Withdraw and Win

'We should announce today that within two years we will end the occupation.' This is the essence of Maj. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levine's plan to end the conflict.

The activists from MachsomWatch could not believe their ears. Representatives of the women's organization that monitors Israel Defense Forces checkpoints in the West Bank) were attending a conference last Monday at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem to mark their annual checkpoint report. The expression on the face of the meeting's chairman, Prof. Yossi Yona, a supporter of the Geneva Initiative, also reflected surprise. The eyes of those present darted back and forth between the silver-haired speaker and the lines of text displayed on the screen. Major General (ret.) Amiram Levine, once a commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, a military man who spent most of his years fighting Palestinian terror, said that any occupation, including the Israeli occupation in the territories, necessarily entails acts of terror against the civilian population. It was not the last time that evening that Levine left his listeners with mouths agape.

Four and a half years ago, Ariel Sharon met with this man three times, appealing to him to stand by his side against the prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak. Less than a year earlier, when he learned that Barak did not intend to honor the promise of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, to appoint him head of the Mossad, Levine threatened "an earthquake." He also hinted that it would not be long before he would break his silence and speak about the Tze'elim 2 tragedy (a training accident that occured during an exercise for a top secret operation in 1992, in which Barak, then chief of staff, was accused and later cleared of not doing enough to help the wounded). Levine decided to reject the invitation to enter political life. He has made do with the modest job of chairman of the new Ma'atez Public Works Authority, with start-up deals, and with free advice for the head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, his good friend who ended up getting the job.

In between, Levine also writes policy-security papers and is working on a book about strategic issues. In a paper submitted three years ago, he suggested a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In a conversation with Haaretz at the end of last week, he spoke about his principles. At a cafe on the main road from Tel Aviv to his home in Caesarea, Levine said he could not recall whether he actually talked about Israeli terror in the territories. But he is ready to say that control over another people leads to corruption and that corruption ensures defeat, and that the only question is whether the defeat will come in another two years, five years, or twenty years. These are the basic assumptions upon which his plan is built. Levine cited as an example of corruption a report two days earlier in Haaretz about the confiscation of za'atar (hyssop) plants from elderly Palestinian women at IDF checkpoints. "How did we reach this point that a company commander or squad commander obeys such a command and remains silent? Only an army of bastards does such things."

His complaints are not directed mainly at the operative echelon in the field because, in his view, as along as the occupation continues, the checkpoints, like the targeted killings and the home demolitions, are legitimate tools, despite their immeasurable damage. He focuses his criticism on the senior military brass.

"Either the senior command does not understand that over time, the checkpoint, like the other tools of occupation, defiles and corrupts us and brings us closer to defeat, or it is afraid to present this to the government as a professional-historic truth," Levine writes in his presentation. "The IDF has an obligation to present military truth that is based upon knowledge and military history, and only then to salute and execute. It's not clear whether this is being done."

Thus, for example, he expects the senior command to tell the government that the separation fence is a "terrible mistake" from every perspective. It oppresses and harasses unfortunate civilians, does not facilitate an accord, ruins the landscape and nature, and is nothing but an attempt to cover backs by ostensibly taking steps against terror.

"An army that does not present the dangers occupation entails is a sheepish army," Levine chastises his comrades in arms. "A commander who does not speak the truth morning and night has betrayed his duty. The corruption is expressed in the fact that officers receive the message that whoever speaks the truth loses his job and they are afraid to open their mouths."

According to Levine, since the IDF enjoys the public's respect, if its commanders were to present serious positions to the politicians over time, the leadership would have to take these into consideration. Levine notes that during his period as head of the Northern Command, the chief of staff, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, while rejecting his stance in regard to the ways of confronting Hezbollah, did not stand in his way when he asked to meet with prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"Democracy and an ethical society cannot defeat an occupied people with force alone," Levine wrote in his presentation, adding: "A true and practical aspiration for a political-diplomatic solution complements and reinforces the ability to fight and win, and does not contradict or weaken the fighting." He proposes combining "true and practical" steps for ending the occupation with intensifying the fight against terror. "We should announce today, and not tomorrow, that within two years we will end the occupation. To demonstrate to the Palestinians and the world that we are serious, every few months we need to leave an additional part of the territories, to dismantle outposts and settlements, and announce that from our perspective, the line to which we withdraw is the border. The whole time, the door will remain open to the Palestinians, with the message being that they will receive more as the violence decreases. Otherwise, we will define the border. If within these two years the Palestinians are not ready for an agreement, we'll go to the Americans and the Quartet and demand that they certify that until the two sides reach an accord, the line to which we withdraw unilaterally is the border."

Levine calls the IDF's policies in the territories "a battle against the barefoot" and adds that "the barefoot throughout the world are divided and the struggle against a foreign occupier, whether it is us or the Americans in Iraq, unifies them. Only after we leave will they begin to seriously to discuss their situation and then there is a chance that they will begin to act against extremists."

What to do in the meantime? According to Levine's plan, political-diplomatic steps will enable Israel to replace its false expectation that the Palestinians "will eradicate the terror infrastructure" with a policy based on punishment.

In the presentation, his menu of punishment is concealed behind the sentence: "Terrorism and sabotage against civilians in Israeli territory is Palestinian policy." There is a thick black line under the words "civilians in Israeli territory." This is meant to underline the distinction between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers, and between sabotage in Israeli territory and sabotage in the occupied territories.

"Together with the announcement of the decision to leave the territories within two years," Levine explains, "we will publicize the price of terror attacks: one price for an attack against civilians and another price for an attack against soldiers. If you shell Sderot, we'll consider that a declaration of war, with all that this entails. After a Qassam hits an open field, we'll give the Palestinians a few hours of warning so that they can evacuate the residents and then we'll send a D9 to demolish 20 homes. For property damage we'll raze 50 homes. For bodily harm, we'll destroy 70 homes, and so on."

This was the second part of the lecture that left the women of MachsomWatch with their mouths agape, this time due to shock. Levine remained unperturbed. In his view, if the occupation corrupts and the checkpoints defile, the ending of occupation on an accelerate timetable justifies the collective punishment of hotbeds of violence.

"Terrorism punishes the entire world," he argues with conviction and mentions the obtrusive and expensive security measures at airports and other public places.

He believes that a declared plan for ending the occupation, combined with aggressive measures for protecting the security of Israel's citizens, offers a chance for reaching a political-diplomatic accord and maintaining an ethical army. He has more than a feeling that this, more or less, is also the next plan of his commander and comrade, Ariel Sharon.