Recently, while browsing through news clips I have collected over the past 30-plus years, I came across a story I wrote when I was a very young reporter for The Jerusalem Post.
“Dayan: Israel needs civilians in W. Bank,” the headline said. The story ran at the top left of the front page of this newspaper on October 17, 1979...
...What did Dayan say that day? “Just keeping the army in the territories and controlling a foreign people can’t be done any longer,” he declared. “This is not how we shall be in Gaza and Nablus. Our number one priority is to have Jewish civilians up to the Jordan, and then we shall also have soldiers, and then we shall have peace.”
He rejected the notion that settlements were built on Arab land: “We are not taking one acre from any Arab. I never heard one Arab complain that we are driving them out. Jewish settlements bring work and prosperity to the Arabs. They don’t like this policy but we shall do it whether they like it or not.”...
...One should not, of course, judge statements made in the past too harshly –20/20 vision is easy as long as it’s applied retrospectively. But it is hard not to be impressed by the sheer myopia and fatal naiveté of Dayan’s viewpoint.
He seemed to have envisaged a future in which Palestinians (a word he was careful to avoid using) would be content to live as a permanent minority alongside a growing settler population in exchange for the right to go shopping and work in Tel Aviv.
Dayan apparently could not imagine a way in which the Palestinians could effectively resist Israel, which held all the weapons and all the power. He seemed not to have envisioned either passive resistance or armed struggle. Instead, he trustingly foresaw Israelis proudly walking down the streets of Gaza, unthreatened by a cowed and compliant local population, while Palestinians would flock to the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv with string shopping bags.
IT’S POSSIBLE that Dayan’s real opinions were more nuanced and that he delivered this speech for the consumption of his gung-ho audience.
But there’s no doubt he was reflecting government policy and the deeply held views of his boss, Menachem Begin.
Begin’s vision, we now see, was an illusion built on wishful thinking and a willful misreading of the strength of Palestinian national identity.
Under his leadership, Israel began vastly expanding the settlements, helping to bring us to where we are today. Just as this flawed thinking helped create Israel’s current dilemma, the Netanyahu government’s determined defiance of international opinion in building yet more housing units in the territories will have grave implications for future generations. It is already threatening the viability of a two-state solution as well as the future of our Jewish, democratic state.
Dayan’s view was colored by arrogance: “They don’t like this policy but we shall do it whether they like it or not,” he said. Netanyahu seems to be cut from the same cloth.