When retired Israel Air Force Brig. Gen. Yoram Agmon looks beyond Palestinian self-rule, he envisions peace — but not at any price.
"The West Bank is not going to be a Palestinian state," he asserts emphatically. "In any solution, today or tomorrow, the Jordan River will be the security [boundary] between Israel" and a Palestinian. "No army military forces will go west of that border."
Meanwhile, Agmon remains uncertain, but hopeful, about the fate of the Palestinians after the five-year interim self-rule accord is completed in 1998.
"No one knows what will be. The main idea is to stop our control of the Palestinians' lives," he says.
Agmon's message — which he is relaying from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres — counters warnings by those on the right who say self-rule will lead to a Palestinian state that threatens the Jewish state.
Agmon, who spoke at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center Sunday night in Walnut Creek, has joined a delegation of Israel Defense Force reserve and retired generals bringing to American Jews a message aimed at easing such fears. Their strategy, says Agmon, is to use their credibility as military experts to convince American Jews that Israel is moving in the right direction.
"They feel in the Foreign Ministry, and Rabin also, that the Jewish community in the states should know what's going on," he says. "They feel support for the peace process and government actions has become a little less, mainly in the Orthodox community, and they want to improve it by sending people whose background is security to explain the situation."
Agmon, 55, a 27-year veteran of the air force who was the IAF attaché in Washington, D.C., from 1982 to 1985, believes his journey (which includes stops in Memphis, Tenn.; Houston; Oklahoma City; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle) is crucial. "I feel like I am fulfilling a mission," he says.
Indeed, before the generals left Israel last week they met with both Peres and Rabin. According to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Peres told the group they must emphasize to American Jews that there is no alternative to the peace process, and that the peace talks are not to blame for an upsurge in Hamas suicide bus bombings and violence.
"Without peace, terrorism might be even harder," Peres was quoted as saying.
Agmon remains confident that most Israelis still support the peace process, and that opponents remain "a small group of radicals." To bolster his contention, he cites a Haifa University poll last week showing 72 percent of Israelis say Israel must continue negotiations with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat, even while 54 percent of these Israelis consider him a terrorist.
The poll comes at a time when Peres and Arafat seem on the verge of signing the interim agreement, bogged down only over the question of security arrangements for the West Bank city of Hebron. Still, Agmon remains hopeful that even if Israel and the PLO do not sign the pact at the White House this week, they will soon enough.
"It's not important if it is yesterday, tomorrow or a week from now," he says. "An interim agreement will be signed."
What few Jews may realize, Agmon adds, is that even under the interim plan, Israel will still control "most of the territory" in the West Bank.
During the five-year period — the second phase in the overall 1993 Oslo Accords — Israel will cede control over Palestinians' civil and police affairs to Arafat's Palestinian Authority in major West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Jenin, Kalkilya, Nablus and Ramallah. The IDF will redeploy outside those cities, and patrol roads around them now under construction.
Israel will also turn over civil control in 450 Palestinian villages but maintain security around the villages and be responsible for combating terrorism. In the remaining areas, Israel will run civil and security matters.
This shift toward Palestinian self-rule can promote peace by getting Israel out of the day-to-day lives of most Palestinians, he says.
"Who wants Israeli police to run after those [Palestinians] who don't pay taxes?" he says. "We don't want to do it anymore."
Under the interim accord, Israel and the Palestinians will cooperate on such joint projects as water, electricity, economics and even tourism. The hope is that by improving ties between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinians "will realize they have more to lose without peace," Agmon says.
As the Palestinians move toward some measure of independence, Agmon says Israel will safeguard its own security by monitoring police, weapons and military vehicles allowed into the West Bank and Gaza. "Nothing," he says, "can happen without our control."
Once the five years elapse, Israel and the Palestinians will hopefully have agreed on final status for the Palestinian entity, he adds.
As for what shape that will take, Agmon remains uncertain. "We think some kind of federation with Jordan," he says.
Still, he adds, Israel must stay its current course and not accede to demands of Jews who insist on retaining control over the West Bank or Gaza.
"If someone tells you they don't want to give up a piece of land because it is holy, then what do you want to do with 1.2 million Palestinians?" he asks. "You have to ask [peace process opponents] if they want a binational state or a Jewish state?"