No stereotypical settler

When he isn’t leading tours in Israel, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council Dani Dayan is busy traveling throughout European capitals and the US.

Dani Dayan with a Christian delegation 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Dani Dayan with a Christian delegation 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
Despite US President Barack Obama’s official policy statements on the Middle East, indicating that the only road to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is via the two-state solution, “I am completely sure that Obama learned something after his first four years in office, and understands that two states is not going to achieve peace.”
This interesting revelation was made to The Jerusalem Post by Dani Dayan, the new chief foreign envoy for the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Dayan, who served as chairman of the Yesha Council for over five years – starting on the heels of the 2005 Gaza disengagement, to help rebuild the organization after it suffered a tremendous blow on many levels – recently launched the council’s Foreign Affairs Department, as a means, he says, of “filling a vacuum, since for a long time, the voice of the settlers was not being heard in international arenas.”
Dayan is convinced that not only has Obama abandoned his infatuation with the notion that Israel must make territorial concessions by evacuating settlements, and end the so-called occupation as the only path towards peace, but says that “while they might not admit it, every relevant country, government or think tank understands that chances for the two-state formula to be successfully implemented are nil.”
Dayan says that this “180-degree change in mentality has come about over the past three years, with more and more [relevant] individuals suspecting that the two-state solution is no longer viable – and now they are looking for alternatives.” It is based on his work, says Dayan, of spending time meeting with guests from abroad, whether they are government ministers, members of parliament/Congress, or other VIPs, in addition to Israel- based diplomats and members of the foreign press.
Dayan, through the facilitation of the council, often takes these influential individuals on specialized guided tours throughout Judea and Samaria, “in order for us to sit with them and explain the positions of Yesha, as well as allowing them to see the realities for themselves.”
When he isn’t leading tours in Israel, Dayan is busy traveling to European capitals and the US – mainly in Washington – meeting with elected officials, think tanks and newspapers’ editorial boards, to present his vision of what peace between Israel and the Palestinians might look like.
Dayan, who does not generally wear a kippa, believes that since he “doesn’t fit the image of the stereotypical settler,” he is able to use that fact to his advantage to wield influence. He is also fluent in several foreign languages including English and Spanish; therefore, he says he is “able to generate exposure without the need of an interpreter when speaking with government officials.”
He adds that with the formation of the Foreign Department “for the first time, we [Yesha] have a channel with foreign governments in which we can convey our views without filters and intermediaries about positions on the settlements.”
It is through those new channels, Dayan explains, that this past June on a jam-packed trip to Washington he was welcomed to present his views “in places no other settler leaders have been before.”
That visit also included addresses to leading Republican congressmen on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as prominent Washington-based think tanks. His next scheduled trip is to Madrid, Spain, where he will have the opportunity to meet with parliamentarians as a guest of a leading think tank chaired by former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar.
Dayan also says that in addition to his newfound access to high places, an important change is the “unprecedented” willingness of the mainstream media to feature his views on the settlements.
Dayan has recently succeeded in publishing opinion pieces on the editorial pages of major prestigious newspapers including The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Guardian.
He was also a recent guest on the popular BBC interview/debate program Hardtalk, and was even invited to participate in a debate at Oxford University in front of a live studio audience hosted and featured on Al Jazeera’s hard-hitting, debate-style English-language forum, Head to Head.
Dayan says that following the recent publication of his articles and his appearances, “we are now in a situation media-wise, where outlets are coming back to us and searching for our views, as opposed to us having to search them out. For so long, the settlement movement has been demonized and marginalized, but now the news outlets see that we are an integral part of the debate.”
In fact, he says that The Daily Telegraph recently sent a full crew over to Israel to produce a 13,000-word multimedia piece for its print and online readers about life in Judea and Samaria. Dayan says the major US television/media station MSNBC recently ran a similar feature.
“Asking who the settlers are, and what they think – this is a new genre,” he notes.
And what makes Dayan confident that the US president has come around? “Obama has been passive on the issue.
The fact that he lets [US Secretary of State John] Kerry do it [take part in talks] alone without significant backing indicates that he [Obama] understands that chances for success on forging a sustainable peace deal based on the two-state formula are very slim, and he doesn’t want to gamble his legacy on that,” he offers.
But with all of his progress so far, Dayan is not jaded. He realizes that even with the positive changes in mentality, “it’s an uphill battle.”
Dayan understands that not everyone has changed their views. One of those still deeply holding on to the two-state vision, says Dayan, is Kerry himself.
“Kerry is here in Israel so much,” he says. “But that’s more Kerry’s obsession than Obama’s policy.”
He adds that there are other “substantial parties which still say that we need to go straight ahead [with two states],” but nevertheless “others are now thinking about turning right, turning left, or making a U-turn. This is a unique situation that puts us in a position to influence, and that is what we are doing, trying to influence.”
Dayan says that his focus when debunking the necessity for the Palestinian state is threefold: he stresses the Jewish historical ties to Judea and Samaria; he showcases the current coexistence throughout the area; and finally, he discusses the potential security threats, were “an Iranian proxy state” to be established in Judea and Samaria.
On the issue of security, Dayan often asks diplomats, “Are you willing to send your child from Milwaukee [for example], to be part of an international force to fight and defend Israel from rocket attacks, from within a Palestinian-Iranian proxy state?” He says making that point goes a long way in helping them understand the reality of what a two-state solution could look like from a security perspective, with Israel relying on international guarantees and young American or European troops potentially putting themselves at risk.
Assisting Dayan in his new role is Elie Pieprz, an immigrant from Mercer Island, Washington, who spent years on Capitol Hill working as a professional lobbyist on US domestic issues.
Pieprz, whose official title is director of external affairs of the Yesha Council, says that while in the US capital he wasn’t involved with Israel-related issues, “when you work in DC and wear a kippa, you become an ambassador for Jews in the US on Israel.” He explains that he built a lot of close relationships with elected officials during his stint there and is now able to use those bonds in his current work with Yesha, opening up new avenues for Dayan.
Pieprz says his main role includes “making Yesha accessible to as many people as possible, by creating a platform in English where activists can turn for support.” He plans on launching a new Yesha Foreign Affairs website, overseeing the production of written materials, including academic works on Yesha’s legitimacy under international law, and serving as a resource on trips in order “to hammer home some of the points we are trying to make.”
Pieprz is confident that his office will be able to “leverage the talents we already have [in Yesha],” and says that “if our efforts are carried out properly, and most importantly in a unified matter, then we can be successful.”
But at the end of the day, what is the alternative solution that Dayan and Pieprz are imparting to these highly influential and receptive audiences in terms of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, if the two-state solution in their view isn’t the answer? Dayan says: “Ultimately, the resolution of the conflict will be regional and will include Jordan. It will be a functional resolution, but not territorial. There will be no foreign sovereignty west of the Jordan [River]. That is impossible to accept.”
While he concedes that “we will have to devise a sharing of responsibilities which will include Jordanian involvement, since we [Israel] have no intention of ruling over the lives of Palestinians,” Dayan is adamant that “we will not divide the land; sovereignty will belong to Israel.”
Nevertheless, Dayan feels strongly that the process towards a true peace will be lengthy and is currently not even on the horizon, as a result of what he feels are the damaging effects of the 1993 Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“The illusions that Oslo created were the biggest blows to peace efforts ever.
Oslo created a level of expectations the Palestinians could never fulfill. For every year of Oslo, we’ll need an additional year to get rid of the illusions, so I don’t see a change in the current situation for the next 20 years.”