War Not War
When Israel’s Military Experts Disagree
When Israel's military experts disagree, the people on the outside of the Israel-Palestinian security debate can only do one thing: pick a side, says Emily L. Hauser.
Over the past several days, two menwith impeccable security credentials have said polar opposite thingsabout Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians.
+972 Magazine reportedon Monday that Israeli Defense Minister and former IDF Chief ofStaff Moshe Ya’alon told aTel Aviv audience that “When there is a peace process, theIsraeli issue comes up in the Palestinian media at the level ofde-legitimization and hatred…. Our victims are victims of thediplomatic process. And when we stand firm and do not look like weare about to give up, that’s when we receive quiet.”
On the other hand, The Times ofIsrael reportedon Saturday that Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri,former head of the Shin Bet, told a different Tel Aviv audience thatachieving a two-state solution is “imperative for Israel’sfuture.” Several outlets reportedthat in discussing the intra-governmental tensions over negotiations,Peri added that “sooner or later this rift will reach the cabinettable—and one of the parties will have to leave the cabinet table.”
Both of these men are intimatelyfamiliar with Israel’s security establishment and its relationshipwith the Palestinian people. Both know the long, bloodyhistory—indeed, both played central roles in shaping that history,spending decades deep inside the security apparatus and achieving thehighest post available in their respective fields.
Their disagreements aren’t new: Takefor instance Peri’s and Ya’alon’s responses to the Arab PeaceInitiative, first offered by the Arab League in 2002, then again in2007, and re-introduced thispast summer. The API is broadly similar to every peace plan everplaced on the table: Two states based on the 1967 borders withmodifications, a shared Jerusalem, and a mutually agreeableresolution of the refugee issue, in exchange for an end of conflict.
Here’s Perion the API: "One of the good alternatives to theIsrael-Palestinian conflict that need to be examined and that hasbeen brought up lately is the Arab League Peace Initiative. Theinitiative signals the path ahead."
Here’s Haaretz on theDefense Minister’s reaction: “[Ya’alon] dismissed therecent Arab League agreement… as nothing more than ‘spin’ and a‘dictation’ to Israel to give up territory before discussing itsown demands.”
To which Peri responded:“It is vital and important that Israel do everything to return tothe negotiating table. The Arab peace initiative is one of the mainways to do this, and it is our duty to consider it seriously;[statements such as Ya’alon’s] only distance us from thenegotiating table.”
Such stark conflict among those whohave been tasked with defending Israel is not nearly as rare as onemight believe. Also this week, even as Ya’alon joined PrimeMinister Netanyahu in sharply criticizing US efforts at rapprochementwith Iran, The Christian Science Monitor wasreporting that “Israel’s military intelligence seems open toa deal, even one that relaxes the Western sanctions on Iran that Mr.Netanyahu has vocally supported.” And of course, the documentaryTheGatekeepers demonstrated quite clearly that Peri’spositions are broadly shared among his immediate peers.
So what we seem to have here aredifferences of opinion.
That is to say: The experts—who areundeniably and incontrovertibly expert in their fields—disagree. Ashumans are wont to do. They have each lived a life informed bycertain events and a particular skill set and knowledge base, andreached contradictory conclusions.
Without wishing to put too fine a pointon it, people on the outside of this debate can only do one thing:Pick a side. I cannot deny that Moshe Ya’alon knows a thing ortwo—I can only say that from my experience of watching the conflictvery closely for a very long time (and learning in part on the wordsof many people who are at least as expert as he), I believe Ya’alonis mistaken.
We can’t know, of course, becausenothing in Israel’s past comes remotely close to what might happenif it successfully negotiates a two-state agreement establishing aviable, independent State of Palestine living in peace and securityalongside the State of Israel. We can imagine, we can make educatedguesses, but history offers us nothing genuinely comparable, andregardless, the future is always unknown. (And no, the retreat fromGaza is not comparable: For one thing, Israel’s withdrawal wasn’tnegotiated, and for another, Israel still occupies the Strip in everylegal, or meaningful, sense).
What we do know, though, is what hasgone before. We do know that decades of wars, wars of attrition,uprisings, border incursions, manhunts, attacks on terrorist bases,acts of terrorism, the digging and destruction of tunnels, and thebuilding and extending of walls—has gotten us nowhere. Palestinianssurely don’t live in peace and security, but neither do Israelis.The families who face rocket fire in the south, or send children intocombat units, or must yearly accept condolences on Memorial Day aretestament to the success of Israel’s security policy to date.
It’s important to note that when Peridiscussed the sharp disagreements within the government in which heserves, he was referring not to himself and Ya’alon, but to theideological chasm between his party, Yesh Atid, and the far-rightsettler-dominated party HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home). The DefenseMinister, on the other hand, is a leading member of Likud, the PrimeMinister’s party and thus the coalition’s senior party.
It’s possible that Netanyahu willlook at the range of expert opinion before him and decide that notonly is HaBayit HaYehudi wrong, but so is his Defense Minister. It’spossible that all this will come to a head and break up thecoalition.
But if that happens, considering thePrime Minister’s history to date, I don’t think that it’s hisright flank that will be going home. It seems to me that he haspicked his side, and it’s not Ya’akov Peri’s.