CHICAGO: A former head of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service warned a gathering of American Jews on Saturday that his country’s efforts to expand its borders and block the creation of a Palestinian state “will be the end of Israel.”
Ami Ayalon, who headed Shin Bet from 1995 until 2000 and served as commander in chief of Israel’s navy, opened the annual J Street convention in Washington on Saturday.
Saying Israel is in crisis, Ayalon warned: “The continuation of the occupation is the single greatest threat to Israel’s safety and our existence as a democracy.”
Ayalon, who is part of the opposition Blue and White political party, said expanding his country’s borders “will isolate Israel even more and increase anti-Semitism around the world.”
It “will be the end of Israel as the founding fathers of Zionism envisioned it,” he added.
The continuation of the occupation is the single greatest threat to Israel’s safety and our existence as a democracy.
Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Bet secret service
Ayalon said Israel has succeeded in terms of Arab acceptance of it based on the 1967 borders.
He cited the 1979 peace deal with Egypt, Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist, the 1994 peace deal with Jordan, and the Arab League’s decision in 2002 to recognize Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal from occupied Arab territories.
“We in Israel … continue to fight … a war in order to expand our border to the east, to build more settlements, and to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state next door,” he said.
“That … is not a just war. It denies the Palestinian right to self-determination, which was recognized by the international community,” Ayalon added.
“Unless we choose a totally different approach, this war will continue for generations to come. It will lead to more violence and terror.”
Ayalon said Israel is being torn apart by the debate over expansion, adding that American Jews have a responsibility to advocate for the two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.
“We in Israel … are in too much pain to see clearly … We need you by our side on this long and hard road. We need you to tell us the truth as you see it.”
The J Street conference featured leading activists, policymakers and political leaders discussing the future of the US-Israeli relationship, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and American policy in the Middle East.
Speakers included Democratic presidential candidates such as Michael Bennet, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.
Also scheduled to speak is Arab-Israeli Knesset member Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, which could play a critical role in blocking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power.