Editor’s Notes: Disengagement’s architect

By David Horovitz November 26, 2004

Brig.-Gen. Eival Gilady devised he separation plan that Ariel Sharon is now bent on implementing

I don’t know what motivated Eival Gilady, until recently the head of the IDF’s Strategic Planning Division, to readily answer almost every question I asked him when we found ourselves seated side-by-side at a Foreign Ministry lunch for visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Wednesday. As a rule, Gilady barely speaks to the media. But over the salmon and avocado, on through the steak, and into the fruit and chocolate dessert, answer he did.

And since Brig.-Gen. Gilady is the man who, well over two years ago, initiated what Ariel Sharon came to adopt as his disengagement plan, and has continued to play a central role in its development, I kept the questions coming, ate fast, and scribbled.

Gilady is currently in a professional twilight zone – almost discharged but not yet formally out of the army, where he has served for close to 30 years. Perhaps, with his formal discharge so close at hand, he felt free enough to clearly detail the thinking behind the disengagement initiative he devised, asking only on one occasion that something he said be kept ‘off the record,’ a request I have of course respected. His insights constitute some of the most straightforward talking on the motivation for disengagement – and its architect’s assessment of how separation may pan out.

The Oslo process, Gilady began, was predicated on the notion that peace would bring security. It was an erroneous premise: The assessment that the prospect of peace and a process of economic improvement for the Palestinians would reduce the motivation for terrorism proved false.

‘I didn’t recognize at first that Arafat was not a leader with whom we could make peace,’ Gilady acknowledged. ‘But for 10 years he lied to his people. He told them that they would gain a full ‘right of return’ and 100 percent of the territory. And he used terror as a tool to advance those aims.’

The logic behind the concept of separation – which he made clear that he personally initiated – is the reverse of the Oslo mind-set, Gilady said. Rather than peace bringing security, it aims for security to ultimately yield peace.

It also runs utterly counter to Ehud Barak’s failed attempt to intensively negotiate a final-status agreement with the Palestinians at Camp David in the summer of 2000. ‘The whole vision of the security fence and disengagement is based on the premise that no final-status agreement is feasible,’ Gilady said, at least not in the foreseeable future. Yet the situation deep into the first two years of the current conflict was ‘terrible,’ and there were plainly ‘things we could do to alleviate that.’ The idea was to find a formula by which Israel could improve its security, allow the economy to start to recover, rebuild tourism and so on, while also creating the circumstances in which the Palestinians might eventually opt for change.

The Oslo vision, he also noted, was one of interaction, of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians working in Israel. Under separation, when it is implemented, by contrast, most Israelis will be on one side and Palestinians on the other side of the fence. And compared to the 200,000 Palestinians who, he said, entered Israel each day to work before the start of the current conflict four years ago, only a much smaller number, perhaps 10 percent, will be working here, ‘on specific tasks for defined periods.’

Gilady said he had spent long, long hours negotiating with some of the younger Palestinian leaders and believes they have a different mind-set from that of Arafat. He named prominent figures including Kadoura Fares and Hassan Asfur, Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan and his West Bank counterpart Jibril Rajoub in this context. ‘Some say [Marwan] Barghouti,’ he added. ‘I say no.’

But Gilady stressed that opportunities for substantive progress toward a negotiated accord are anything but an immediate prospect. For now, he said, ‘we’ll separate.’

Gilady was adamant that Arafat’s malevolent positions, rather than any Israeli failures, had doomed what he considered the efforts by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), as Palestinian Authority prime minister from April to September last year, to begin a process of reform. ‘Maybe we made some mistakes last time,’ he said, indicating that Sharon could have bolstered Abu Mazen’s standing with his own people by, say, releasing security prisoners – hundreds of whom the prime minister did free in the context of a subsequent, controversial, prisoner deal with Hizbullah. ‘That might have helped keep Abu Mazen in power, but only for a few more weeks. So it’s not a case of whether we did enough.’

He said that Abu Mazen has learned one of the lessons of his failure last time, ‘which is that support from the US and Israel is not enough. He needs domestic support.’

But, he added, Abu Mazen also has to learn another lesson: The then-PA prime minister and those around him ‘underestimated their ability to act [resolutely against the terrorist groups] last time. They said they needed more time, that it was the wrong atmosphere. I hope they don’t blow it again… Their public is waiting to see how they are going to act. The armed groups are waiting to see how they are going to act. If those groups see that it’s business as usual, they’ll be emboldened.’ Abu Mazen, in short, ‘needs to act from day one.’

Asked to elaborate, Gilady recalled that, last year, Abu Mazen expended 100 percent of his efforts trying to negotiate with Hamas and the other terror groups, and 0 percent trying to thwart the terrorism. ‘And we understand that he can’t do 0 percent negotiation and take 100 percent action against them. But let him at least do 90 percent negotiation and 10 percent arrests. He’d be telling the Israeli public that he’s different, that things are different.

‘They have to work from day one,’ he repeated. ‘The army and the settlers will be out of Gaza. I’ve been telling them that ‘just as we are carrying out a unilateral plan to leave Gaza, you need to prepare a unilateral plan for after we’re gone. We’re leaving. How do you intend to enforce law and order after we’re gone?’… I’ve suggested, for instance, that, from day one, they declare that it will be forbidden for everyone [except the PA security forces] to carry weapons in public. Obviously they’re not about to go into people’s homes and confiscate weapons. And we’re not telling them that they need to have heavy confrontations. But if they confiscate five automatic weapons on day one and another five on day two, they’re sending a signal. My worry is that they won’t be brave enough.’

With Arafat gone, Gilady indicated, a disengagement plan that was already rather less unilateral than publicly perceived would be carried out with greater coordination with the PA. But, he stressed, it would not be amended in any of its essential aspects.

‘There won’t be direct talks – negotiation – on the terms of the pullout,’ he said. ‘This is our plan and we’re going to carry it out. But we have been coordinating [with the PA] and we will be coordinating so that it is carried out as effectively as possible. If they ask us to wait a few more days before we pull out of this area so that they can effectively deploy there, we’ll do so. We’re coordinating on water, health, security… There’s some indirect and some direct coordination already. There’s high-level coordination and there’s coordination in the field.’

I put to Gilady the assertion by many critics of disengagement that after Israel pulls out, Gaza will turn into a safe haven for terrorism, with the terrorists emboldened by what they will hail as Israeli capitulation. Specifically, increasingly devastating Kassam rockets might fly across the border. Israel would have to send troops back in.

‘If there are Kassams,’ he responded, ‘that doesn’t mean we’ll have to go in on the ground. We can work from the air.’

What about the dangers of more potent weaponry being smuggled into the Strip, particularly across the border with Egypt? Gilady acknowledged the concern but assessed that security cooperation with Egyptian would ultimately prove beneficial.

And overall, he believes, ‘The fact that we’ll be gone will mean that the Palestinians will have real motivation for reform.’ He cited an incident earlier this year when members of a Kassam cell shot dead a young Palestinian who had come out of his Gaza home to urge them not to fire from the area. The hope, Gilady said, is that this kind of atmosphere, the Palestinian public’s desire for change, will intensify after Israel’s departure. ‘Also, the fact that we’ll be pulling out of a small part of the northern West Bank will be proof to the Palestinians that this is not ‘Gaza only’ and represents an incentive to the moderates.’

As for Israel, he said, ‘We’ll no longer be prisoners of their extremists.’

Asked about the dangers of internal Israeli confrontation over disengagement, Gilady said no one knows for sure how bitter settler resistance to leaving Gaza might prove. ‘I assume there’ll be a hard core of resisters,’ he said. But his assessment is relatively sanguine. He is confident, he said, that Israel will be able to implement their relocation relatively smoothly.

He said that Sharon had absolutely wanted to hold a nationwide referendum on disengagement earlier this year, and was confident of victory, but that the Justice Ministry raised such complicated technical and procedural demands as to have rendered the idea unworkable in a reasonable period of time. That’s why, he said, Sharon resorted to May’s referendum in the Likud, hoping – in vain, as it turned out – that if his own party membership approved the plan, that would constitute a tremendous boost.

One of the very few questions that Gilady ducked was one of my last, about how much land Sharon would ultimately be prepared to relinquish in the West Bank. ‘I’m not prepared to discuss this now,’ he said.

But, with the lunch drawing to its end by this point, he gave some very specific figures in relation to territory covered by the security barrier, and the numbers of settlers and Palestinians who would be left on either side of it – figures of enormous significance for the immediate future, and quite probably for the longer term as well. (Gilady was reported in a New York Times article in August to have suggested that the message for settlers on the eastern side of the fence is that there is less of a future for them there.)

The original conception of the fence was that it would encompass about 11 percent of the West Bank territory, he said, adding that changes to the route were now bringing down that figure a little. ‘The way we see it,’ he said, ’76 percent of the settlers will be on the western side of the fence.’

His hope, he said, is that the final figure for West Bank territory on the western side of the barrier will be a fraction below 10 percent – presumably because of the psychological significance of leaving more than 90 percent of the territory on the far side – ‘and that will leave 99.3 percent of the Palestinians on the eastern side.’

With the eventual possibility of negotiation over territory in the context of final-status talks, he concluded, separation along these lines should constitute a ‘real incentive’ for Palestinian reform.

© The Jerusalem Post