiations but it needs to do it secretively.

The letter says "to talk to whoever is willing to talk." Does this include Hamas?

What we are saying is that there is a basis that was determined for the Israeli-Arab peace process. That basis is Resolution 242. Whoever recognizes 242 is welcome to sit with us. If Hamas recognizes 242, it is welcome. This is where most of the Israeli public is also confused: Israel does not have to negotiate with Hamas. The legitimate and sole representative of the Palestinian people is the PLO. Towards the end of the year, elections are planned for the Palestinian National Congress and the Executive Committee. If Hamas will take over the PLO by those elections, then we will have a different PLO that will also have to do two things: to say whether it continues to hold all the decisions of the PLO about the changing of the Palestinian National Covenant, recognizing Israel, or if it accepts decisions that cancel those decisions; and then the world will need to respond to whether to recognize this PLO as a partner.