Commentary Magazine


Topic: Yuval Diskin

Is Kerry Precipitating Another Intifada?

To say that few Israelis think the current peace negotiations going on with the Palestinians have a chance of success is an understatement. In response to the passage by the Knesset of a bill to make it more difficult for the government to divide Jerusalem in the future, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocked the proceedings as a futile exercise. Wasting time on it was ludicrous she said, “as if peace were in the offing … when we know talks are crawling.” But not everyone is taking the talks that were forced upon the parties by Secretary of State John Kerry as a total non-event. Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, is claiming that the net result of the slow-motion failure of Kerry’s attempt to create momentum for peace when virtually no one thought the time was propitious could be another outbreak of violence.

Diskin, whose views put him on the left of Israel’s political spectrum, said that the recent upsurge in anti-Israel violence in the West Bank may show that another intifada may be in the offing next year once Kerry’s folly finishes running its course: “All of the conditions exist in our situation for the Palestinian masses to rise up,” Yuval Diskin told a conference at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division. “In the West Bank, the intense tension and frustration is worsening among the Palestinians, who feel that their land is being stolen from them, that the state they strive for is getting further away, and the economy is no longer something that they can take comfort in.”

Diskin’s views about what his country should be doing about the stalemate are outside the mainstream since he advocates concessions that most Israelis are currently unwilling to make. But his fears about the way the process is unfolding and Kerry’s error in judgment in excluding neighboring countries from the talks may reflect a wider consensus:

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To say that few Israelis think the current peace negotiations going on with the Palestinians have a chance of success is an understatement. In response to the passage by the Knesset of a bill to make it more difficult for the government to divide Jerusalem in the future, opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich mocked the proceedings as a futile exercise. Wasting time on it was ludicrous she said, “as if peace were in the offing … when we know talks are crawling.” But not everyone is taking the talks that were forced upon the parties by Secretary of State John Kerry as a total non-event. Yuval Diskin, a former head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, is claiming that the net result of the slow-motion failure of Kerry’s attempt to create momentum for peace when virtually no one thought the time was propitious could be another outbreak of violence.

Diskin, whose views put him on the left of Israel’s political spectrum, said that the recent upsurge in anti-Israel violence in the West Bank may show that another intifada may be in the offing next year once Kerry’s folly finishes running its course: “All of the conditions exist in our situation for the Palestinian masses to rise up,” Yuval Diskin told a conference at the Finance Ministry’s Budget Division. “In the West Bank, the intense tension and frustration is worsening among the Palestinians, who feel that their land is being stolen from them, that the state they strive for is getting further away, and the economy is no longer something that they can take comfort in.”

Diskin’s views about what his country should be doing about the stalemate are outside the mainstream since he advocates concessions that most Israelis are currently unwilling to make. But his fears about the way the process is unfolding and Kerry’s error in judgment in excluding neighboring countries from the talks may reflect a wider consensus:

“We must bring in Egypt and Jordan to the early stages of the negotiation process. Their entrance into this story will give [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas legitimacy to make critical decisions.”

It is doubtful that anything could move Abbas to gamble with his future by agreeing to anything that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn in any accord. The same Palestinian sentiment that is driving a demand for more violence is, as I wrote yesterday, providing the one spark of hope remaining for Abbas’s embattled Hamas rivals. It also gives Hamas and other intransigent elements within Abbas’s Fatah Party a virtual veto over peace that the PA leader challenges at his peril.

But the main point to be gleaned from Diskin’s warnings is that what Kerry has done is to set in motion a chain of events that may have consequences that are unpredictable. The presence of the Egyptians and Jordanians will not help stiffen Abbas’s spine. But in raising the hopes of the Palestinians without the means of satisfying them in the absence of evidence that their society has undergone the sea change needed for peace to be possible, Kerry has made violence more likely. The administration has at times acted as if the secretary’s initiative is a cost-free endeavor that the president can walk away from without consequences. But as Diskin rightly points out, the price of Kerry’s folly may be paid in blood.

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Israeli Spook Revolt is Politics as Usual

The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

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The international press is doing its best to hype critical remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu uttered by Yuval Diskin, the retired head of the Shin Bet security service, into a sign the government is in trouble. Diskin, a respected figure who retired last year, is the latest veteran spook to express his disdain for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their stance on the nuclear threat from Iran. That there is a debate in the highest intelligence circles about the best strategy for dealing with Iran has never been a secret. But what Diskin’s comments and other attacks on Netanyahu from former Mossad chief Meir Dagan reflect is not so much a revolt of the experts against the politicians but a standard trope of Israeli politics in which those who are frustrated about the fact that their ideas have not won the support of the Israeli public seek to overturn the verdict of democracy by appealing to the press and international opinion. It is no more likely to succeed now than in the past.

Though foreign news outlets treated Diskin’s remarks as a huge story that can be spun as part of a negative trend for Netanyahu, even the left-wing press in Israel is skeptical about that. Haaretz’s Yossi Verter noted that the personal nature of Diskin’s rant against Netanyahu and Barak at what he termed a “gathering of defense establishment pensioners” undermined their credibility. Unlike the foreign press, most Israelis are aware that Dagan’s animus against Netanyahu and Barak stems from the fact that he was fired from his post. That Diskin was passed over to replace Dagan may also explain his hard feelings. Moreover, the utter lack of public support for alternatives to Netanyahu or his policies makes farcical the claim in today’s New York Times that there is an “avalanche” of criticism about his stand on Iran.

It’s important to reiterate that the disagreements in Israel about Iran policy are not about the nature of the threat or even whether anything should be done about it as is often claimed by those seeking to downplay the issue. The question is about the timing of an attack, with Netanyahu’s critics claiming he is wrong to push for one now.

But this is an entirely false issue. It is highly unlikely that Israel would attack Iran while the U.S. is negotiating with it even if Netanyahu rightly suspects the current P5+1 talks are an Iranian ruse. The attacks on Netanyahu are merely a way for disgruntled former employees to vent their spleen at the prime minister’s political success and to try and hurt his standing abroad.

The animus against Netanyahu and his center-right government from the defense establishment and the government bureaucracy as well as most of the country’s traditional media outlets is well-known. Their frustration about his survival in power is compounded by the fact that he appears to be set for a cakewalk in the next elections which, incredibly, some opposition parties are pushing to be advanced from their scheduled date next year. As journalist Amir Mizroch writes, Dagan and Diskin — two men with axes to grind against the prime minister – may be “smelling elections in the air.”

Although the Dagan and Diskin affairs are in a sense unprecedented, because until now Israeli defense and security officials have not misbehaved in this manner, what is going on is just Israeli politics as usual. If these men and those Israeli and foreign journalists who are trying to make this into a major story are frustrated and angry now, just imagine how they’ll feel after Netanyahu is re-elected.

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