On the Goldstone report: "If we need to prove to the world or to ourselves that there was no wrongdoing, we’ll be happy to do that, except for one consideration. When you put people, your boys and girls, in harm’s way, you want to make sure that they will not be demoralized for the challenges ahead. We already had an inquiry, which is quite independent, although it is held by the military."
DFM AYALON We are undergoing review all the time, and we are very proud of the British traditions that we follow, that we should investigate ourselves all the time, not because of any outside pressure but because of what we hold very dear to ourselves. And this is morality, by the way.
If I may, I would like to quote the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, who said not very long ago that during the Cast Lead operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
DAN DAMON: Well, that’s particularly what the investigation will seek to find out –
DFM AYALON: Yes, hopefully. But the only concern we had was that we already had an inquiry, which is quite independent, although it is held by the military. But in our system, the chief military attorney is very independent. But if we need to prove to the world or to ourselves that there was no wrongdoing, we’ll be happy to do that, except for one consideration. First of all, we said that we had this investigation, and secondly, when you put people, your boys and girls, in harm’s way, you want to make sure that they will not be demoralized for the challenges ahead. And I do also respect the debate here in Britain about investigating what has been going on in different situations where British boys and girls were in harm’s way and it took some time to decide. So I guess we’re undergoing the same deliberations as you are.
DAN DAMON: How independent will this inquiry be, in fact?
DFM AYALON: Well, first of all, it has not been decided, so the cabinet will have to decide. But once it is decided, it’s not going to be a mockery of our system. It’s going to be quite independent, as indeed was the Winograd independent inquiry commission that came about following the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
DAN DAMON: Let me turn now to another point, which is that your boss, the Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, says that there really isn’t any prospect of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time soon. Do you think that’s right?
DFM AYALON: Well, we hope not. And he also said that he would be the first one to be very glad to be proved wrong, except he was just objectively analyzing the situation with the benefit of our experience of the last 16 years since the Oslo agreement back in 1993. And there have been different approaches whereby we tried the incremental, we tried to go right into the core issues and solve all the outstanding issues, and to no avail.
DAN DAMON: Well, one of those core issues is the issue of settlements. George Mitchell, who is the U.S. envoy, has been trying to get your country to slow down or stop/freeze the settlement construction. You don’t accept that, and the Palestinians say they won’t talk unless there is a freeze. Why could you not, at least temporarily, halt the construction in settlements?
DFM AYALON: Well, we have done a lot in really limiting the building, but we also have to be mindful of the fact that there are 300,000 people who live there legally; they were sent there by successive Israeli governments from the left and from the right. And we are ready to do a freeze to the extent that allows just normal life there to continue for the 300,000 people there. But we also beg to differ about this issue of settlements. Why should we single out this one issue and put everything on it…
DAN DAMON: Because it’s extremely provocative and upsetting to Palestinians… especially the construction in East Jerusalem, which they hope, certainly the moderates hope, will one day become the capital of their Palestinian state.
DFM AYALON: Well, there are two completely different narratives. And I might add that in Israel, from ’93 on, we really moved away from our initial positions by allowing a two-state solution with a Palestinian state, something which was not obvious. If you look into history, there has never been an independent Palestinian state.
When we took over the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria in Biblical terms, we didn’t take it from the Palestinians; it was an act of self-defense. We took it from Jordan. In fact, Jordan annexed it, and it was also recognized by Britain that this was Jordanian land. I don’t want to go into the history, but just to show the complexities.
And just as the issue of the settlements is important for the Palestinians – although we are very careful to say that whatever we do now is not going to prejudge any outcome, we are not building new settlements and we are not confiscating new land, so they should be relaxed in that respect – we are very much concerned that they would first of all really recognize and accept and internalize that we are there in our homeland, not by the grace of anybody but by our own right, and that also they would stop the arms struggle, terrorism incitement and everything else.
So there are a lot of issues on the table, and if we just single out the settlements then we can reach easily a dead end.