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How Israeli Intelligence Fabricated a Frequently-Repeated Myth to Justify Tel Aviv's Aggression

Israeli intelligence concluded after Camp David that Yassir Arafat was willing to follow the Oslo process -- but that's not what they told lawmakers.

All of the suffering in Gaza -- indeed, all of the suffering endured by Palestinians under Israeli occupation for the last eight years -- could have been avoided if Israel negotiated a peace agreement with Yasser Arafat when it had the chance, in 2001.

What chance? The official Israeli position is that there was no chance, "no partner for peace." That’s what Israeli leaders heard from their Military Intelligence (MI) service in 2000 after the failure of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David. Arafat scuttled those talks, MI told the leaders, because he was planning to set off a new round of violence, a second intifada.

Now former top officials of MI say the whole story, painting Arafat as a terrorist out to destroy Israel, was an intentional fiction. That’s the most explosive finding in an investigative report just published in Israel’s top newspaper, Ha’aretz, by one of its finest journalists, Akiva Eldar.

Tale of Two Tales

Much like our own CIA, Eldar’s sources say, Israeli military intelligence has two versions of every story. MI analysts give their findings to government policymakers in oral reports that simply tell the political leaders what they want to hear. Meanwhile, the analysts keep the truth secret, filed away in written documents, waiting to be pulled out to cover MI’s posterior if the government’s policies turned out to be failures.

Much of the information in the Ha’aretz report comes from Ephraim Lavie, an honors graduate of Israel’s National Security College who rose through the ranks in MI's research section and eventually became head of MI's Palestinian research unit during the era of the Camp David talks. "Defining Arafat and the PA as 'terrorist elements' was the directive of the political echelon," said Lavie. "The unit's written analyses were presenting completely different assessments, based on reliable intelligence material."

The idea that "there is no one to talk to and nothing to talk about," simply because Arafat rejected the Israeli offer at Camp David, just wasn't true. But it was what the politicians wanted to hear.

Journalist Eldar found others who had worked inside MI to corroborate Lavie’s story. General Gadi Zohar, who once headed the MI terrorism desk, agrees the heads of the MI research unit "developed and advanced the 'no partner' theory and [the notion] that 'Arafat planned and initiated the intifada' even though it was clear at that time that this was not the researchers' reasoned professional opinion."

In fact, these intelligence veterans say, MI concluded after Camp David that Arafat was willing to follow the Oslo process and abide by interim agreements. He wanted to keep the negotiating process alive, and even told his staff to prepare public opinion to accept an agreement that would include compromises. He thought violence would not help his cause. In late September of 2000, when violence did erupt in a second intifada, it was purely a popular protest, MI found. Arafat and his advisors never expected it, much less planned it.

They did let the violence go on, to put pressure on the Israelis in future negotiations. But Israeli leaders had already made it clear they would make no more compromises. That’s exactly why MI invented the story of Arafat’s intransigence and commitment to violence; MI was giving the political leaders oral briefings that supported policies the politicians had already agreed on. As Lavie puts it, the MI research unit was an instrument in the politicians' propaganda campaign.

"The conception underneath the 'no partner' approach became a model with grave national implications," Zohar points out. The most serious result, says Lavie, is that Israeli leaders have "ignored the connection between Israel's acts and their implications for the Palestinian arena." Instead, they repeated the old story that Israel is an innocent victim of the Palestinians, who are bent on unprovoked violence.

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