By BERNIE BELLAN
Shabtai Shavit is a former director general of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, having served in that position from 1989-1996.
During his time as Mossad head, Shavit was involved in many secret negotiations with Arab leaders. On May 29 he was the special guest speaker at an event sponsored by Solly & Orly Dreman on behalf of an Israeli organization known as Ezer Mizion.
Strangely though, when Shavit ascended the podium on May 29 to speak, no one bothered to introduce him. While that was somewhat unusual in itself, what followed was even more unusual. Shavit began reading from a speech that he had apparently delivered some time ago at a completely different forum – and I daresay he was almost impossible to understand.
Nonetheless, I thought: “Here’s a former director general of the Mossad. Surely I ought to record what he has to say – then listen to his remarks carefully so as to be able to decipher them for our readership.”
Even while Shavit was rambling on, however, I was able to pick out certain phrases that told me this particular speaker was apparently saying some highly controversial things, including that Israel is becoming “a theocratic state”, that it is “occupying” Palestinian lands, and that it should be willing to give back much of what it conquered during the Six-Day War in 1967.
How on Earth was this man allowed to speak here, I wondered? Did no one in our Jewish Federation, B’nai Brith, or our other self-proclaimed defenders of the Jewish people who have taken it upon themselves to decide who should and who should not be allowed to speak in Winnipeg, not know how provocative Shavit was going to be? As I note in my article about the Ezer Mizion gala, I am shocked that Shavit was not disinvited from appearing here. Once you read on and see for yourself how dangerous it was to allow Shavit to voice his opinions, I am sure you will agree that he should have been banned even from appearing in Winnipeg.
During his talk he referred many times to conversations he held with various Arab leaders, with the constant theme being that Palestinians were nothing more than major irritants to those leaders. His ultimate conclusion was that bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are completely dead, that peace initiatives coming either from the U.S. or Europe have no chance of succeeding, and the only way to achieve any sort of breakthrough will have to be through a “regional peace initiative”.
Early on in his remarks, Shavit took aim at Israel’s Nation-State Law, which was passed by the Knesset in July 2018 and which specifies the nature of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. He blamed “religious Zionists” for bringing this law forward. Shavit suggested that this law will lead to a “theocratic, apartheid state that will never be accepted by the united world nor by world Jewry – which today accounts for about half of Jewish people.” It will also lead to the illegal “annexation” of territory, he said.
“In my opinion,” he continued, “as long as we remain a secular, multi-ethnic democratic state without the annexation of territory, we will remain Israelis” living “in partnership” with minorities, including “Christians and Arabs.”
“The Israel-Palestinian conflict today is on a track of increasing alienation between the parties,” Shavit observed. “There is no dialogue taking place – only mutual accusations between both parties. Cooperation on the ground, executing coordination” has stopped. “The Palestinians are taking unilateral political measures and Israel is threatening to take counter-measures.”
Shavit then added this observation, however: In the world’s eyes “we are the powerful occupiers and they, the Palestinians, are our weak subjects. The policy of attempting to contain the Palestinians through conflict management will not succeed in the long run. In order to achieve new momentum we must see what is happening in the region and see if it is possible to utilize the regional reality in order to break the deadlock and help achieve a solution.”
Looking back on past efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Shavit referred to an incident involving former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Yasser Arafat. (I had to Google the specific time period to find out which agreement Shavit was talking about. It turns out that it was in 1994 when Mubarak brought Rabin and Arafat together to work out details of Israel’s handing back Jericho and the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. Apparently Arafat, as was his wont, had a last-minute change of heart and was refusing to sign that particular accord.)
In Shavit’s telling the story, Mubarak turned to Arafat and said: “Sign, you dog!” – which Arafat promptly did. The significance of that particular incident, as Shavit went on to explain, was that “Arab leaders in the Middle East have a better chance than Western leaders of bringing the sides together.”
Shavit then went on at great length to describe the “Saudi initiative” that was brought before the Arab League in 2002. It had the following components, according to Shavit:
1. Complete withdrawal by Israel from all territories conquered in 1967
2. Complete security for all parties in the region
3. Establishment of normal relations between Israel and the member states of the Arab League. According to Shavit, 35 Muslim states supported the initiative, with a total of 57 states supporting it altogether.
Since 2002 moreover, Shavit said there has been considerable softening in the Arab League position. Rather than a “dictate”, he noted, Arab leaders have now said the Saudi initiative is the “basis for negotiation”.
With that in mind, Shavit called for a new “regional agreement” which, he declared, would gain the support of both the United States and Europe.
“Regional stability,” Shavit declared, “will allow the Israeli government to extract itself from the major problem of the occupation.” (Ed. note: oh no – “occupation”. Traitor!)
The cost of the occupation, he noted, adds “2 billion shekels a year to the national debt.”
Shavit enumerated other savings that would accrue to Israel by entering into a regional peace agreement, including: lower taxes, more money for health care and education, and lower housing costs.
In concluding, he noted that his speech had been written prior to the last Israeli elections (in May). He saw those elections as an opportunity for Israel to chart a new course (although he didn’t elaborate on which party would have charted that new course, as Benny Gantz’s Blue & White party never differentiated itself from Netanyahu’s Likud party over the issue of peace negotiations).
Regardless whether Shavit seemed to come across as “yesterday’s man”, attempting to resurrect a path forward that has been, for the most part, overtaken by events in recent years that would render it largely irrelevant, here was a former leader of the Mossad calling for Israeli withdrawal from “occupied” territories taken during the ’67 War. Within Winnipeg’s established Jewish community, that would have to be considered taboo. But then again, who was paying attention to this fellow that particular evening? I had to listen to parts of my audio recording of his speech over and over again in order to make out what Shavit was saying.
Still, I don’t anticipate he’s going to be invited here again by either the Jewish Federation or any other Jewish organization that detests hearing the suggestion that Israel is “occupying” Palestinian territory.