Former Palestinian Spymaster: Only Solution Is a Single Palestinian State

The president will be a Palestinian Muslim and the vice president can be a Palestinian Jew, says ex-chief of Palestinian intelligence Tawfik Tirawi, who adds those are just details.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Tawfik Tirawi
Tawfik TirawiCredit: AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel ruined the two-state solution, says Tawfik Tirawi, who headed the Palestinian General Intelligence Service for 14 years.

Tirawi does not miss being the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service in the West Bank (from 1994 until late 2008). He says he prefers not issuing orders and instructions. The only orders that bind him, he says, are the feelings and desires of the Palestinian people. When asked what the biggest failure of the Palestinian intelligence service was during his term, he answers without hesitation: “That we didn’t manage to plant any spies inside the Zionist entity, the way they plant, and try to plant, spies among us.”

He is speaking in his office as head of Fatah’s Commission for Intellectual Mobilization and Studies — one of 16 commissions headed by members of Fatah’s Central Committee. Tirawi was elected to the Central Committee during Fatah’s sixth convention in 2009.

In his role as head of intelligence in the West Bank, Tirawi met with the highest echelon of Israeli security officials: former director of military intelligence Amos Gilad, today's Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and former directors of the Shin Bet security service Carmi Gillon and Avi Dichter. “Israel’s security sources always had an interest in making the Palestinians and their security leadership look ridiculous, portraying it as unpatriotic,” he says, stressing that the “security coordination” never included giving information to the Israelis.

The day will come, he says, when he will write about those meetings with the senior Israeli security officials. In the meantime, he says that “more than any of them, the one who kept his word was Yuval Diskin.”

Haaretz: Did the rest not keep their word?

“The rest of them maneuvered. For them, the most important thing was how to benefit,” he says.

The praise to Diskin is not mutual. Documents from the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv exposed on the Wikileaks website show that Diskin thought Tirawi was a cruel and dangerous psychopath. Tirawi laughs. “Diskin said I was crazy. That’s true — I’m crazy with love for my country. And I have no interest in refuting the statements because just the consent to being an occupier is the height of mental disturbance.”

The commission's offices are in a building in El Bireh, less than a kilometer away from a Civil Administration base and the base of the army’s Judea and Samaria Division. That is not the reason why the commission's name is not on the building. The commission resumed its work upon Tirawi’s appointment less than a year ago, after several years of inactivity. The matter of the sign was pushed aside. The commission, with a team of seven employees, is working now on preparing a database of all of Fatah’s members.

The declared role of the commission is to clarify Fatah’s goals to members, strengthen their ideological base and train future generations of leaders. In this context, Tirawi’s opinion that Fatah must dissociate itself from its status as the Palestinian Authority's ruling party is significant. Also interesting are his statements that the Palestinian Authority’s biggest problem is that it is reactive and not proactive, which is how, for example, it lost Area C over the years.

“The only time we did act was when we went to the UN” [to win Palestine the status of an observer state]. I suggest that we change what is written in all our passports and other documents, and instead of ‘Palestinian Authority’ write ‘the State of Palestine.’ If Israel refuses to recognize those documents (and thus not allow people to travel, AH), it will be exposed that the Palestinian people are in prison.”

In recent months, Tirawi has been saying publicly that the two-state solution is over and that Fatah must return to its original goal: the establishment of a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This position is contrary to the party's official position which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, alongside Israel, along the 1967 borders. Has he spoken about it with Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of Fatah and president of the Palestinian Authority? “No,” Tirawi says. “That is my personal position.”

But you are not just a private person. You also have a position of responsibility in Fatah.

“Brother Abu Mazen [Abbas] is the chairman, and he has a personal opinion. As a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, I too express my personal opinion even though Fatah’s stance supports the two-state solution. In the Central Committee, I voted against the talks with Israel, but the summary I distributed among the members was that the Central Committee agreed to negotiations.”

When you speak at conferences, do you talk about the two-state solution?

“Yes. I say that the two-state solution is dead and that it is the occupation that killed it. You say that the Israeli right wing does not want peace with the Palestinians, and my opinion is that the right, left and center in Israel are not willing to give the minimum for the establishment of a Palestinian state. In a visit by Israelis to Abu Mazen, Mohammed el-Madani [the Fatah official in charge of relations with the Israeli public] told someone I didn’t know: ‘Tawfik is against the negotiations.’ An Israeli person who turned out to be the secretary of the Labor Party asked me, ‘Really?’ I said I would convene a press conference right away and announce that I supported the talks if he would say that he supported having (East) Jerusalem within the 1967 borders as the capital of Palestine. And he answered, ‘No. I don’t support that.’”

Everything you know, Abu Mazen also knows.

“He believes in the two-state solution and I don’t. Abu Amar [former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat] and Abu Mazen always knew my opinion. After all, I am a member of the movement, and I can be in the minority.”

In other words, you do not accept the two-state solution even if Israel should agree that East Jerusalem would be the capital of Palestine?

“From the start, I did not believe that we should recognize Israel free of charge, as we did. I was always convinced that the more we conceded to Israel, the more it would want. We gave up a great deal: in the solution, in Resolution 242, in the (recognition of the) existence of the State of Israel and in agreeing to a state within the 1967 borders. But Israel is not content with a state (within the 1967 borders), and it also wants part of the West Bank.

“I was born in the village of Tira [today Tirat Yehuda] in the area of Lydda [Lod in today's central Israel], and I don’t know it at all. I never visited there. Who said I didn’t want Tira? The Palestinians must return to the basic principles, and we, Fatah, were the first to suggest that we live together — Muslims, Jews and Christians, in a single state as our grandparents did before 1948. I liked Avraham Burg’s essay in favor of a single state. Let us form a new state where we live together, one democratic Palestinian state, like Lebanon.”

And go into civil wars, as it did?

“Outside elements created the civil war in Lebanon. If we live in a single state — and please don’t get me wrong; I mean to say: not under an Israeli Zionist government, but let us form a new democratic Palestinian state. Jews will be in the parliament, like the Christians and the Muslims. The president will be a Palestinian Muslim and the vice president can be a Palestinian Jew. Those are just details.”

In other words, for you Jews are a religious group, not a nation?

“Aren’t you Israelis the ones who want a Jewish state, determined according to religious criteria?”

I am asking what you want.

“I don’t want to get into specifics offhandedly. Maybe now it will sound strange, but in 50 or 100 years, it will be the only solution.”

And how will you reach it?

“Through meetings with Jews and Arabs who believe in it, and discussions and shared ideas.”

On Al-Manar, Hezbollah’s television channel and at a Fatah assembly in Khan Yunis, you advocated a return to Fatah’s positions in 1968 — one of which was that only those Jews who had lived here before the Balfour Declaration could remain in the country.

“I didn’t say that. We are living in 2014. Concepts have changed since 1968, and it’s obvious that I don’t want to throw the Jews into the sea.”

Not even in boats on the sea?

“Not even in boats. The Zionist movement have conquered and took control of Palestine by force and violence. I want to bring the Palestinians back to their homeland, and they can live there with the Jews.”

And what will happen to the Jews now living in Tira, your village?

“Those are specifics that will need to be discussed. But I will not let myself behave the way the Israelis do. I will not shut the Jews up in a large detention camp like the Gaza Strip, for example. The injustice that has been done to the Palestinians must not be done to the Jews.”

On Al-Manar, you did not talk about living together with Jews.

“Maybe there was no opportunity to elaborate and be specific, but now the Palestinians will read this interview, and the media will mention it. There is no question here: When I speak about one state, I am speaking about everyone living in Palestine as citizens with equal rights. But there must be an end to the injustice that was done to the Palestinians with their expulsion, and they must be allowed to return. Then we will discuss the specifics. The agreement on a single state is much easier than the agreement on two states.”

And you want to convince the Jews that it is the best solution of all?

“I want to convince them that it is a difficult thing, a dream and imagination today, but the only solution in 50 or a hundred years. The two-state solution does not exist because the Israeli governments made it fail.”

And maybe it is easier for you to talk about a solution that is a dream when you are not even able to ensure freedom of movement for the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip or restore Area C to the inhabitants of the West Bank? Maybe the dream covers up your failure?

“That is not our failure, but rather the arrogance and intransigence of the Israeli leadership.”

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