TIME: The Palestinians are not on anyone’s radar these days. Will Israel do better than Abu Mazen [aka Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank]?
BARAK: I don’t know. I don’t see Abu Mazen as part of the problem. More probably part of the solution. I’m more afraid that [PA prime minister] Fayyad will leave. I think that he’s very successful. He’s a very tough type of point contact for us, Fayyad, but he’s very good for the Palestinians I believe. And Abu Mazen is there. He’s the president. I don’t think we have to speculate about who would replace him. I think we have a responsibility to try to move forward with Abu Mazen.
TIME: But he’s been saying the same thing for decades now. Hasn’t he been a centripedal force? [Hamas political chief Khaled] Mashaal is talking about nonviolence now. Until recently there’s been a hudna [cease-fire]. Do you see in the quiet, a move toward nonviolence, toward Abu Mazen’s approach? There are people on the West Bank talking about Mashaal as his successor.
BARAK: A British veteran diplomat who served many years in Iran said about the Iranians, said the Iranian place is a culture where they don’t say what they think, they don’t do what they say, and still there’s no cognitive dissonance as long as you’re moving toward your objective. So the same should be applied toward Mashaal. I don’t believe that he can change. It’s an ideology. There is the Arab political culture something called taqiyya. It’s a kind of practice that started with stories of the Prophet. Even the concept of hudna, if you look closely at the historic roots of it, what it really means to an Arab when you talk about hudna, it’s hudna it’s Banu Quriash, a story fromthe early days of Islam,, when he just couldn’t win, physically, over Mecca. There was a tribe called the Banu Quraish, you basically make a hudna and get a priori holding in advance that the moment he’s strong enough to defeat them he can break it. So he made it, so he made it didn’t have a dissonance, the moment he was strong enough he broke it, and won. So that’s the real story of hudna.
It doesn’t mean that if someone who proposes a hudna for 50 years or 100 years we have to reject it, because we know what will happen then. We also should be practical. But I don’t think that Hamas is going to change. It’s quite natural that once they are responsible for everything – for food for babies, for medication in hospitals in a population of two million, they become more cautious about the implications of what they are doing. But I don’t see them changing their ideology. They want to change over the PLO, not just Ramallah, the leadership of the Palestinian people. They want to change the whole nature of a future Palestinian state.
But at the same time when it comes to Israel they share certain common ground with the Fatah people, see Israel as a rival. But they are not the same. I clearly prefer to talk to Ramallah. I keep telling our people, as well as leaders in the world, what we are trying to say…it’s true they’re quiet. Part of it the effectiveness of our security forces and the IDF, but clearly part of it is the result of the Palestinian security forces and the starting to build the embryonic organs of a future state. And it’s creating a law enforcing chain, short of perfect; it’s not a Canadian standard, but probably better than some other neighboring countries. So they’re moving in the right direction. But if we do not find a way, a ray of hope …. They bear much of the responsibility for the slowdown in the process. Abu Mazen has said there’s some mistakes abroad, the way he feels he was pushed the summit of a tree and the ladder was taken away from him. But we have an interest, it’s so important for us not to end up drifting toward kind of a one-state solution, which will inevitably – when you look at the area, the small area between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean, there live some 12 million people, probably five million Palestinian, 7 million Israelis if it’s only one political unit it will inevitably turn into either nondemocratic or non-Jewish. If they can vote, it’s not Jewish. It’s a bi-national state. If they cannot vote I don’t want to put a name on it, but it’s not exactly Jewish democracy! We have a compelling imperative to kind of disengage from the Palestinians and to draw a line. It’s not easy, but draw a line that will include these main settlement blocs, a certain part of the West Bank, but not a big one, and be ready to compensate them partially at least for this area and to draw a line in which we will have a solid Jewish majority for years to come.
So basically I believe that we have to find a way to move forward. Icannot tell you for sure that there is a way to solve all core issues, right now, immediately with Abu Mazen. Past experience makes us a little more kind of skeptical. But even if intermediate agreement comes out of it, it’s still good, because the calmness, the tranquility is not sustainable. And when the timecomes, and it hits the wall, it doesn’t matter how exactly it develops into a renewed clash, we will face the real truths of the Middle East. If we are aiming at mutual respect and living side, that’s the domain of Fatah. If we are in a clash and violence, Hamas will excel over them. And that’s what we say also to Abbas and Fayyad: Don’t delude yourself that by leaving it a deadlock and a possible clash that you gain something, it will end up with Israel facing Hamas.