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Terror Expert General (res.) Meir Dagan warns against dividing control over Jerusalem

The following interview appeared in Hebrew in the Yerushalayim newspaper. The English translation is brought to you as a public service by Women in Green.
September 1, 2000, p. 17

Meir Dagan, General (mil.) and one of the experts on terror in Israel:

"In the Meantime We Are Successful in Frustrating Terror Attacks. I Am Not Certain that Tomorrow We Will Be Successful"

Meir Dagan, the former Advisor on Terrorism to Barak and to Netanyahu, is worried * "The transfer of territories in Jerusalem to the control of the Palestinian Authority will be a mistake that we will regret," he warns * "When they will have the possibility of choosing between a confrontation with Israel and a confrontation with the Hamas, they will always prefer a confrontation with Israel" * "If Arafat will vanish one fine day, I am not fully confident that the Palestinian Authority will continue to hold onto the sources of power" Itiel Ben Hayyim
Dagan: "Placing security responsibility on the Palestinians in Jerusalem is a mistake. We will have no access to the area, and for them it will be convenient to conduct a [terror] activity and to get away. Now imagine to yourself that this reality will occur tomorrow in the capital." "In the current reality of Jerusalem, when the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to fight terror is conditional upon progress in the diplomatic process, to transfer territories in Jerusalem to its control will be a mistake that we will regret," maintains this week Gen. (mil.) Meir Dagan, the no. 1 advisor in Israel on terrorism, formerly alongside the former Chief of the General Staff Ehud Barak and the former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. According to Dagan, the warnings about possible terrorist attacks in Jerusalem do not surprise him, and he is convinced that any progress in the negotiations will only aggravate the situation. "Placing security responsibility on the Palestinians in an area of Jewish population that is the second largest in the country, is, in my eyes, a mistake. We will have no access to the area, and for them it will be convenient to conduct a [terror] activity and to get away on the shortest timetable. The latest example of Mahmoud Abu Hanoud proves this. He fled the short distance to Shechem, and he was already far from the hands of Israel. Now imagine to yourself that this reality will occur tomorrow in Jerusalem."
Is this possible?
"Of course this is possible. You make possible operative convenience for the terrorist organizations to use the Jerusalem area as a springboard for the entire State of Israel, and certainly for Jerusalem." The main danger, Dagan argues, consists of the nests of terrorists that will be established close to the western part of the city. "In the past we have already encountered the attempt to establish cells within Jerusalem, that was based on the knowledge that the passage between Israel and Jerusalem is open and is hardly under control and command," Dagan says. "We still recall the role of the hideout apartments of the Hamas in Jerusalem, and this was when Jerusalem is under our control. Imagine to yourself what will happen in a reality in which the Palestinians are in control there. The terrorists will be able to be less careful, especially when they are immune to pursuit."
"It is convenient for everyone that the terrorist attack did not take place"

Presently, incidentally, Dagan is studying painting and sculpture for the second year at Tel Aviv University. "Art is my balance between the military world and real life," he says, "but I am not closing the door to the possibility of a political career." Dagan proposes not belittling the recent Palestinian terrorist organizing activities. "We are not dealing with simple people," he argues. "We are involved with people who definitely learn from their mistakes, who conduct a situation assessment, and who know how to utilize breaches the moment they are placed before them. To create such a reality with our own hands, I think that this is a mistake. I think that this is an error."

How much power does the Authority have to prevent terror?

"I am convinced that if the Authority were to really want, it has a great deal of power. The problem is that we are speaking of a situation in which the Authority must act against members of its people, against brothers of the same religion, and its willingness to implement these activities is very limited. The Hamas is not necessarily perceived by them at present at the same level of threat as we perceive it. They regard it as a political threat, but, in my assessment, they control it. When they will have the possibility of choosing between a confrontation with Israel and a confrontation with the Hamas, they will always prefer a confrontation with Israel."
This means that the reality in which busses blow up in Jerusalem is liable to return?
"People start out from the assumption as if the Hamas ceased conducting terrorist attacks. This is not correct. The Hamas never stopped trying to conduct attacks. What happened is that the security forces, headed by the GSS, are engaged in activity that integrates intelligence and operational activity, that made it very difficult for these organizations to carry out their schemes. "If you listen very carefully, you hear from time to time that some or other groups are arrested. It is convenient for everyone that the terrorist attack did not take place, and then the public lives with a sensation as if there are no attempts. What, did we forget the explosions in Tiberias and in Haifa, and other attempts? At present the security services succeed in frustrating these attempts. I do not say that tomorrow this will not happen. But to assume that the Hamas has resolved not to conduct attacks is a statement that is not backed by any truth. The truth is that the security forces succeeded in frustrating most of their attempts. Such attempts also were in the Jerusalem area, and I assume that the people who were arrested did not come in order to visit Rabin's grave."
"I don't understand the roots of Barak's position"

Dagan argues that only absolute separation and the closing of all the transit points between us and the Palestinians will prevent Jerusalem from becoming a second Belfast. "Any partition in Jerusalem that establishes borders within the city essentially turns the subject of separation into an empty letter," he states. "I want to mention that Prime Minister Ehud Barak himself spoke about separation. The moment that you cut within Jerusalem, but do not intend to erect fences or gates, this means that there is no separation. And then you create an impossible situation in daily life. A situation of an intolerable reality, a reality of friction, from which in my opinion no good will come. We have to start out from the working assumption that the terrorist threats against the State of Israel, from within the Palestinian Authority, are not about to cease. This is for the simple reason that the Hamas is not a sort of small extremist organization, it rather constitutes a very considerable sector among the Palestinian public. In such a reality, this threat exists and will exist in the future as well. If you create a reality in which there are no boundaries in Jerusalem and the population is controlled in part by the Palestinian Authority, you increase the chances of terror."

Is it possible to reach any separation within Jerusalem?

"The separation must be done outside the bounds of Jerusalem. Jerusalem in its entirety must remain under Israeli sovereignty." One of the last positions filled by Dagan before his retirement from the IDF was advisor to Chief of the General Staff Ehud Barak on intifada affairs in '92-'93, and in '99 he was the head of the Branch for Combating Terror in the Prime Minister's Bureau. This may possibly be the reason why Dagan refrains from directing personal criticism at the Prime Minister, and makes do with indicating the latter's strategic errors. "I agreed with Barak concerning the problematic nature of the Oslo accords, I do not agree with him now," he says. "I admit that I do not succeed in understanding the roots of Barak's position at present. The only interpretation that I can give to this is the desire to arrive at an agreement, and to seemingly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in my opinion, the technical signing of a paper in which someone will say that the conflict has ended does not have much validity."
"The great crisis will erupt upon Arafat's death"

What is your position in the debate concerning the Temple Mount?

"It does not appear to me to be rational to transfer control, the sovereignty over the Temple Mount, to the Palestinian Authority. For the moment I am disregarding the national, religious, and symbolic aspects of this matter. What are you doing, actually? You are placing the border between us and the Palestinian Authority in one of the most sensitive spots for the Jewish people - you place it centimeters from the Western Wall. Now, you create with your own hands a point of friction, that the moment something happens is likely to lead to bloodshed, that you know how it starts but you do not know how it will end. "Where do you establish that the founding rock of our existence or of theirs begins or ends? Where is the boundary? At one stone, or perhaps two meters from the second stone? We heard the head of the Israeli Islamic Movement, who said that the Western Wall belongs to the Muslims, and this is only an example. We must also not forget that we too have extremists. We will produce a burning fuse that no one knows when it will explode." In the past, Dagan assessed that the great crisis between us and the Palestinians would erupt after the death of Yasser Arafat. This week, he says: "The question is, how he goes. If he goes with a bullet in the head, this is one scenario, and if he falls ill and in the meantime a leadership that will come in his place will begin to take shape, this is another scenario. "According to all indicators, Arafat is refraining from appointing a successor for himself. He did not build anyone who was marked by him as a potential successor. Part of their organizational structure results from the method of divide and rule, so that there will not be a situation in which one individual will concentrate too much power. If Arafat will vanish one fine day, I am not fully confident that the Palestinian Authority will continue to hold onto the sources of power. And it is not certain that the aspiration of whoever will enter these centers will be a secure peace."

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