|Original article in Hebrew|
We’ve received this from Zeev Raphael, a retiree from the Technion, who writes from his Haifa home, where he translated this article from the April 20 weekend issue, approximately ten years after the Saudi Peace Initiative. This begins with his note:
Here is a story that received little attention; I think it warrants public debate. Maariv’s political commentator, Ben Caspit, reminds his readers that last month was ten years to the ‘Saudi Initiative’ also known as the ‘Arab Initiative’ and the ‘Beirut Declaration.’
Caspit reveals a story told for the first time, he says: A few days before the initiative was made public, then Mossad chief Efraim Halevy told then prime minister Ariel Sharon to “go to Beirut.” Halevy said there is an historic opportunity there that should not be missed. Halevy told Sharon he could arrange a secret meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince and he could decide for himself. “All you need to do is to say you will arrive in Beirut with no preconditions. They will agree. Go to Beirut and speak before the Arab League. Speak to them. They will accept you graciously.” Halevy told him he did not have to accept the initiative, but something might come out of the face-to-face meeting of leaders. “In general, the initiative has acceptable elements from our point of view that could be the basis for discussion.”
“It did not happen” Caspit comments. “What a pity that our region, on all sides, is filled with so few Anwar Sadats. But there is no lack of Ariel Sharons. Not on their side, but neither on ours.” Below is my translation:
“Ten Years: The Saudi Initiative”
Sharon almost returned to Beirut
Ben Kaspit, Maariv Shabbat Supplement, 20 April 2012
Last month it was ten years since the “Saudi Initiative”, which became the “Arab Initiative” (at the “Beirut Declaration” that was launched at the Arab League Summit in March 2002). It offered Israel the option of a political solution, bringing peace to the Middle East. The Initiative was revealed by Thomas Friedman, in an article in the New York Times, following a conversation with the Saudi Ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah ben Abdel Aziz, and became a central landmark in the area. It did not gain any serious response from Israel.
Briefly, the core of the Initiative was: The entire Arab world offers Israel full peace and full normalization, in exchange for withdrawal to the ’67 Lines, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and finding a “just and agreed solution” for the refugee problem. The Initiative doe not use the sensitive expression “Right of Return”, and emphasizes that the solution will have to be acceptable also to Israel, which ensures that it will not be possible to force her to return refugees to her territory. Ten years have passed since, and the Initiative is still alive and well. But it appears that time is running out. The Islamic autumn that is sweeping the Arab world is threatening to swallow the Initiative. At present it is abandoned by the way-side, covered in dust. The Initiative was launched during those terrible days of the second Intifada, while hordes of wild Palestinians were attacking Israel, and blew themselves up in the midst of women and children. Ariel Sharon was Prime Minister of his first government, before the Disengagement, in coalition with Labour of Fuad [Eliezer] and Peres. Ephraim Halevy was head of the Mossad, a man of wide horizons and a citizen of the world. A man with imagination and an active brain capable “of thinking outside the box”.
Here is a story that has not yet been told. A few days after the launching of the Initiative, the Head of the Mossad Halevy arrived for a working meeting with his boss, Prime Minister Sharon. “Mister Prime Minister”, said Halevy to Sharon, “go to Beirut!”. Sharon gasped: “Go where?” he asked Halevy. “To Beirut” said the head of Mossad. It was the time between the launching of the Saudi Initiative in Friedman’s article, and the Arab League Summit in Beirut that was due to turn it into an All-Arab Initiative. Sharon thought Halevy had gone mad. He had already been in Beirut. And what had become of that?,- apart from the Kahan Commission, and his ousting from the post of Minister of Defence? No, Halevy did not know. But Ariel Sharon had permanent nightmares, which he dreamt during frenzied nights, and in which he was caught by Arabs, and taken to the outskirts of Gaza, completely naked, while, in his words, “he was fettered in chains”. Gaza and Beirut, – in Sharon’s view there is not much difference between these places. They are full of plotting Arabs. While Sharon’s men who were present at the meeting were even more skeptical than he was. The Mossad head’s idea gained him a few yawns. “What has Arik got to do there?” they asked Halevy. “”What should he tell the Arabs there? And by the way”, – one of them added, – “it may be fun to travel to Beirut, Ephraim, the question is, will it also be possible to return?”
Halevy was not amused. He saw a historic opportunity. He thought it should not be missed. He knew that such a move by Sharon would shake the Middle East, even more powerfully than Anwar Sadat’s visit to the Knesset in Jerusalem. “You have nothing to lose”, Halevy told Sharon, “examine my idea seriously. A secret meeting could be arranged with the Saudi Crown Prince. All you have to tell him is that you are prepared to speak in Beirut, without pre-conditions. They will accept. Go to Beirut and address the Arab League Summit. Speak to them. You will be well received.” This may all be very well, said Sharon, and his men, but what is he supposed to tell the Arabs there in Beirut? “You don’t have to accept the Initiative as it is”, said Halevy. “I confess that I have no idea what may come out of such a meeting. But if leaders meet face to face, you never know what may transpire. When a thing like this is set in motion, you don’t know how it will end. All parties will be interested to reach agreement, an international mechanism will be created. The bottom line is, the Saudi Initiative contains reasonable elements from our view point. They might serve as basis for negotiation.”
This did not happen. When I met Halevi this week, he was not prepared to add details. “When the time comes, it will all become clear”, he said. There, surrounding Sharon, there used to be many people making fun of him, to joke at his expense, and to call him names. Sharon was then still in his fighting period. There was not yet talk of Disengagement. Above everything, there was his obsessive and pathologic suspicion towards Arabs wherever they may be. This suspicion was dominant also when he decided to evacuate territories and settlements. Even then, he was not prepared to talk to the other side, to make contact, to initiate a process that might turn the evacuation into a political lever. He preferred to throw the keys of Gaza into the sea. Hamas picked them up with glee. And the rest is history! Halevy applied pressure. But he understood that it was a lost case.
Some time later, Halevy finished his stint as head of Mossad. He was appointed to head the Council for National Security. He left after a few months, when he understood that Sharon’s doors, and his heart, had become closed to him. The rising star was Advocate Dov Weissglass, that mythological barrister and close associate. Together they thought up the Disengagement, which, together with the Road Map, was designed to let Sharon continue to do nothing for another decade or two,- until the Palestinians “will become Scandinavians”. Meanwhile, in the words of Weissglass at the time, “the whole mess will be put into Formalin”. And indeed, part of this did materialize. Sharon is in a coma. But that is beside the point. But WE are in Formalin, – which some of us actually find enjoyable. On the other hand, – the Palestinians did not become Scandinavians. Actually the Scandinavians are more likely to turn into Palestinians. Some of them even come here and attempt to block the Jordan Valley Road. The entire region is prone to upheavals. None of us can tell what might have happened if Sharon had risen and traveled to Beirut to address the Arab League. A speech similar to the one that he delivered two years later, after the Disengagement, to the UN General Assembly.
How sad that in our region, on both sides, there are so very few Anwar Sadats. On the other hand, there are is no lack of Ariel Sharons—not on their side, but neither on ours.