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Ex-Mossad chief urges Israel to initiate talks with Arab League now

Meir Dagan, director of Mossad 2002-2010, at the Presidential conference.

Dagan: Israel has ‘unique’ opportunity for new regional alliances

Former Mossad chief says Israel must initiate talks with elements old and new in rapidly shifting Mideast in order to define dialogue on own terms

By Noam (Dabul) Dvir, Ynet news
June 19, 2013

The rapid transformations taking place in the region represent opportunities from Israel’s perspective, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said Wednesday at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.

Such Middle East trends as outers of autocratic rulers and the shifting, dynamic nature of the region’s political map are “creating unique opportunities for Israel to seek different alliances and reassure our presence in Middle East,” according to the retired intelligence chief.

“I believe the situation is not becoming worse. We should not sit and wait but take initiative and create opportunities,” Dagan further added. “Regional upheavals are far from over, and Israel needs the support of the Arab world in order to make progress in peace negotiations with the PA. Israel must initiate, and not be concerned with doomsday scenarios. We share the same interests with Egypt, the PA and Gulf Arab states.”

Dagan added he didn’t “like every aspect of Arab peace initiative – but as a starting point to sit down and discuss – I believe it is a vital necessity for Israel to do it.”

On the subject of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Dagan remarked that it is a hugely complex issue. Israel, he said, will oppose the return of the refugees, which is why Arab states should grant them citizenship.

“There are dramatic changes in the region,” Dagan said during an appearance on a panel of former diplomats at the Presidential Conference. “There are processes that are ongoing, and they don’t stop. It is very hard to determine what the result will be.”

Given the changing landscape the departure of a number of long-time Arab and Islamic leaders like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gadhafi, Dagan said that Israel has an opening to change its regional standing.

“I think Israel has a rare opportunity to forge various alliances in the region,” the ex-Mossad chief said. “I don’t like every aspect of the Arab peace initiative, but the need to negotiate is crucial in my view. The Arab League today is less hostile to Israel. The Arab initiative should form the basis of renewed negotiations. We need to look for opportunities at a time like this.”

Dagan urged the Israeli government to engage in “serious” negotiations with the Palestinians. “To say that this is not possible is very damaging to Israel,” he said. “There are many serious questions and it will take time to solve them. These issues can’t be solved through direct talks with the Palestinians, but there is a need to get the Arab League involved.”

Dagan sounded cautious optimism on the Iranian issue, saying that while Iran regards Israel as a threat, it’s dire financial condition might lead it to compromises. There is a possibility for dialogue, the former intelligence chief announced, even if not, at this point, an official one.

He further added he believed incoming Iranian President Hassan Rohani was elected despite not being Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s first choice. Unless Israel takes the initiative, the change may be forced upon it, and then the price will be dear. Both with the Palestinians and the Arab world in general, Israel should be always on the prowl for opportunities, Dagan rounded off.

One of Israel’s former envoys to the UN Dore Gold sounded more cautious, saying the fragmentation of states such as Syria into smaller segments governed by diverse elements represents a threat, as many of the new entities have managed to stockpile considerable arsenals of advanced munitions.

Addressing the stalled peace talks, Gold, a former adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, said “there are far more important issues affecting the peace process than West Bank settlements.”

Gold mentioned that the Oslo Accords were signed without Israel instituting a settlement freeze, which constitutes a key Palestinian precondition for a resumption of peace talks.

A plenary session featuring President Shimon Peres, the Middle East Quartet’s envoy Tony Blair, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem Wednesday morning. During the plenary session on “Leadership that Makes a Difference,” former British Prime Minister Blair said “No-one wants military action, but a nuclear armed Iran is the worst choice, and we must not make it.”

“We have to be prepared to be strong in defense of our values, that is why Iran is a threat, and we must be determined to confront it.”

Turning his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Blair said, “Some say two states is a fantasy, the fantasy is thinking one-state is sustainable or consistent with Israeli values.”

He warned that the two-state solution has a short window of opportunity that “could close, maybe forever.”

“Peace will symbolize reconciliation not only between two states, but two peoples,” Blair said, adding that the Palestinians “should have state not as a reward but a right.”

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