In the months before Shimon Peres’s passing, journalist Amira Lam held a series of meetings with the man who was the last of Israel’s founding fathers. During their talk, Peres opens up about the Dimona reactor, his relationship with Rabin, and the settlements.
Mr. Peres, do you have a dialogue with death?
“Death is a question that has no answer, so I don’t deal with it. President François Mitterrand told me in one of the conversations we had before his death that we all know that we will one day cease to be. The real problem is not death, but life. You could be dead while you’re alive, and you could also live after your death.”
In the months that preceded his passing, I held a series of meetings with Shimon Peres. The objective was to gather material for a movie, perhaps a docudrama, to tell his life story, with a famous actor to play him. The idea amused him, and every now and again he would joke with me about the choice of actor, debating between Robert Redford and Kevin Costner.
Peres understood that the time he had left was limited, but refused to let that come into our meetings. No interview, as far as he was concerned, was a goodbye interview, and no conversation was his last. The conversations with him were fascinating. He knew how to tell a story, and he had many stories to tell.
But it was actually in our last few conversations, perhaps because of the movie, that Peres felt comfortable to speak with greater candor. The years of his life unfolded before us like a great drama—from sailing against the wind in the early 1950s when he established the Israel Aerospace Industries, through the Entebbe Operation and his attitude towards the settlements, to his complicated relationship with Yitzhak Rabin, which ended with a hug right before he was murdered.
Peres allowed himself to say things he never said before, at least not in public: on what happened when he visited the settlement in Sebastia near Nablus, the forged document that convinced the French to build a nuclear reactor for Israel, and his insistence not to bring the United States in on the secret of the reactor without first consulting with the French.
Most of our conversations took place after he left the President’s Residence. Peres didn’t have an official position, but his schedule was still packed with meetings, lectures and interviews. Usually, we’d meet at his office at the Peres Center for Peace. We almost always scheduled the meeting for an hour and a half, but ended up talking for two, after which he would abruptly slap his hand on the table and say “That it’s, we’re done for today,” get up, and leave.
From one meeting to the next, Peres grew weaker. This weakness was mostly apparent in his voice. Sometimes, when his memory betrayed him, and he forgot a date or a place, he’d tell me: “We need a new division of labor between man and computers: Let the computer remember and man dream. Man doesn’t need to remember, there’s someone to remember for him. Leave me to dream.”
‘The problem in life is not what to be, it’s what to do’
When I asked Peres if it was hard for him to leave public life, he responded: “What’s easy? What’s hard? People sometimes think that going on vacation is easy. Me, as I always say, it bores to death. Everything is relative, even what it means to be happy. To me, peace brings more happiness than money. There’s a greater gain in love than in your bank account. The problem in life is not what to be, it’s what to do.”
And even though at the time we were still six months away from the US election, Peres added, “The problem is that in Israel, there’s a cult around the government. But it won’t be Donald Trump who ends up running the world, even if he wins the election. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook will run the world. Because what runs the world today is a new mechanism of global companies that hold the money and the power.
“In this world, there are also elements outside of government that make decisions. We don’t need governments for that. My optimism today comes from my faith in those global companies. On the one hand, there is a wave of xenophobia and nationalism prevalent today. You can see it with Brexit and in Turkey, in the power that Trump is gaining. There will always be waves like that over the course of human history. But if these waves continue, we’ll go back to borders, wars, mistakes. That will be stupid for the world to do. Science has no borders. That is why I believe that in the end, the new world of science will win, not the one of nationalism.
“However, if we were to return to me and the fact I have no public role, it would be quite the opposite. Ever since I left the President’s Residence, I’ve been feeling that I needed to work even harder. In general, I believe a person should work. Not stand in front of the mirror all day and examine how he looks, how he feels, and how he’s seen. That’s not interesting. The politicians of today are too preoccupied with that; unfortunately, they’re mostly focused on themselves.”
‘The settlers still don’t heed the government’s orders’
I asked Peres if there were things he regretted, and what mistakes he had made. “I don’t have regrets for a simple reason: there’s no value or use for them. What are you going to do with regret? It’s self pity. The French say, ‘It’s better to be sorry than to regret.’ There’s nothing I’ve regretted.”
I asked him about the settlements, reminding him of Sarah Nachshon, who held her son Abraham’s circumcision at the Cave of the Patriarchs, defying government orders. Sadly, the baby died several months later, and she insisted on burying him in Hebron. Peres, the defense minister at the time, authorized the burial.
Some say your authorization led to renewed Jewish burial in Hebron. This is an issue you haven’t discussed. Have you repressed it?
“It’s the kind of moment you don’t forget. Even if I haven’t spoken about it all these years, it’s stayed with me. But let’s look at the big picture: A woman walking with her dead child, wrapped in blankets and embraced in her arms, passing by checkpoints, walking and walking. I did the math. I oppose the settlements, but you also need to know what are the exceptions to the rule. A man holding a hammer thinks every problem is a nail. In this case, there were emotions involved: a grief-stricken mother who had lost her son. So even if you do have a hammer, not everyone is the same nail. This is an incident I remember and go back to in my thoughts. She marched, charged forward, didn’t listen. The soldiers at the checkpoints didn’t know what to do. She was determined and grief-stricken. I didn’t want her to be hit or arrested. So she was allowed to make an unusual decision for humane reasons. That’s what I did, and I think I did the right thing, even if it is a moment I think back on a lot.”
Peres knows the Left never forgave him his part in the establishment of the settlement enterprise. During our conversations, he unloaded the burden he has been carrying for years. He revealed that the instructions came from people who were at the time part of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s close circle of advisors.
“I went to Sebastia to demand that (the settlers—ed) leave,” he says. “When I got there along with then IDF chief of staff, Motta (Mordechai) Gur, we were welcomed with clapping and singing. I told them: ‘Dear friends, you’re mistaken. I didn’t come here to ask you to stay. I came here to demand that you leave. And then Rabbi Levinger, who was the leading figure there, tore his clothes in mourning. They started shouting at me.
“When I was Yitzhak Rabin’s defense minister, he appointed two advisors: Arik Sharon and Gandhi (Rehavam Ze’evi). Both were right-wing, both supported the settlement enterprise, and both led the battle against me from the Prime Minister’s Office. The settlers insisted on not leaving. While we were sitting and talking, legions of settlers started filling the surrounding area. Someone else was advising them against me, instructing them on how to act, and they had been updated on the situation. Motta and I were stunned. We couldn’t understand how they knew everything that was happening (in the leadership). Afterwards, the government instructed me to try to reach a compromise with them. Offer them to leave quickly, within a month. I offered that to them, and they rejected it. In the end, it was agreed to postpone the decision by three months.”
And what happened after three months?
“What happened was that the settlers didn’t heed the government’s orders, and to this very day they don’t.”
But why you did initiate the founding of the settlement of Ofra?
“Because I wanted to establish something there that was similar to the Nahal, have soldiers working and guarding there. Our situation in Jerusalem was weak. We wanted to build a radar station. The settlers came to me and said they wanted to settle in Tall Asur. I said, ‘You know what? You’ll work at the radar station.’ I treated them like the Nahal soldiers.”
And now, when you see the entire settlement how do you feel?
“Everyone knows I oppose these settlements—I did then and I still do now. When there was a change of power from Mapai to the Likud, there were maybe 20-30 settlements and 6,000 settlers. At the time, this really wasn’t considered a problem. If there were only 4,000 settlers today, we wouldn’t be having a problem. But when there are half a million, that’s another thing entirely. That happened after we left power. Of course I’m sorry that it exists. You need to understand, I was never a supporter of ‘Two banks has the Jordan River, (this is ours and, that one as well—part of the famous Hebrew poem The East of the Jordan by Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky).’ My entire life I’ve believed that a moral Jewish state on part of the Land of Israel was better than being on the entire Land of Israel but in a state of perpetual conflict.
“This remains the most contentious issue between us and the world. Because the UN decided on two states, provided two maps, and we accepted it. But instead of implementing the two maps, we decided to have just one. The possibility of only having one map is the saddest thing that ever happened to us.”
The Left also won’t forgive you for not going to elections immediately after Rabin’s murder. With the political climate at the time, you probably would have won big. Later, you lost to Netanyahu.
“I wasn’t even sure we’d win. Even Rabin won the last election with only a two-seat advantage. It was hard for the Labor party to shake off the image of ‘corruption.’ Mostly, I was afraid of a civil war. There was a lot of rage among the people at the time. I thought we needed to be more cautious, to calm things down. That was when I was truly afraid a civil war might break out.”
‘That was the first and last time Rabin hugged me’
His relationship with Yitzhak Rabin was one of the most charged topics I spoke to Peres about. But he sounded surprisingly very serene and sobered, as if he had already made his peace and forgave the man who was his greatest partner and rival.
Do you remember when the hatred started growing between you, or why?
“Everyone views the issues in the relationship between me and Rabin as a personal matter. But in reality, the rift between us started simply over ideological division. The Labor party, which was then called Mapai, was at the time made up of three different camps, and we were from different camps. The first time I saw him, we were still in the General Federation of Students and Young Workers in Israel. Later, he was in the Palmach and I was in kibbutz Alumot and was recruited to the Haganah. I was a (David) Ben-Gurion man, and he was a (Zionist activist Yitzhak) Tabenkin man. We also had some friends in common, one of them was (Mapai founding member) Shraga Netzer’s son. He was from Ramat Yohanan, a close friend of Rabin’s and a close friend of mine. We saw one another briefly at his place. We weren’t friends and we didn’t talk much. Even then, there was tension in the air.
“Ahdut HaAvoda, which Rabin belonged to, groomed its people and protected them. In Mapai, which I was a member of, each was on his own. I was seen as an adversary. I know people like to say that he was a Sabra while I wasn’t, he was in the Palmach and I wasn’t. But that wasn’t what mattered. The rift was the result of us being in different camps.”
But he had fame from being a Palmach and an IDF man, and you didn’t.
“Despite all I did for security, I never asked for anything; not ranks, nor anything else. When they wanted to give me an honorary rank, I refused. I was more interested in other things. Rabin once told me: ‘The difference between me and you is that you love building power and I know how to use it.’ I, for example, wanted to buy thefirst computer for the defense establishment. Rabin, at first, opposed it. He said rifles and bullets were preferable. Rabin also objected to the (nuclear) reactor. We really did have two different worldviews. But make no mistake, Ben-Gurion loved Rabin.”
“You have to understand something many people don’t understand. The relationship between me and Rabin was asymmetrical. I didn’t have any hate. If they do a post-mortem examination on me, they won’t find a lot of hate in my heart. The problem, if you ask me, was that Rabin was surrounded by people who incited against me, until he was incited. From a young age, I was vilified for everything. They gave me a hard time. I was lonely and I wasn’t famous or anything. And I didn’t always know what to do. There was no one to defend me. At a certain point, I made the first strategic decision in my life—that I would decide who I’m offended by. And I decided not to be offended by Ahdut HaAvoda and Rabin. JusIt was simple, though it wasn’t easy, it was a process. There were a lot of offenses in the middle. I was slow to get to that point in my mind. Perhaps even a bit too late. There were years that my relationship with Rabin bothered me.”
“In the early 1990s, we were both part of the negotiations with thePalestinians. There were peace talks at the time in Washington, but I realized peace will not be made there. There were only press conferences there. I went to Yitzhak and said: Nothing will come out of this, only press conferences. Let me try doing it my way. He said: As long as it doesn’t hurt (the existing talks). I gave him my word. Once, he wrote to me asking me to stop halfway through. I wasn’t bothered by it. And, as I predicted, the talks in Washington were unsuccessful, while what I was doing was starting to work. Meanwhile, since he was the prime minister, the public viewed this matter—of the Palestinians—which I was dealing with, as something Yitzhak was responsible for. The right wing protested against him. They gave him a hard time. He was miserable.
“I, of course, stood by his side. I saw how he was being humiliated. And then we decided to hold that rally in which he was murdered. He was sure he would lose the elections. By then, we had become much closer. We’d meet in private at his home every Friday. We kept talking about practical matters, and he wouldn’t even let (his wife) Leah in the room when we were meeting there.
“When we were organizing that rally, he told me: ‘Shimon, I’m worried people won’t show up.’ It was right after the event at the Wingate Institute where protesters swore at him and after they made a coffin for him in Jerusalem. As you know, a lot of people showed up in the end. It was the happiest day in Yitzhak’s life. I’ve never heard him sing before. He hugged and kissed me. It was the first time Rabin hugged me. The first and the last. In hindsight, it was a goodbye hug. I missed him a lot after that.”
Building the Dimona nuclear reactor
What was the biggest decision you’ve ever made?
“Primarily, that I would look forward and not back. More than recreating the past, I’m interested in dealing with the future. But the biggest privilege I ever had was working with Ben-Gurion.
“The most important thing I’ll ever do in life, I hope to do tomorrow. I’ll tell you this without any modesty: Everything I’ve ever done has always been met not with applause, but with derision. The hardest thing in life has perhaps been ignoring this derision.
“So (the biggest decision) might have been the reactor, which was met with a lot of opposition. It might have been the Israel Aerospace Industries. It might have been Entebbe. And it might have been stopping the inflation.
“No one believed me. No one believed in me. Not just the people on the street; no one believed in me among the leadership, either. The experience I gained with the Dimona reactor allowed me to learn that despite the derision, despite the closed doors—the impossible was possible. “
Is it true the Dimona reactor was built thanks to a forged document?
“Early on, I didn’t have a lot of connections in France. But I was a member of a socialist party, and I met several socialists thanks to my ties in the Socialist International (SI). The head of the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO) party at the time was Guy Mollet. I met him at the Socialist International on the eve of the 1955 elections in France, and we became friends.
“Later, he was elected prime minister. But despite the fact I had some very close friends in France, there were disagreements in the country about supporting Israel. There was no precedent for that in the world, for one country to allow another country to build a reactor without a commitment to international supervision. This was the first time something like this was happening. So they gave us a reactor, but several parts were missing. We negotiated with the French Committee for the Military Applications of Atomic Energy, as well as the French defense minister, PrimeMinister Guy Mollet, and National Defense Minister Bourgès (Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury). There were a lot of arguments and negotiations.
“And there was one dramatic night in 1957. We didn’t have a signed agreement. The French government was on the verge of collapse. Mollet had resigned. But before he resigned, Bourgès asked me to ask him (Mollet) that he (Bourgès) would be his replacement. That’s how close our relationship was. So I talked to Mollet and he agreed. Now, when Bourgès was appointed prime minister, I was in a position to write him a note, so I did. He stepped out of the meeting. I told him: ‘Listen, the meeting is about to end and we don’t have your signature as the national defense minister. Sign it as the national defense minister.’ But he wasn’t (the national defense minister) at the time, so he signed it with the previous day’s date. Meaning, he forged the date and signed it.”
What happened with the intelligence plane?
“One day, a British jet plane flew over Cyprus. Our intelligence establishment thought the plane was looking for our nuclear reactor. They went to Ben-Gurion and told him: Our big secret has been found out. I was in Africa at the time, and I was called back. It was Passover eve of 1957. I arrived in Sde Boker (where Ben-Gurion lived) with Golda (Meir) and the Mossad director at the time. Golda and the Mossad director said he had to go to America, reveal the big secret to them, and tell them we were stopping (the construction)—otherwise the world powers would give us hell. I said that even if the plane did fly by, it didn’t see anything. What could it see? Bulldozers? I told them we can’t reveal something like that (to the Americans) without first talking to the French. It was top secret, and if we wanted to reveal that secret we had to consult with the French. Ben-Gurion accepted my position. It was a moment of crisis.
“By the way, it was a miracle the reactor was kept a secret, because thousands of people were working on it. Today, we would have done everything to hide it from the media, and it’s doubtful we would have succeeded. I always say: there are things the people don’t want to know. The people don’t want to know how many tanks the IDF has. The people agree that secrets must be kept to protect the nation. We don’t have to tell them everything.”
‘We’re experts on the past, but there’s no expert on the future’
Why don’t you make your position known on recent diplomatic and political issues?
“Because it’s not the right time at this point. And I don’t think it’ll help anything. The problem is that the ears are closed. No one listens to anything these days.”
What would you have wanted to say?
“I’d like us to go back to being a nation that is both democratic and Jewish. If we say that ‘a good Arab is a dead Arab,’ then that’s not democracy, and it’s saddening. The Torah explicitly says: ‘Love ye therefore the stranger; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.’ We must not have discrimination. It goes against the Torah.”
What happened to us? How did we get to this place?
“I’m less interested in analyzing the problem and more interested in fixing it. Those who make racist comments disgrace the State of Israel. I can’t accept it. No one needs to accept it. It’s not to our benefit, when people talk against gays and Israeli Arabs. All Arabs must be killed? We do have the rule of law here. ‘Zion shall be redeemed through justice.’ Begin also said that ‘There are judges in Jerusalem.’ So why aren’t we protecting the justice system more? A Jew was once almost killed because he was mistaken for an Arab. That was absurd, this argument. Just as I hurt when someone tries to kill a Jew, I hurt when a Jew tries to kill someone because he’s an Arab.”
Do you still think peace is possible?
“For us, the Arab world remains something static—made of half Shiite and half Sunni and that’s it. People don’t understand there is a young generation and that a revolution is underway there. Out of 400 million Arabs, more than half of them are under 25. That’s something different altogether. We’re experts on the past, but there’s no expert on the future. The future needs a vision, and we lack that today. But the thing Israel lacks most today is peace. The fact there is no ongoing peace process at the moment is the main thing that bothers me.”
Politics get a bad name.
When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.” – Victoria Schwab
And so it was this past week. As a lobbyist I spend a lot of time speaking to people. And the chorus from my friends, acquaintances and the occasional barman leaning over the counter was the same: “Alex, seriously, why does Israel thinks that this is good idea, and how can you possibly defend it?”
The people asking this are not loony leftie Israel haters, or BDS supporters. In fact the overwhelming majority were pro-Israel, even if they don’t shout it from the rooftops. And that was the scariest bit. When those who usually side with you pull you to one side and say, look this is a bridge too far for me, you better sit up, listen and act.
And it got me wondering if the Israeli government is suffering from a collective bout of Hans Christian Andersen’s the Emperor’s New Clothes. Is there nobody around to reign them in and say people, this is nakedly hostile, unnecessary and wrong?
I am of course talking about the recent bill that gives a green light for Israel to appropriate Palestinian land in the West Bank by paying for it, regardless if it is for sale or not.
Everyone here in EU institutions, restaurants, bars and newspaper shops can see it for what it is. And even in Israel the Prime Minister didn’t even vote for it, nor seek to properly explain it.
This week I spoke to a group of students from the Hebrew University. The represented a broad range of Israeli society, some religious, some not, some pro-settler, some not. But I got a very strong impression that the majority just want the Israeli supreme court to rule it out so that we can all get back to normal.
But as I explained to them it’s not that easy. When things like this happen, it undoes so much of our good work on presenting Israel in the best possible light in the EU Institutions. We build beautiful political structures around high tech, Israeli medicinal advances, environmental wonders, agricultural genius, cybersecurity miracles etc, etc. in short we show the EU the Israel that we love, the Israel that we want the world to see, the one that makes us puff out our chests with pride.
But then a big self-inflicted political tremor like this Knesset Bill just comes and shakes the whole edifice to smithereens, meaning we have to spend a long time rebuilding.
But do you know what the most frustrating thing is? Yesterday, we saw the Mahmoud Abbas motorcade roll into Brussels , having come from Paris, with another few stops scheduled after dropping past the EU capital. He got to put his side of the story, unhindered, unchallenged to a receptive audience.
We didn’t see a single Israeli politician in Brussels this week. So we lost. Again. By default . Or sheer bloody mindedness on the part of our ‘emperors’.
Things don’t have to be this way.
“I believe that if Israel were to put an end to the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, as it did in Gaza, there would still be reluctance on the part of the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish secular democracy.”
Alan Dershowitz is right. The Settlements are an excuse by the Palestinian Authority for inaction and continued incitement. Anybody with half a brain knows that Arik Sharon’s ballsy Gaza pull-out in 2005 was ample proof that the problem of getting the Palestinians engaged in a peace process run much deeper than housing developments past the 1967 borders.
But for the EU the settlement issue has become ‘the’ principal impediment to peace.
Whether we like it or not, these are the rules of the game here. We try and push back on them, we try to get the focus elsewhere, but this is one enormous, stubborn political boulder that can’t be shifted for now. But it could be, relatively easily.
We need high ranking Israeli representation in Brussels to properly articulate the issue. To explain it properly, warts and all. To show the EU Institutions the erroneousness of the PA position. That settlements are an excuse and absolutely not the main obstacle to peace.
That’s why throwing the Knesset Bill into the political debate makes Donald Trump’s visa ban look like a supremely well-oiled bit of political manoeuvring.
How did we get here? There was a time when Israel’s leaders and politicians looked outwards and sought to show the best of Israel, a country that makes us, and our supporters proud. The late great Shimon Peres was a great advocate of this approach, and possible the best lobbyist that Israel could ask for.
Is this Knesset bill – that will almost certainly be quashed by the supreme court anyway – really the best we can do? I’ll leave any Israeli politicians reading this with a quote from Leo Tolstoy to ponder: “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.”
Can we get back to being right again? No more tremors please. We got some serious rebuilding to do. And we need your help to do it.
Europe’s media are rightly focussed on the despicable Islamist stabbing attack in Munich this morning that has left one dead and three injured.
So most Europeans will have undoubtedly missed that in Jerusalem, also this morning, two 80 year old women were stabbed in the back whilst out for a morning stroll by Palestinian assailants who fled the scene and went back to East Jerusalem.
Two 80 year old women. Probably grandmothers. About as much threat to anyone as a feather duster.
Shlomi Tedegi, a medic, described the scene of the attack: “In an area adjacent to the promenade we saw two approximately 80-year-old elderly women lying in the dirt. They were fully conscious and suffering from stab wounds, one in the extremities and her upper body and the second in her upper body.”
Meanwhile in Gaza, the Israeli defence forces keep uncovering fresh terror tunnels, and large amounts of chemicals used to propel rockets.
Starting tonight, Israel marks Yom HaZikaron, the remembrance day for all the soldiers who have fallen in defence of the country, from 1948, 1967, 1973, two Lebanon wars and all the attacks and skirmishes in between, as well as remembering the 23,447 Israeli citizens murdered to date by terrorists. It is rare to meet a single Israeli whose family circle or whose friends haven’t been touched someway by terrorism, or a loss of a loved one on active duty. This remembrance day is not harking back to a bygone age, it reflects every day reality and the price that Israel pays for simply existing. The numbers go up every year.
The number one overarching concern for Israeli citizens, wherever they are, is security. They want the freedom that most of us enjoy in Europe, despite the recent terror attacks: to live a life without concern that you may be stabbed, blown up on a bus, your house hit by a rocket or just randomly targeted to be shot whether you are a boy, girl, man, woman, pensioner, whatever.
Events in Munich, and the threat of Munich – and much worse besides – is the daily reality for Israeli citizens.
And sadly, shamefully, it is being massively overlooked by the EU. Who prefer to hold debates about settlements, and later today in Strasbourg about demolitions of illegal Palestinian buildings in Area C.
Tonight’s debate in the European Parliament, where EEAS Chief Federica Mogherini will speak too, is symptomatic of this myopia and, to be brutally honest, total lack of regard for Israeli security.
There is a simple and perhaps inconvenient truth that the EU must digest: The Palestinian population is currently completely unprepared for peace. They are fed from birth with a steady and unrelenting diatribe of hatred for Jews and Israelis. They are incited to stab, murder and maim. Most cannot even countenance the existence of the State of Israel. As one Israeli academic and thinker once noted “Even if we were to move all of Israel into a small apartment in Tel Aviv, it would be too much for them”.
Taking all of the above into consideration and in the absence of any concerted EU effort to tackle this ongoing and daily incitement, this raw and unbridled hatred that saw two stabbed 80 year olds lying in the dirt; we would respectfully ask any European citizen if they would want unchecked and illegal construction of homes by people who seek their and their family’s destruction within rocket reach of their own homes, cities, villages or hamlets?
We think the answer would be a resounding no.
So why must it be imposed on Israeli citizens? Something for all of us to think about as MEPs and Mrs Mogherini gather this evening to discuss demolitions of illegal buildings that they support through EU taxpayer funded programmes.
This Article was written by our executive director , Alex Benjamin and was published on The Times of Israel
Another week and still the indiscriminate stabbing attacks against Israelis continue, another week and still no condemnation from the Palestinian Authority, nor calls on this bloodlust to cease.
Can you imagine the international uproar and the weight of worldwide opinion if Israelis were wandering around randomly stabbing Palestinian Arabs? And can you imagine if the Prime Minister and his Ministers justified it as ‘popular resistance’? It would, quite rightly, result in a deafening cacophony of condemnation.
Yet with one more off-duty sergeant dead, and a civilian and two border guards wounded as a result of stabbing attacks in Sha’ar Binyamin and Jerusalem this week, there is instead deafening silence from the European Union. No attempts to hold the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas to account. No attempts to impose cuts on their funding as they seek to wash their hands and say “this is simply a reaction to the occupation”.
Meanwhile Israelis, stoic as always go about their daily lives and respond in the way they do best: with gallows humour.
I was in Jerusalem at the start of the week, the first time since October, and the sense of tension was palpable. People looked over their shoulders, were wary of people who didn’t look Israeli, and they make jokes about who gets to stand in the middle if they are walking in threes, as that’s the best place to be if someone tries to stab you.
Whilst waiting for an Israeli friend to show up at Cinema City in the Government quarter, I found myself leaning against a wall, rather than sitting down so as to get a better view of people passing by. And I felt bad, knowing this is daily life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
This has to stop. And the EU needs to massively up its game in getting it to stop. If the Palestinian Authority think it can get away with inciting violence, then cry crocodile tears after acts of terror take place, well, it will.
So far – and now we are now in our fifth month since the wave of stabbing started – the EU has done precious little. A few words of condemnation, but no sanctions, no holding to account, no proper scrutiny, in short nothing of real diplomatic nor political worth.
So, as a result, the Palestinian Authority can continue to act with impunity. Safe in the knowledge that the EU is a toothless tiger. And that means more stabbings. More dead Israelis and Palestinians.
As Director of a Brussels based pro-Israel advocacy group, we are actively working on a political campaign to ensure that there is conditionality when it comes to EU aid.
What do I mean by conditionality? The Palestinian Authority gets Millions of Euros in taxpayers money in aid and support. Money that currently goes to support the cradle to the grave hatred of anything Jewish or Israeli. It currently supports schools named after suicide bombers, it supports the families of incarcerated terrorists, with a sliding scale of money dependent on the atrocity committed. It supports a regime – and I use that word in its proper context – that espouses the politics of the lowest common denominator: rabble rousing and hate mongering as a tactic to avert attention from its own shortcomings, namely endemic corruption and complete impotence in meeting the pressing social and economic needs of the people it professes to ‘represent’ despite the billions in aid money it has received over the years. I put represent in parentheses for good reason, the last and only elections, as you know, were in 2005.
And Brussels is turning a blind eye for now. Which is hardly surprising given it has its collective blinkers on when it comes to its obsession with settlements. After the labelling debacle of last November, the EU has been trying to mend bridges with the State of Israel.
But it still refuses to tackle the bloody great elephant in the room, resplendent in neon signage that flashes “Palestinian violence and incitement to violence.”
Ask any Israeli what their biggest concern is and the vast majority will answer in one word: security. Yet all of the EU’s diplomatic ammunition is pointed at settlements, thereby alienating one side of your partners for peace, and worse still playing directly into the false Palestinian assertion that “it’s the settlements stupid”.
If the EU is serious about getting the Peace Process back on track, serious about being seen as an honest broker, and serious about rebuilding its relationship with the Israeli government and its people, it needs to remove the blinkers and allow the spotlight to move to EU aid and funding Mahmoud Abbas’ hate churning Palestinian Authority.
It needs to hit the PA where it hurts: In its pockets. Conditionality means that PA funds get cut unless it stops inciting violence.
With 229 attacks to date, 340 hurt, and 32 Israelis murdered since this ‘campaign’ started, it’s essential that this incitement stops.
Turn the screws on PA bank accounts today and I’d bet it will stop tomorrow.
This Op-Ed was written by EIAP executive director, Alex Benjamin and was published at The Times of Israel as well.
As you will be aware, and after much fanfare, the EU published its guidelines on labelling of products in the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Here at EIPA we think that in the midst of a continuing wave of indiscriminate terror attacks against Israel’s civilian population, the decision to publish these guidelines makes zero political sense from a set of EU institutions that want to be seen as an honest broker in the Peace Process.
The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief can try and dress this move up as consumer protection, a technical trade detail or as a non-binding set of guidelines, but to the vast majority of Israelis it will be viewed very simply: as a slap in the face and an overt political move to punish Israel.
What is worse is that EU labelling of settlement products gives credence to the Mahmoud Abbas narrative that the stabbing attacks and car-rammings are somehow linked to settlements.
This lack of balance and a feeling of Israel getting the stick while the Palestinian authority gets the carrot has already had grave consequences for the EU- Israel relationship. This relationship is very important and we at EIPA are concerned at the needless deterioration of it.
As we write, Israel and the EU are engaged in a game of tit for tat. In retaliation at the publication of the EU guidelines – which in short will see an EU refusal to recognise products from the West Bank and the Golan Heights as “product of Israel”, instead they must say “product of West bank (Israeli settlement)” – Israel has done the following.
- President Rivlin has cancelled his planned visit to the EU in Brussels on December
- The EU envoy to Israel was summoned to the MFA and was reprimanded
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has suspended dialogue with the EU on a number of fronts
- Deputy Foreign Minister Hotoveli said the MFA will suspend all peace negotiations with the EU
- Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked said she will examine taking legal steps against the EU
- Minister Uri Ariel has returned his European made Citroen and is now driving a Japanese car
The question has to be asked: Was a move on labelling even necessary? What ends does it serve from an EU perspective other than souring the political milk with one side in the peace process?
EIPA will be working hard to convince the various Foreign ministries around Europe that this move should absolutely not be implemented if European capitals want to enjoy a balanced and harmonious relationship with the state of Israel.
The actions of the EU are an ample example of how not to behave diplomatically and politically. This damage will take time and effort to repair. EIPA are committed to facilitate this much needed rapprochement in the weeks ahead.
To read the Guidelines click here
The start of a new year is an excellent time for reflection. When looking at the past year, I can’t help but notice that the struggle for Israel’s security in Europe remains. One needs to keep reacting to efforts that seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy in Europe and it’s security in the Middle East.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is growing in Europe. This BDS movement may be strong but it’s not powerful. Thankfully, there are true friends of Israel inside Europe and the European institutions. They work hard to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism within the European Union. They did it again, when faced with the strong negative draft joint motion for resolution on the EU’s role in the Middle East Peace Process that was adopted in the European Parliament last week.
In a very short timeframe, they had to reflect and think of strategies to tone down the language proposed by the Socialist and Democrats Party. The proposed resolution contained so much negative language that it was almost impossible to imagine any agreement by all political parties on a joint text. After four hours of negotiations, in which the European People’s Party (EPP) and the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the first and third largest parties at the Parliament, teamed up to delete the most poisonous language from the document. The end result is still not satisfying, but much worse was prevented.
They are the face of the true friends of Israel in Europe. They seek to achieve the best possible outcome with what they’re given – a very bad deal. Nevertheless, they prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We reacted and used our political weight to tone down the text as much as feasibly possible. It was the choice of the lesser evil.
We took out, for example, the wording, which called for the release of all Palestinian political prisoners currently serving sentences in Israeli jails. The ECR and EPP refused profusely to include any such reference, arguing that some terrorists are in prison because they planned to commit, directly or indirectly, a terrorist act. Releasing such people would go entirely against peace and EU values. Finally, the left was forced to make a huge concession to leave out any such reference in the final draft of the resolution.
Other wording that was deleted from the text included the call for the labelling of Israeli produce originating from entities beyond the green line. The draft text called for the ‘correct labelling of Israeli settlement produce on the EU market, in line with existing EU legislation’. The ECR and the EPP once again used their political weight and demanded any such reference be omitted. How can, we argued, such reference be conducive to the EU’s attempt to create a positive environment in which peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians can resume?
Another success of our persistence was the inclusion of the passage that any rocket fire into Israel by militant groups is unacceptable and that it is imperative for the EU to work in partnership with Israel to prevent the re-arming of terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank. Unfortunately, the basic notion of Palestinian terrorism is always downplayed in the corridors of the European institutions. It is the friends of Israel who remind their left-wing colleagues, that the latter is the root cause for instability in the region and the true obstacle to peace.
All in all, the end result is not perfect but worse was prevented. In Europe, the friends of Israel, want to retain strong economic, scientific and security cooperation with Israel. Side by side with the Jewish state, we want to equally benefit from EU-Israeli collaboration and secure and safe and prosperous future for both our regions. We therefore will continue to work hard to secure strong EU-Israel relations and expand our cooperation in this coming new year.
Bastiaan Belder is a Dutch member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group at the European Parliament. He is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and serves as Vice-Chair of the Israel Delegation. He is also an advisory board member of the Europe-Israel Public Affairs.
This Op-Ed was posted on The Jerusalem Post on the September 25th 2015