Border Control /Why Arrest the Most Moderate?

The arrest of a Palestinian education minister by a state that is fighting an academic boycott is problematic.

The arrest of a neighboring government's education minister is a problematic business. The arrest of a Palestinian education minister by a state that is fighting an academic boycott is even more problematic. When the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee defines this act as "grotesque," it would be best for the Shin Bet security services to have a good reason for arresting the man.

The protest against the arrest three months ago of Palestinian Education Minister Dr. Nasser al-Shaer, in response to the wave of Qassams, has begun to gather momentum abroad, when al-Shaer was defined as "detained for questioning." European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pottering condemned the firing of Qassams and called for the release of the three abducted Israeli soldiers and British journalist Alan Johnston. He has also used the Knesset podium to call for the release of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council "and other politicians." The respected guest mentioned only the education minister by name.

The harsh critics of the arrest have been joined by the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, Rabbi Michael Melchior. "I don't understand why they arrested him in particular," protested the Labor-Meimad MK (who is part of the coalition!). "He is a person who has fought for a two-state solution for years. He is close to Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas] and the most moderate faction in Hamas, which is prepared to reach an agreement with us. He has said publicly that the Hamas platform is just as relevant to the position of the Palestinian government as the platform of Yisrael Beiteinu is to the government of Israel."

Melchior, who for years has been leading the inter-faith dialogue, in which Muslim clerics participate, relates that al-Shaer is also involved in this dialogue. "Sometimes I get the feeling that there are people here among us who are interested in hobbling precisely those Palestinian leaders who are prepared to reach an agreement with us," continues the chair of the Knesset Education Committee. "Otherwise, it's difficult to fathom why we allowed the most extreme people in Hamas to leave for the summit in Mecca and Riyadh and did not give al-Shaer permission to join the delegation. To me, this looks really hallucinatory."

In an interview with the Washington Post that was published several weeks ago, al-Shaer said he agreed with the position that no Palestinian government is entitled to revoke the Palestine Liberation Organization's 1993 promise to recognize Israel's right to exist and to desist from the use of terror. He noted that suicide attacks are not helping the Palestinian cause, as they have resulted in an end to negotiations with Israel.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir was surprised to hear about the administrative arrest of her Palestinian colleague. She says she has asked for information about the circumstances of al-Shaer's detention and that she has been promised that she will receive the information within a week. Only then will she determine her position. The Shin Bet spokeswoman has said that the administrative detention is subject to judicial review and has not yet been completed. For that reason, she said, it is not possible to reveal further information.

Knesset Speaker and Acting President Dalia Itzik apparently knows something that is being kept from the education minister. She has evidence that al-Shaer is a murderous mastermind. After the president of the European Parliament dared to ask for the Palestinian minister's release, Itzik returned to the podium and laid down the law for the visitor: "It isn't even customary for me to take the floor now. I want to tell you that this education minister's educational approach is such that, for example, he sends children to blow themselves up. He is responsible for this. We know so with certainty. After all, we aren't just picking on him for no reason. Sir, this great educator sends his students to blow themselves up, he sends his students to launch rockets into a good and decent civilian population. He incites and he is responsible for the incitement in the textbooks. Therefore, sir, with your permission, it is important that you acquire the information that you were most probably lacking, perhaps because of lack of knowledge."

The speaker of the bastion of Israeli democracy most probably knows that for cases like this, when the authorities "know for certain" that so-and-so is sending children to blow themselves up, courts were invented.

Last week it was related here ("The peace that could have been in '67," June 5) that there was a plan to establish a Palestinian state, which was prepared 10 days after the outbreak of the Six-Day War. David Kimche of the Mossad, who was called up by Military Intelligence and conducted talks with Palestinian figures about the principles of the plan, complained that the top government and military echelons chose to ignore this document.

Major General (Res.) Shlomo Gazit, who 40 years ago headed the research department at Military Intelligence, relates that as early as June 9, 1967, the fifth day of the Six-Day War, his bureau issued a warning against Israel ignoring the Palestinian factor and recommended the Palestinian option. The document was distributed to the usual recipients, including the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff, the head of the Operations Branch and the head of Military Intelligence. "Unfortunately," says Gazit, "none of them wanted to think about these things and there was no discussion of the document or any response to it."

Gazit recalls that, "On the fifth day of the war, early in the morning, the defense minister ordered the GOC Northern Command, David Elazar, to launch an attack with the aim of occupying the Golan Heights. At that stage of the fighting reports were flowing almost directly from the command's intelligence to the troops and there was hardly anything left to do for the research division. The only thing that kept us busy was the diplomatic moves in the international arena. Even though this was not my area of responsibility, I convened my team of senior researchers to discuss the outlines of the policy Israel should adopt at the end of the fighting. I assumed that, in light of the circumstances, they weren't going to be punctilious with me about trivia and formal matters. I brought onto the team several reservists who had been called up to the division - among them Zalman Shoval and Professors Shimon Shamir and Haim Shaked. We called the document 'Israel-Arabs - A New Situation!'"

The members of the team agreed that Israel had to preempt any and all Arab initiatives to deal with the situation and had to shape new relations with the Arabs without delay. "The international community recognizes the need to prevent the risk that in a few years time the region will once again endanger the peace of the world," the researchers wrote. "We have proven the failure of the idea of Fatah and the idea of an immediate war of liberation. The organizations' sabotage activities have compelled the Arab countries to degenerate, against their will, into a war that is not their own and to suffer a conclusive defeat."

The document's authors recommended that the government "offer enough bait and enough attraction - both to the world and to the Arabs - evince generosity in the context of power and strength and under no circumstances attempt to achieve small gains through extortion and the exploitation of our success. We must not appear to be braggarts scornful of the enemy who has been defeated, by humiliating him and his leaders."

The MI research people put a list of principles into writing, whose charm has not been lost. Nonetheless, from 1967 until today, as in the case of Kimche's document, no government has dared to implement these ideas.

The principles of the plan: The 1949 truce agreements between Israel and the Arab countries are null and void; Israel has no interest in occupying territories at the expense of the Arabs; there is scope for talking about border adjustments of one sort or another and in this framework Israel will be prepared to make concessions to the Arabs; Israel demands the implementation of the 1947 United Nations resolution and supports the establishment of a Palestinian state in the area of the Triangle and in the area of the Gaza Strip; the borders of this state will be affected by the reality of the past 19 years; Israel will act, help and compensate the Palestinian refugees, rehabilitating them within the territories of the Land of Israel and/or elsewhere; Israel's ports will serve as the ports of the new state, for purposes of commerce; free movement will be possible between the two parts of the state of Palestine; the two states will maintain full cooperation; the Palestinian state will not be allowed to establish a military force beyond a certain boundary; Old Jerusalem (the city within the walls) will become an "open city," with an independent status similar to that of the Vatican.

The authors of the document also recommended that Israel adopt a policy of non-intervention in the regimes or governments of the various Arab countries. That was 20 years before the birth of Hamas and 40 years before Israeli soldiers were sent to arrest one of its ministers.