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In Palestine, there is no dignity without justice

A former head of Mossad, the Israeli spy agency, is not a person you would expect to recommend a more conciliatory approach towards the Palestinians. But that is exactly what Efraim Halevy has done.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Times of Israel, Halevy, who was Mossad head from 1998-2002 and later served as a special adviser to Ariel Sharon, criticised the policies of the outgoing government. He said that the election coming up in March 2015 was not just a leadership vote, but a chance to decide "how we treat the other side". He said: "A decision this time will be not on who will do but also on what will be done. Not on who will determine the policies but on what will be the policies."

Halevy criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minster Naftali Bennett for violating the status quo in Jerusalem and allowing nationalist Jews to move into Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city. But the comment that has drawn most attention was his call to end "condescending" policies towards the Palestinians. He told an anecdote about a friend of his observing that there was no word for dignity in Hebrew, continuing: "The problem we have had over the years has been that they have sought dignity and the last thing we ever thought of was addressing them in a manner that gave them a feeling of some dignity." He said that Israelis treat Arabs as inferior, and said that as long as this continued, there would be no peace. Citing the example of Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Halevy said that this was only made possible because both sides considered themselves the victors of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. He said that this meant that both parties felt equal, and that such a situation – one that allows both sides to feel dignified –is a prerequisite for peace between Israel and Palestine.

"I do not think we will make any progress until that moment arrives, and I fear that it will take a very long time before it happens, if at all," he said. "And if it never happens, there will never be peace between us and the Palestinians. And if it never happens, we're sentenced to a very long term of struggle."

Halevy makes an interesting point; that negotiations cannot be free and fair while one side believes in its absolute superiority, because such a position undermines the possibility of meaningful concessions. He said this quite explicitly: "In our gut, we feel, some way or another, that it's either them or us. We believe we're superior to them. We believe that we're better organized, better equipped, much more experienced. We know how to conduct our affairs. And actually we're in control. And it's almost humanly impossible in a situation like this to conduct a negotiation because for it to produce something in the end, you have to reach the point where you're on par with the other side."

His call to treat the Palestinians with dignity is to be welcomed, but it seems unlikely that it will be heeded in the Israeli halls of power. His comments came as the US announced that it would not support a joint Palestinian-Jordanian resolution at the UN Security Council that calls for a 2017 deadline for the peace process. This followed weeks of intense pressure from the Israeli government for the US to use its power of veto to scupper the resolution. Israel has repeatedly tried to block Palestinian entry to the UN and the various moves it has made within the UN, fearing above all that it could ultimately have recourse to the International Criminal Court and be able to pursue Israel for war crimes. These are not the actions of a government that wants to treat the other side with dignity. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has repeatedly said that the resolution – which simply sets a deadline for peace negotiations and the withdrawal of Israeli troops – is "very, very counterproductive". Havely was right to say that there can be no agreement while this gross power imbalance exists. It is also a sad fact that there can be no dignity without justice. Neither seems to be forthcoming.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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