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Former Shin Bet Head Again Calls for Release of Marwan Barghouti

Jan. 16—In an interview with the Guardian published Jan. 14, former Israeli Shin Bet (Israeli intelligence) chief and former commander of the Israeli Navy Ami Ayalon called for the release from an Israeli prison of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

“We Israelis will have security only when they, Palestinians, will have hope. This is the equation,” he said. “To say the same in military language: you cannot deter anyone, a person or a group, if he believes he has nothing to lose.” He added that most Israelis believed that “all Palestinians are Hamas or supporters of Hamas,” and they did not accept the concept of a Palestinian identity. “We see them as people, not ‘a people,’ a nation. We cannot accept [the idea of a Palestinian people] because if we do, it creates a huge obstacle in the concept of the state of Israel,” he said.

He told the Guardian that he believes releasing Barghouti would be a vital step towards meaningful negotiations. “Look into the Palestinian polls. He is the only leader who can lead Palestinians to a state alongside Israel. First of all because he believes in the concept of two states, and secondly because he won his legitimacy by sitting in our jails.”

While denouncing the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Ayalon also said: “In a way what [senior Hamas figure Yahya Sinwar] wanted to do, was to tell everyone in the Arab world, the Muslim world and the international community, America, Europe: You will not achieve anything in the Middle East, unless you put the Palestinian issue on the table.”

He said that Israel’s enemies and its allies, from China to the U.S., Russia to regional powers, all agree on the need for a two-state solution. “The other option is to go on fighting, when we know that the wars are becoming more and more violent, and we know today that the enemy is becoming more and more radical.”

He argued that Israel can destroy Hamas’s military wing and kill and exile its leaders, but it cannot use military means to destroy an ideology, the Palestinian goal for a state. He expressed dismay over the fact that there is no discussion of “the day after,” stressing that change only comes under pressure, and he believes Oct. 7 could prove to be a tragic turning point.

Ayalon pointed to the very existence of Israel as proof that a minority view can become reality. “The Zionist movement is the result of a dream,” he said. “The majority of Jewish people stayed in Europe and were assassinated there. A minority of Jews created a dream, and it took them about 50 years to achieve it. We should not underestimate the power of hope and the power of a dream.”

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