Eiland: 'The disengagement was a missed opportunity of historic proportions'
In an interview to Haaretz, the outgoing head of the National Security Council (NSC), Major General Giora Eiland describes the disengagement from the Gaza Strip as a "missed opportunity of historic proportions." The man whose last posting in the IDF was as head of operations, also warns that the convergence plan will not bring stability to the Middle East. After two and a half years at the NSC, Eiland also comments on the informal way strategic decisions are made in Israel.
You planned the disengagement for former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Was the disengagement a right move or a mistake?
Eiland: "The disengagement was a missed opportunity of historic proportions. I would like to explain. The disengagement contributed nothing to the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
In the government establishment, in which you were a member, was there an organized discussion on whether the disengagement was the right move?
"No. When I assumed my office, on 18 January, 2004, there was only an amorphous term 'disengagement' from a speech in Herzliya. I asked Sharon how much time I had to formulate a plan and he told me, four months. But very quickly it became clear to me that [PM Sharon's adviser] Dov Weissglas had already met with the Americans and committed us to a major unilateral step both in Gaza and the West Bank.
"Immediately after, Sharon committed himself to the evacuation of 18 settlements in the Gaza Strip in an interview to [Haaretz's] Yoel Marcus, and at that point the game was up. The planning process I had began blew up."
Was the question of what we could get in exchange for the Gaza Strip asked?
"That question was raised much later."
Was that not a strategic mistake?
"Condoleezza Rice told us, 'Let me explain to you what the meaning of a unilateral step is. You make a unilateral step when it is good for you. Therefore, you do not expect to receive anything in return for a step that you are doing because it is good for you.'"
And this is the crux of the missed opportunity in your view?
"Yes. The disengagement was a missed opportunity of historical proportions because at the end of 2003 both Israel and the world had reached the conclusion that on the one hand it was important to end the conflict quickly, and on the other hand, in the existing paradigm it is impossible to solve it.
"Why is it impossible to solve? Because the maximum that Israel can give is less than the minimum that the Palestinians must accept. I think that was a rare opportunity to offer a new paradigm. But the disengagement simply said the occupation was bad, that there is no chance for an agreement so long as there is occupation, and therefore, let us narrow the occupation.
"The same is said by the convergence. There is logic in the thinking, but it does not lead to long-term stability. The move along a unilateral path leads us to the classic solution of two states for two peoples, and I think this is an impossible solution."
Explain it to me.
"When we talk of a solution of two states for two peoples we make two assumptions: that it is possible to solve the conflict in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and that the reference for a border between the two states are the 1967 lines with minor changes. I reject these two assumptions. I think that between the sea and the river there is not enough area to contain two states, and I think that in order to maintain a defensible border, Israel needs at least 12 percent of the West Bank. The 1967 lines, even the Clinton Plan, do not give Israel defensible borders."
And a Palestinian state in only 88 percent of the West Bank territory is a viable state?
"That is the second mistake. I argue that even a Palestinian state with 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 97 percent of the West Bank is not viable. Such a country will be poor, radical, restive, where the demographic pressures will be unbearable. In 2020 there will be 2.5 million people in the Gaza Strip, in area of 365 square kilometers. This will inevitably lead to pressure against the fences."
Do you have an alternative proposal?
"My proposal from 2004, which I put forth to Sharon, calls for a regional solution. Adding 600 square kilometers to Gaza in northern Sinai, to allow for the construction of an international port and airport, and a city in which millions of Palestinians can live. Granting 600 square kilometers to Israel in the West Bank in order to guarantee defensible borders. Compensate Egypt with 150 square kilometers in the southern Negev, and compensation in the form of international economic aid and a tunnel connecting Egypt with Jordan, north of Eilat. The transfer of about 100 square kilometers on the east bank of the river to the Palestinians, granting them 105 percent of the territory they are asking today."
Are the Palestinians willing to consider your proposal?
"All the Fatah people who saw the plan expressed interest. Abu Ala, Mohammed Dahlan and others. The Palestinians are more practical than we tend to think."
Egypt? The Jordanians?
"I believe it is possible to make them a sufficiently attractive offer."
Do you see the convergence creating conditions of stable coexistence with the Palestinians?
"The convergence will not bring stability. It will not solve the conflict. But it will encourage Hamas to keep the calm. There is a convergence of interests between the government of Israel and Hamas."
What kind of reality will there be after the withdrawal?
"A reality of two states without an agreement. The Palestinian state will be a radical Hamas state, not satisfied and not viable. There will be continuous instability."
Did you talk with Olmert about the convergence?
How is that?
"I read about it in the papers like every other citizen. I have no problem with this. The prime minister is a very intelligent man, capable of making decisions, and is handling the situation in an impressive manner. I am sure he consulted with other people."
But in the government establishment there has not been a discussion on whether the convergence is good for Israel.
Not related to Olmert or Sharon specifically, the decision-making process in Israel appears to be sound to you?