Haaretz WikiLeaks Exclusive / Settler Leader: Some Settlers Would Evacuate for the Right Price

According to secret American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, chairman of settlements council told U.S. Embassy officials in Israel he 'understands the Palestinians.'

Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council of West Bank settlements, told U.S. officials that some settlers would be willing to move to Israel proper in exchange for financial compensation, according to confidential State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

Dayan also said he was opposed to some of the tactics employed by Israeli settlers and that he was in favor of removing roadblocks and checkpoints to ease conditions for the Palestinians.

Danny Dayan
Tess Scheflan

His statements, which were made in closed-door meetings with U.S. diplomats in Israel in recent years, came in response to questions about a potential evacuation-compensation bill in the Knesset. When asked about the issue, Dayan replied: "I'm an economist, and I know that some people will take it if the price is right."

Dayan also told U.S. Embassy officials that he was aware of the Palestinians' attachment to the West Bank. He acknowledged that he was "shamed and embarrassed" by the desecration of Palestinian mosques and the vandalism of Muslim gravestones. Dayan added that settlers were guilty of "morally horrific" things, including attacks on Palestinian property as retribution for Israeli government efforts to rein in settlement construction, also known as the "price tag" policy.

The WikiLeaks cables report that Dayan told the U.S. officials that this policy was "a mistake that will not serve the interests of the settlement movement."

According to the documents, Dayan's sentiments were echoed by Elyakim Haetzni, a founder of the Yesha Council. Haetzni expressed concern that settler rabbis were not doing enough to dissuade the so-called hilltop youth in the West Bank from harming Palestinians.

Dayan also supported the removal of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank so Palestinians could enjoy greater economic prosperity and human rights. During one meeting with U.S. diplomats, Dayan said he was "deeply attached" to the West Bank, adding that the settlers had a "moral right" to settle there. Dayan said he understood why the Palestinians felt a similar tie to the land.

Settler violence on the agenda

In December 2008, Dayan and other settler leaders took part in a meeting with the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles. The meeting was attended by Haetzni and Shaul Goldstein, the chairman of the Gush Etzion regional council. The leaders discussed the growing settler violence against Palestinians.

At the start of the meeting, Dayan said the violence was the direct result of Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip as well as "outrageous" rulings by the Supreme Court.

The Israeli government's decision to remove residents from their homes in the Gaza Strip taught young settlers that "you can't play by the rules because the opponent will change them at the last minute," Dayan is quoted as saying.

The Yesha chief added that the disengagement was a "disaster" for Israel. During another conversation with diplomats, the contents of which will be revealed in tomorrow's edition of Haaretz Week's End, Dayan criticized his fellow Yesha leaders.

Like many other notables and public officials on both the right and left, Dayan has met many times with U.S. diplomats for background discussions. These sit-downs let the Americans get a better sense of the mood in the West Bank.

Summaries of these meetings was cabled by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to the State Department in Washington. Sometimes, they were also sent to other foreign officials. These cables were included in the batch of 250,000 documents that were initially obtained by the WikiLeaks website. Recently, copies of them were received by Haaretz.

A conversation between Dayan and U.S. officials in May 2009 revealed the difference in the settler leader's tone when speaking with people outside his constituency. Just days after security forces evacuated frefab housing in the outpost of Maoz Esther near Ramallah, Dayan told the Americans: "As long as the [Defense Ministry] only dismantles outposts like Maoz Esther, we're really not concerned - yet."

But in an interview with a media outlet at around the same time, Dayan presented an altogether different line of argument. "If the government acts in such a one-sided and aggressive manner, the grave results that will stem from this will be on its account," he said. "It is inconceivable that the Netanyahu government not only denies its obligation to build, but also destroys settlements .... The government knows very well that the outposts were built by the Likud-led governments. The government built homes, and even sold them to settlers for money."

Dayan's view on the evacuation of isolated outposts during his talks with the Americans contradicts his statements to news organization Arutz 7 when he was elected Yesha leader. "We are saying this in the plainest terms possible," he said. "Any attempt to evacuate even one prefab home must be met with massive, determined resistance from our side. We must rejuvenate our ties with the settlements and bring masses of people everywhere .... We are certainly calling on the [West Bank] residents to oppose in the manner that we know."

Another time, when Dayan was asked by U.S. officials how he envisioned future relations between Israel and the Palestinians, he was pessimistic.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a "situation without a solution," Dayan said in a meeting with U.S. diplomats on December 11, 2008. The settler leader rejected out of hand any possibility that a two-state solution would be implemented.

Dayan said that "the Gaza experience killed the two-state solution ... It's a shame they've taken the land and used it as a launching pad against Israel rather than building a state."

"The creation of a Palestinian state now will mean the end of Israel," he later added.

Dayan, 56, does not have a typical settler background. He is from a secular family, an economist and a high-tech professional who joined the settler movement after growing up in Tel Aviv. His brother, Aryeh Dayan, is a journalist and former Haaretz reporter. Aryeh also worked for the newspapers Kol Ha'ir and Davar. Dayan is also the cousin of newswoman Ilana Dayan.

Dayan twice ran for a Knesset seat as part of the right-wing Tehiya party, without success. During the last parliamentary elections, he was slotted eighth in the list for religious Zionist party Habayit Hayehudi, but ultimately he quit the race. Toward the end of 2006, Dayan joined the Yesha Council. The next year he was elected chairman.