Israel needs to make peace with the rest of the Arab world before the Palestinians, former Mossad head Meir Dagan said on Wednesday during a panel discussion at the Presidential Conference.
Sunnis and Shi’ites are in open conflict in the Arab world and this is “creating unique opportunities for Israel to seek different alliances,” he said.
Dagan said Israel had common interests with much of the Sunni Arab world. Israel, he said, needed not to wait, but to seek opportunities.
He mentioned the Arab Peace Initiative, first offered by the Arab League in 2002. The Arab proposal was not all great, but a starting point that Israel should take advantage of, he said.
Speaking at a panel discussion moderated by Jerusalem Post
Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde on “Should We Wait It Out? Israel and a Changing Middle East,” Dagan said, “There are processes that are ongoing, and they don’t stop. It is very hard to determine what the result will be.”
Dore Gold, former ambassador to the UN and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, agreed that Israel could find common cause with parts of the Arab world based on a similar “strategic outlook.”
The EU came about in part because of a common Soviet threat, and today the “common threat is Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood,” Gold said. “If we are smart, we can create dialogue with Sunni countries, very quietly,” he said.
On the Palestinian track, Gold said a full agreement was currently impossible, especially because of the regional upheaval. Instead, he argued, Israel should pursue limited peace agreements.
Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, a former president of Tel Aviv University and a past ambassador to the US who participated in peace negotiations with Syria in the 1990s, said that “the time is not ripe for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”
Taking a hit at US Secretary of State John Kerry and his efforts to restart the peace talks with a $4 billion Palestinian economic plan, Rabinovich said, “Offering $4b. is not the best idea in the world.”
He emphasized, however, that his view that an agreement is not possible now “does not mean the two-state solution is dead.”
It was damaging for senior Israeli political leaders to say the two-state solution was dead, and they “should not be making these statements,” Rabinovich said.
On the European role in peace talks, he said many European officials asked him why Israel was not interested in having them play a more active role. He responded that the latest news that Austria was pulling out its soldiers from the UN force along the Syrian border after an exchange of fire over the border in recent weeks was enough reason to be skeptical.
The Arab peace proposal might not be relevant anymore because a return to the 1967 lines would also apply to Syria, Rabinovich said. In regard to Saudi Arabia, which first issued the proposal, he added, “You can’t just put five lines on the table and say take it or leave it.”
Dagan and former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer both expressed eagerness that Israel should create an initiative to spur peace talks with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
Kurtzer said this was not a time to take “baby steps” and that an “Israeli initiative may be the smartest policy,” adding that this did not mean Israel had to take “careless risks.”
“Why isn’t this a time for a final-status agreement?” Kurtzer asked.
The Arab peace proposal “represents the victory of Zionism,” because in essence the Arabs are saying that Israel is here to stay, he said.
Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” had been breached, Kurtzer added.
Dagan said Israel could withdraw from the Jordan Valley without risking its defensive capability.
Gold countered, telling the Post that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 and the IDF in 1997 all said that the Jordan Valley was vital for Israel’s security.
We saw what happened when Israel withdrew from the Philadelphi Corridor between Gaza and Egypt in 2005, he said, referring to the smuggling of weapons, terrorists and other materials. Withdrawing from the Jordan Valley would be like the Philadelphi withdrawal “times 30,” said Gold.
The Post asked Kurtzer after the conference if he envisioned any situation where peace talks would not be recommended.
He responded that we need to be creative and that even if “it does not work, at least we moved things forward.”Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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