How Israeli Intelligence Fabricated a Frequently-Repeated Myth to Justify Tel Aviv's Aggression
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MI told Israel’s leaders the violence was all Arafat’s fault, hiding what it knew about broad popular support for acts of resistance. By undermining the power of Arafat, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority, Israeli leaders created a governmental vacuum. They then turned around and said, "See, we have no one to negotiate with, no partner for peace." Instead, Israel responded to the intifada with heightened violence of its own, which of course provoked even more Palestinian popular resistance and even more Israeli suppression. So the vicious cycle of violence kept spiraling ever downward.
Rise of Hamas
The combination of Palestinian political vacuum and Israeli violence also boosted the fortunes of Hamas, another development that MI kept hidden from Israel’s political leadership, according to this report. To reinforce the "no partner for peace" story, MI treated Arafat as the only significant political force on the Palestinian side. So it ignored the growing power of Hamas. The MI unit predicted a tie between Hamas and Fatah in the January 2006 Palestinian election, or at most a tiny advantage for Hamas. Hamas, of course, won a major victory in an election outside observers found free and fair.
All of this, say Eldar and his sources, is crucial background for the tragic Israeli relationship with Gaza. The MI oral briefings (to repeat Lavie’s crucial words) "ignored the connection between Israel's acts and their implications for the Palestinian arena." So they encouraged Israel's leaders to believe they could separate their own nation from the neighbors they continued to control. In the West Bank they began building a physical wall. In Gaza they withdrew their occupation troops, hoping to leave Gaza to live or die on its own. The leadership simply ignored the possibility that Hamas might be strong enough to gain popular control in Gaza.
The evacuation from Gaza was tied up with a larger strategy, again spurred by telling leaders what they wanted to hear. When the Bush administration endorsed the so-called Road Map for Middle East peace, MI told the Israeli government not to take it seriously; it was just an American public relations gesture to mollify the Arab states. Israeli leaders were unprepared when it turned out that Washington expected Israel to take the road map seriously.
The Israeli prime minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, then announced his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza. He hoped to avoid pressure from Bush to continue negotiations. Sharon's senior advisor, Dov Weissglas, famously said that "the disengagement [from Gaza] is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians...This whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely."
But the message to Hamas was that Israel would act unilaterally, refusing to negotiate with the ascendant Palestinian party. Instead, the Israelis would rely on brute force. Tragically, as the events of the past two weeks have shown, the level of force just goes on escalating. Hamas, like any political party, has both moderate and intransigent wings. Israel’s policies have consistently undermined the moderates, who would want to pursue negotiations if they saw any chance. Israel has denied them that chance, leaving violence or surrender as the only options. And Israel’s underestimation of the power of Hamas power is still proving a fatal mistake.
But if these new revelations are true, the policy of unilateralism and brute force didn't originate with Sharon and his right-wing Likud Party. It goes back to 2000, when the Labor Party, headed by Ehud Barak, refused to agree with Yasser Arafat that the path of negotiation -- as difficult and tedious as it was -- should be pursued to a successful end. The one attempt to revive the negotiations, at Taaba in early 2001, collapsed when Barak withdrew.