NEW YORK (Jun. 23)
Three-quarters of Israel’s retired generals believe at least part of the West Bank could safely be given over to the Palestinians, if certain security arrangements were made.
That was one of the findings of a poll commissioned by the Council for Peace and Security, a group of dovish former military officers. The poll, released Sunday in Israel, made front page news there just two days before the national elections.
While there was no way to measure its electoral impact, the finding echoed the central message of the Labor Party campaign. Under the leadership of retired Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, Labor has argued that Israel could negotiate peace without jeopardizing its security position.
Those polled were slightly more pessimistic of reaching an accord with Syria than with the Palestinians, though 71 percent felt that arrangements could be made to guarantee Israel’s security if a significant portion of the Golan Heights were returned to Syria.
The 20-question survey was conducted by an independent polling agency, according to the council. The sponsor was not made known to the respondents.
Questionnaires were sent to all of Israel’s roughly 450 retired IDF generals, as well as officers of equivalent rank from the Mossad and from the General Security Services, popularly known as the Shin Bet.
Sixty percent of the officers responded, 12 percent refused reply, and the remainder were either out of the country, barred from commenting because they hold public office or could not be located.
Asked which they consider more hazardous to Israel’s security, returning the territories to the Palestinians with peace, or keeping the territories without peace, the retired military officers said territorial compromise is safer by a margin of 68 to 32 percent.
Similarly, 69.5 percent were willing to return at least some of the territories. Only 3 percent favored annexing the territories, and 2 percent favored continuing the status quo.
Twenty-one percent felt granting the Palestinians autonomy is the best solution given security restraints. Sixteen percent recommended returning most of the territories, for a treaty with security arrangements.
WAR MOST LIKELY WITH STATUS OUO
But the most popular choice was a return of the territories following an autonomy phase, which was chosen by 58 percent.
As described in the question, the 10-year autonomy period would test Palestinian willingness to adhere to security arrangements. It also would allow Western aid to help establish an economic infrastructure for a Palestinian state.
While the 10-year timetable goes beyond that discussed in the Camp David accords or formally in the current set of peace talks, the extended transition represents previous proposals that have come from the military and intelligence communities, according to Tom Smerling, executive director of Project Nishma.
Project Nishma serves as the American branch of the Council for Peace and Security, and tries to promote acceptance of the idea of territorial compromise in the American Jewish community.
Herb Zweibon, chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel, which advocates Israeli annexation of the territories, rejected the survey.
“It would be interesting to see how many of these retired generals became generals under the Labor government and were, in fact, Labor supporters,” he said.
Zweibon derided the security arrangements insisted on by the respondents as “pie in the sky. It is totally unrealistic to think the Arabs, either those living in Hebron or the surrounding states, would accept such a solution” involving significant security concessions to Israel.
Smerling of Project Nishma responded that “Israeli peace proposals should be based on what’s best for Israel, not what’s acceptable to the Arabs.
“Furthermore,” he said, “there’s only one way to find out what’s acceptable to the other side: Put forth a proposal.
“Finally, Faisal Husseini and other Palestinians have accepted the idea of transition periods, demilitarization and extensive Israeli security arrangements as a basis for negotiations. Why not put them to the test?”
When the ex-officers were asked to rate the prospects of war under different circumstances, 83 percent said war is very likely or almost inevitable if the status quo is maintained. About the same number saw as much danger if the territories were annexed, as advocated by the parties to the right of Likud.
By contrast, only 35 percent saw war as likely to result from either an autonomy arrangement or a Palestinian state with appropriate security precautions.
The solution seen as least likely to cause a war was the return of Judea and Samaria to Jordan as part of a peace agreement. While only 10 percent feared war would result, that option is officially rejected by both Jordan and the Palestinians.