Fatah and Hamas May 4 2011
Jubilant Palestinians releasing balloons in the colors of the Palestinian flag during a rally. Photo by AP
Text size

Shin Bet security service director Yuval Diskin said yesterday Israel’s response to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement is unduly harsh, but refused to say whether his comment should be construed as a warning to the political leadership.

Diskin, who was speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv in advance of his May 15 retirement from the Shin Bet, made the statement shortly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a sharply worded condemnation of the reconciliation agreement yesterday.

Diskin expressed reservations about freezing Israel’s transfer of tax proceeds to the Palestinian Authority because of Fatah’s agreement with Hamas.

“If we and the Americans and the Arab countries don’t give money, there won’t be a Palestinian Authority,” he said.

As long as the Palestinian Authority does not change its policies, added Diskin, there is no reason for Israel to change its policy toward the PA or its security coordination with it.

The Shin Bet chief said the Hamas-Fatah agreement was tactical rather than strategic and that Hamas agreed to the move, which Diskin said has been on the Palestinian agenda for a long time, because of its interest in improving ties with Egypt.

In practice, though, the reconciliation agreement has multiple provisions that will prove difficult to implement, said Diskin. He said he does not foresee genuine cooperation between Hamas and Fatah on the ground in the coming years, such as joint Palestinian security forces or Hamas representation in the West Bank and Fatah representation in Gaza.

Diskin also said Hamas leaders are concerned that the Syrian government will fall and are caught between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s demand that Hamas express public support for his government and calls by Sunni religious leaders for Assad’s downfall.

Diskin took personal responsibility for Israel’s failure to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit or find out where in the Gaza Strip he is being held.

The Shin Bet chief said he disagreed with some of his predecessors’ arguments that Israel should have agreed to free more Palestinian prisoners than it did during negotiations for Shalit’s release.

“I have seen the criticism of some former heads of the Shin Bet who called for additional concessions,” said Diskin. “I don’t accept their view. They don’t know the data and don’t know what they are talking about.”

Diskin said his six-year tenure was also marked by what he described as another failure: the death of more than 160 Israelis in terrorist attacks. He did, however, say the Shin Bet substantially reduced terror activity in that time, in what Diskin said was a continuation of the process begun under his immediate predecessor, Avi Dichter.

“I believe that most of the time there is a sense of security in most areas of the country,” Diskin said.

Suicide bombings have more or less stopped, but Palestinians are still interested in carrying out such attacks, he said.

The last suicide attack took place in 2008.

“In many cases since, we have foiled suicide attacks just before they were about to be carried out,” Diskin said.

He didn’t discount the possibility of a third intifada if a Palestinian state is declared in September but no significant changes take place. All the same, said Diskin, Israelis should remember that the country faces “challenges, not just dangers.”