On Life and Death

Kadima's Haim Ramon discusses 'surgically' removing Israel's cancer of occupation.

Haim Ramon called. He really didn't like the op-ed in which I severely criticized the Olmert plan. He was surprised - he thought we were on the same wavelength. He thought I understood that Yossi Beilin and Benjamin Netanyahu were wrong. And, of course, he didn't agree with a single word in the piece. But perhaps it would be right to hold a serious debate on the pages of Haaretz. Perhaps it would be right to present each arguments, ahead of the elections, to the voting readers.

We sat across the table from each other and roared at the tops of our lungs. It's a pleasure to quarrel with Ramon. He's quick and sharp and driven by instinct. Neither refined, nor always methodical, he has a wild cat's feel for reality. The man who formulated the concept of the big fence and predicted the big bang now wholly believes in the big disengagement. He has no doubt that he is right - not even the slightest shadow of a doubt.

Shavit: "These elections are important because they are about the division of the land. I want a division of the land. But I hold that Ehud Olmert's and your unilateral division plan is dangerous. It will lead to the establishment of an armed and hostile Hamas state that will undercut the stability of Israel, Jordan and the Middle East. How am I wrong?"

Ramon: "The dangers you point to do exist. But the danger of continuing the status quo is greater still. We are sitting on a volcanic crater, and we know exactly when it will erupt. We know that within 5-10 years our time as a Jewish and democratic state will come to an end. As soon as the Palestinians become the majority between the sea and the river - within less than a decade - they will demand one man, one vote, one state. They will ask why what is good for South Africa is not good for us. This danger is terrible. We are talking about an end to the Jewish-democratic state. That's why continued control of the West Bank is the immediate existential threat that Israel must attend to now. This threat is more dangerous than the dangers you're talking about.

Shavit: "We both agree that a two-state solution is essential. But I hold that in the present situation, with Hamas in power, a two-state solution is also very dangerous. That's why we have to build a supervised and organized process that will minimize the danger in the new situation. Your plan doesn't do this. It establishes Hamastan, which will be belligerent and will not stop at the fence line. Therefore, the two-state solution that you will create will be unstable. It will inevitably lead to war."

Ramon: "I think there won't be a war. The Palestinians will have something to lose. Their quality of life will be far better. There will be major pressure on leadership not to take steps that will turn the clock back and bring back occupation. True, it is not an eternal situation. It's a phase ahead of talks about a final-status under more comfortable conditions. I believe if there is movement, there will be quiet. If there'll be five or six years of quiet during the convergence, there is a chance of extending it.

"But let's say there is a war. What kind of war would it be? The Israel Defense Forces, with all its capability, facing 3,000-4,000 Hamas people armed with nothing? If the Palestinians pose any kind of threat to me, I will conquer the West Bank in 24 hours. And how do I know this? I know this because that's what I did in Operation Defensive Shield. When I had 120 fatalities in a month due to terror, I recaptured the entire area and I destroyed the Palestinian Authority in a day."

Shavit: "You don't understand the meaning of sovereignty. You don't understand that when you are faced with a sovereign and legitimate Hamas state that is a member of the United Nations, its right of self-defense will be no less important than your right of self-defense. You won't be able to go into Jenin and Nablus like you do now. And you won't be able to prevent Hamastan from arming itself. It will have the full right to set up an anti-aircraft missile system that will paralyze all your air power without a single shot."

Ramon: "What are you talking about? It's clear to Jordan that if a foreign Syrian army enters it, I will also enter it. And I maintain deterrence against countries far stronger than Palestine. And here it's unilateral. There is no agreement. So I will sit on the Jordan River and I won't let Palestinians bring in any planes or any missiles or any tanks."

Shavit: "But on what authority will you do that? After all, you are about to withdraw without an agreement and without any political context. In the absence of an agreement and in the absence of a political context, there is no demilitarization. In the absence of an agreement and in the absence of a political context, there is no legitimate restriction on the sovereignty of the Hamas state. Your attempt to use your military might to impinge on the sovereignty of the neighboring state will be considered illegitimate.

"We must withdraw. But we need to be aware of the dangers concealed in the withdrawal and we must deal with them before withdrawing. We must make sure there will be solid international recognition of the line to which we withdraw and of the legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. And we must make sure that alongside the establishment of the Palestinian state, the demand of return is removed from the international agenda. And we must make sure the international community recognizes that the West Bank and Gaza will remain demilitarized."

Ramon: "The difference between me and you is that I think the territories are a burden and you think they're an asset. That's why you think that when you give them up you deserve something in exchange. If possible, something from the Palestinians, and if not, something from the international community. Now I am in favor. What intelligent person wouldn't be in favor? And that's why I am set to give a year for negotiations based on the roadmap. And I am going to try to get the most international support I can. But I want it to be clear that in the end, I am not prepared to leave my fate in the hands of the Palestinians or the international community. Because I have cancer. Ruling the territories is cancer. And therefore I will not let my enemy decide whether or not to undergo the operation to remove the cancer. I also won't let my enemy be my surgeon. I stand firm in my decision to take my fate in my own hands."

Shavit: "My argument is that you see only the danger of the cancer of occupation. You are ignoring the dangers involved in the process of ending the occupation. And so the operation you are about to carry out is a field operation that will end in disaster."

Ramon: "That's absurd. By virtue of my position in the Knesset, I have come to learn all the secrets of the State of Israel. I am therefore aware of our awesome powers. I know that we can cope with any military threat. The one threat that we don't know how to deal with is the threat of the loss of the Jewish-democratic state. The convergence plan is the only practical answer to this threat."

Shavit: "But in order to make the withdrawal into a stable two-state situation, Palestinian society must undergo a positive change that runs deep. What you are ignoring is that what you see as taking your fate into your own hands is seen by the Palestinians as defeat. Such a defeat generates negative, not positive, change. You are ignoring the connection between the disengagement and the Hamas victory, and you are ignoring the capability of a mega-disengagement to perpetuate Hamas rule."

Ramon: "I have been waiting for a Palestinian change for 20 years. And I'm not some Likudnik who has never seen a Palestinian in his life. I sat with Abu Mazen and with Abu Ala and with [Mohammed] Dahlan. Dahlan is a friend of mine. And so I'm telling you from experience that they can't give up on the right of return. And they are not capable of reaching a compromise on Jerusalem. So there will not be a final-status agreement. Any attempt to reach a final-status agreement will lead to a thousand more fatalities, like Camp David. But they are also not ready for an interim agreement. Therefore, the choice is between the status quo and a unilateral process. To die or to have surgery.

"More than that: There will be no Palestinian change as long as I am in the field. Only when I get out and they see the settlements and the roadblocks disappearing and they won't be living like animals - only then will the hoped-for change begin to take place. The Palestinian change will not be realized before the evacuation, only afterward."

Shavit: "There are two diseases here. The Israeli disease is the occupation and the settlements. The Palestinian disease is the lack of recognition of Israel and the instability. In order to reach a reasonable situation in Israel-Palestine, we have to treat both diseases at the same time. We need two unilateral treatment processes that might, over time, lead to an agreement. And perhaps what you are doing is treating only the Israeli disease. You are freeing the Palestinians from all responsibility.

"The house is indeed on fire, but instead of putting out the blaze you are jumping out of the burning house, into the abyss."

Ramon: "You are Beilin. Ultimately, you are Beilin. Only you're not comfortable being Beilin, so you're not demanding a peace agreement but another agreement. But in the end, just like Beilin, you are saying that the Palestinians are the ones who will determine whether there will be a Jewish and democratic state here.

"I am not ignoring the Hamas victory. On the contrary. This victory simply clarifies for me that there is virtually no practical chance of reaching an agreement. I will try so that Ari Shavit and Yossi Beilin and the settlers and the world will know that I tried. And maybe I will send you to reach these agreements. But when you return and say that you have failed, I will do what I did in Lebanon. Then too, they warned me that I was strengthening Hezbollah, just as you are warning me [about Hamas]. And then too, they told me there would be buses in Avivim [a reference to the deadly 1970 attack on a school bus in Avivim, near the Lebanon border] just as you're telling me there will be shoulder-fired missiles in the West Bank. But it's quiet on the northern border. [Hezbollah head Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah doesn't dare attack Israel."

Shavit: "In Lebanon, [Ehud] Barak built the invisible wall of international legitimacy that you are not building in the West Bank. That is exactly the major mistake you made when you put the big withdrawal card on the table without getting anything in exchange. Now there is no chance that the world will fund the NIS 80 billion the evacuation will cost, and there is no chance it will fully recognize the withdrawal line. This wouldn't have happened to [Ariel] Sharon. Sharon, would not have been so hasty. Once we had a war and that was it, then peace and that was it, and now you're proposing a fence and that's it. It doesn't work like that."

Ramon: "I will tell you about myself. A few months ago, when I had a heart attack, it took me half an hour to realize I had a problem. That is the most dangerous thing. People who ignore the fact that they have a problem cause a disaster for themselves.

"When I listen to you I say: You don't understand that you have a problem. Like Beilin and Peretz and Netanyahu, you are demanding something in exchange that you will not receive, for territory that is a burden and not an asset. And so you too, like Beilin and Peretz and Netanyahu, are placing your fate in the hands of your enemy. And I am not prepared to do this anymore. I want to reach the stage where I will not be dependent on anyone. So I will go to the international community, and I will go to Abu Mazen. But in the end, I will act in accordance with my existential interest. And my existential interest requires me to free myself of this 90 percent of the West Bank that endangers me. Because unlike you, I understand that I have cancer. And I am not prepared to say that this cancerous growth is a gem.

So you can tell me that I don't have an operating room here and I don't have anesthesia and I don't have a sterile scalpel. But I am telling you that if I don't do the surgery I won't live. That's why I am getting the operation done. I am cutting. Because if I wait until all your demands are fulfilled, I will simply die."