Yatom: Peace with Syria is possible

Former Mossad chief reveals how Bill Clinton rocked negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Yatom, centre, has taken part in nearly all major Arab-Israeli negotiations [AP]

Danny Yatom, Mossad’s former chief, has worked closely as an adviser to several Israeli prime ministers from Yizhak Rabin to Ehud Barak, now leader of the Labour party.


Part one: Ex-Mossad head defends Meshaal plot

As a result, Yatom has wielded a great deal of influence in nearly all Israeli-Arab negotiations, including secret negotiations with Syria.

In the second part of an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Yatom, who remains close to Barak, says the party would immediately start negotiations with Damascus if it returns to power.

Is Israel ready to start negotiations with Syria?

I support the idea that Israel should resume immediately talks with Syria because I assess there is good chance to achieve full-fledged peace with Syria. This is not the position of my government. 

Is this simply a means to an end – for example isolating and eradicating Hezbollah?

This is one of the results, but the main goal is peace with Syria because we are now in a state of war. I understand the tag price, because the Syrians want the Golan Heights. And although I know the tag price, I am ready to enter into [a] very serious discussion. 

What I anticipate is full-fledged peace. Secondly, that the Syrians will dismantle and disarm Hezbollah; that the Syrians will allow the Lebanese to enter into a peace dialogue with Israel; that it will isolate Iran because it has very good contacts; but mainly, the goal is peace with Syria in order to avoid the next war.

Would Israel give up the Golan Heights in full?

Rabin was ready, conditionally. He said that if all our needs are met, he will be ready to withdraw to the Fourth of June (the pre-1967 Arab-Israeli war) border. Barak suggested that he was ready also to withdraw from the Golan Heights; even Netanyahu … said to the Syrians that he was ready then to withdraw from the Golan Heights.

If it will be a full-fledged peace, and we will be able to secure our interests, there will be immediate normalisation and exchange of ambassadors, open borders, trade – the answer is that we are ready. 

What has been the main stumbling block to this so far?

Assad, left, was furious when Clinton said Israel
would give up “almost” all of the Golan [EPA]

The border.

Last time, during the summit in March 2000 in Geneva between [then US president Bill] Clinton and [then Syrian president] Hafez al-Assad, Clinton proposed to the Syrians a plan that mistakenly said Israel would “give back to the Syrians almost the entire Golan Heights”, and the word “almost” made Hafez furious and so he stopped the meetings.

Other disputes include timetables, the nature of normalisation and when exactly to exchange ambassadors. But all of them are solvable.

Are there backchannel negotiations going on now?

The Syrian attitude since the time of Hafez al-Assad has been that of total objection to any backchannel. Nothing is happening. If the Labour party becomes the ruling party, we will immediately start talks with Syria.

Do you advocate the transfer of Palestinians in Jerusalem?

No. I advocate that, as part of a permanent status agreement, the Palestinians will become citizens of the Palestinian state – this will include the Palestinians residing in Jerusalem.

Arab Palestinian quarters in Jerusalem will come under the sovereignty of Palestine and the Jewish quarters will come under the sovereignty of Israel.

But today?

Due to the last terror attack on Yeshiva students, which was executed by a Palestinian residing in Jerusalem with Israeli IDs, and one that drove a car with Israeli licence plates, I think that there should be a certain mechanism to defend our own people. 

I don’t exactly know what – maybe a fence, but not necessarily.

Palestinians residing in Jerusalem, once they want to go to West Jerusalem … will have to go through check posts and check points.

Isn’t this a way of discriminating against them, a kind of Israeli Apartheid?

Danny Yatom: Biography

Born March 15, 1945.


1963-1996: Served in the Israeli army rising to the position of Israeli Central Command.


1996-1998: Head of the Mossad and served as security adviser for Yehud Barak, Israel’s former prime minister.


2003-2006: Elected to the Knesset for Israeli Labour party, and re-elected in in 2006.


Yatom, in his capacity as adviser, has taken part in nearly all major rounds of Arab-Israeli negotiations.

We started to build a wall across the West Bank in 2003. And a decision came after we came to a conclusion that we have no other way to stop the wave of terror. It’s the same with Jerusalemites.

Yesterday it was Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Today it is the Jerusalemites. Will the 1948 Palestinian-citizens of your own state be next?

Contrary to thought, they are loyal to the State of Israel. There were only some that executed terror attacks. I think the Israeli government should integrate them more into Israeli society. I think they should enjoy full rights and equality.

I don’t think we will ever face a situation where the majority of them or a large part of them will try to execute terror attacks against Israel.

I am a great believer in two states: An independent, neighbouring Palestinian state [where Palestinians] can enjoy all the rights in their homeland – the state of Palestine. 

But is such a state even feasible any more?  

Of course: In Camp David in 2000, we were very close to striking a deal and I was highly disappointed that we accepted the American proposal as the basis for further negotiations and Arafat rejected it. We were ready to dismantle all the settlements that would be under the sovereignty of a Palestinian state.

Israel was to annex nine per cent of the West Bank in exchange for sovereignty over parts of Israel proper, equivalent to one-ninth of the annexed land, denying the Palestinian state viability and independence. 

We were ready to uproot all the settlements and to evacuate approximately 80,000 settlers.

Were the constituents ready?

Your Views

Should the Arab League change its stance on Israel?

Send us your views

We thought, with all those concessions – firstly, no right of return for [Palestinian refugees] to Israel … and secondly, that it would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the majority of the Israelis would accept it. Barak intended to go to referendum with the issue.

But there is no referendum in Israeli society.

We could pass a law for referendum.

You are head of the West Bank wall lobby.  Why do you need a lobby?

To put pressure on the [Israeli] government. It drags its legs. In the beginning of building in 2003, the plan was to finish it by 2005. Now there is only one half of it completed.

The International Court of Justice ruled the wall illegal.

I accept only the High Court of Israel’s ruling. 

But not the ICJ ruling?

No. No. No. The Hague rulings have no legal meaning.

Is Israel more, or less, secure today than it was 20 years ago?

Israel today faces only one existential threat, Iran. Meaning once Iran becomes nuclear, then it will be a threat to the state of Israel. I think Israel is safer, but if Iran gains, Israel will be less safe.

Will Israel attack Iran?

I hope the world will understand that Iran is cheating and concealing military activities.

Even today there is evidence that Iran continues its military programme and long-range missiles. 

It is a problem for the entire world, not just Israel. And if the world does not take action, Israel will not sit idle.

Source : Al Jazeera

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