An Israeli general named Natan (Nati) Sharony was in Los Angeles recently and, during a lengthy conversation with The Journal, ticked off his ideas for a peace plan assuring the present and future security of his country.
First, Israel should not attack Iran, which would, in effect, be a declaration of war. “Starting a war is like getting into a hospital,” Sharony said. “You know how to get in, but you’re never sure how you’ll get out.”
Iran’s nuclear program was originally aimed at Iraq, not Israel or the United States, Sharony said, warning, “We shouldn’t put on gloves that are bigger than our hands.”
Second, he said, a Palestinian state is not a threat to Israel, but is essential in maintaining Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The boundary between the two states, he believes, should run along the “green line” existing before the 1967 war, with some mutual adjustments, and, he insisted, such a line would be defensible. Other planks in his platform include:
• All Israelis, including the ultra-Orthodox, must serve in the armed forces, and the segregation of women, which has reached new peaks, must end.
• In drawing its final boundaries, Israel should annex “large Jewish settled domains” but remove “problematic settlements.”
• Israel must maintain control of Jerusalem, but not of Palestinian neighborhoods.
• Israel should oppose the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Given Sharony’s views, it would be tempting to classify him as a somewhat soft-headed peacenik, perhaps a left-wing pundit or starry-eyed academic.
Well, not quite, Sharony served 30 years in the Israeli army, retiring as a major general. He took part in the 1956 Sinai campaign as second-in-command to Ariel Sharon (no relation), on the southern front, in the1967 Six-Day War, the War of Attrition and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, rising to the Israel Defense Forces’ chief artillery officer and head of the planning branch.
After retiring from military service in 1982, he moved on to positions as senior manager at various Israeli corporations, serving as director general of the country’s Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor and as president of Israel Bonds.
Now, at 78, he is president of the Council for Peace and Security (CPS), which, he said, consists of some 1,000 members, all of whom held senior positions, before retirement, in Israel’s armed forces, Mossad and Shin Bet security services, police, diplomatic corps and universities.
The organization was established in 1988 by a group of reserve officers who believed that the state’s security issues required professional input and should be kept out of politics.
Sharony said he isn’t sure whether his opinions were shared by every one of CPS’ members, but, he said, they reflected the views of the 32-member executive council, which is elected every three years.
The stocky ex-general came equipped with diagrams and charts on population trends for Jews and Arabs in the area. While interpretations of these trends vary, Sharony left little doubt that if the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea were to become one country, the Arab population would be in the majority within a few decades.
Another chart tracked the respective Israeli and Palestinian positions during the 2007 Annapolis Conference and concludes that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, were within a hair’s breadth of agreement on the main issues.
Sharony dissents from the widely held view that Israel could not return to its 1967 boundaries—only nine miles long at the narrowest point between the West Bank and the coastline—because they are indefensible.
“That’s thinking in past terms,” he said, “to a time when we faced all the Arab countries on our eastern front. But now Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Jordan are all out, and, in any case, we’ll be fighting with missiles and rockets, which don’t care about boundaries.”
Sharony was reluctant to comment on American politics, but he praised President Barack Obama as having “done quite a lot for the security of Israel.”
Whether one agrees with the views of Sharony and his council, or not, an outside observer might assume that the collective experience of 1,000 former generals, security experts and diplomats would be sought after, or at least listened to, by the state’s political leadership, media and population.
This, to Sharony’s frustration, has not happened. Although he and his colleagues hold public meetings in different parts of the country, write op-eds for newspapers and try to advise Knesset members, their impact has been disappointing.
In the United States, Sharony has spoken to large gatherings sponsored by the left-leaning J Street, but he has not been able to get the attention, or support, of the American Jewish community’s center and right.
CPS has been more effective attracting Jewish audiences in Europe, but has yet to make major inroads at its main target audience, the Israeli public.
The Journal asked Tuvia Friling, a noted Israeli historian and former state archivist, for his views. He responded, “Nati Sharony is a distinguished general. … The question is how it is possible that so many good and very serious people can be members of an organization with no real influence on the Israeli agenda. One small club of the Likud or Shas in Dimona has more power.”
Sharony tends to blame the indifference on media’s lockstep support of government policy (with the notable exception of the daily Haaretz), coupled with the perceived indifference of young people in politics, for not getting his message through.
Another possibility is that a group of high-ranking military officers, more used to giving orders than offering persuasive arguments, may not be the most effective shapers of public opinion.
Sharony seems to partially agree with this possibility when he says, sighing, “If I had known 20 years ago what I know now, I would have gone into politics. “
For more information on the Council for Peace and Security, visit www.peace-security-council.org.