On one of the first nights of Operation Defensive Shield, when Ramallah was under siege and soldiers were searching every house, Mohammed Dahlan phoned Avi Gil, until recently the Foreign Ministry director general, and told him: “Avi, you will never beat us.” Gil was surprised. “Your soldiers are screening blue movies on cable in Ramallah, everyone here is shut up their house, and by the time you leave, there will be a lot more Palestinian babies than dead Palestinians.”

This week too, Dahlan remained cynical. A day after IDF troops raided the Preventive Security Service headquarters in Gaza, which up until April was under his command and is today headed by his associate, Rashid Abu Shabak, and discovered weapons and documents indicating that the Preventive Security Service is plagued with terror, he sits in his temporary office in the Rimal neighborhood and aims his stings in all directions. “What’s funny is that the new defense minister is pleased over the operation in the Gaza headquarters. What is he pleased about, walls and partitions? Computers with nothing on them? Instead of going into the empty rooms of the Preventive Security Service, let him explain the embarrassing incident in Hebron,” Dahlan says.

At age 42, Dahlan has time to sting. The man considered one of the strongest in the Palestinian Authority, with thousands of Arafat time, is a permanent participant in secret talks with most Israeli leaders, sits in the villa of a friend in Gaza which he uses as an office, and puts his free time to good use since he quit his job as national security adviser in October. “Lots of people, when they suddenly quit a high-ranking job, don’t know how to handle the break and the time, and they suffer. I enjoy every moment. I get up when I want, go to sleep when I want. I like it this way,” says Dahlan.

In the next room, one of his aides is on the internet, following the news. When the printer spits out a news item from Ma’ariv, that Mitzna declared that he would evacuate all the settlements in the Gaza Strip if elected prime minister, great joy is felt in the room. “The man we find acceptable in the Labor Party is the man who respects the Palestinian people and he looks at the peace process in the long term and has the courage to say the truth,” says Dahlan. “This is the man closest our hearts and we are willing to do whatever is needed to reach an agreement with him.

Anybody willing to come toward the Palestinians and make an agreement, he is the man we consider the most worthy.”

Dahlan is a polished politician. The more he compliments Mitzna, the more he criticizes Fuad. “There are some people in the Labor Party that are worse than the NRP. Having Mitzna as the leader of the Labor Party will restore hope for peace. It is the responsibility of all the Labor Party members and the responsibility of the citizens of Israel. The citizen who goes to the polling booth must have a decision in his mind: either terror attacks in the heart of Tel Aviv or a peace process. Either vote for the Right and continue with the present situation, or vote Left and put an end to terror attacks.

“Since Rabin’s assassination there has not been a leader as courageous as Mitzna. If he is elected prime minister, there will be a peace agreement within a year. The position of the Palestinian people and of the Palestinian Authority is not to interfere in Israel’s internal affairs. But when are asked to choose with whom to team up, with the settlers and the Likud or with the Labor Party, obviously we know whom to choose.”

Question: So in fact you’re willing to only make peace with the Left?

“The moment there is prime minister in Israel who respects the Palestinian people, we will not hesitate to make efforts to stop terror attacks.”

Question: Now you’re not making efforts?

“We are letting the IDF’s tanks and APCs try. The moment they tire, let them go home. We have no problem with that. They come in in all sorts of helicopters, Apaches and lie to the people.”

Question: What lies are you referring to?

“There are facts on the ground that the government does not say. Their slogan is to restore security. What security? The Israelis will not have security as long as the Palestinian people are humiliated. The solution is to respect us and to give us our rights. This is a fact that the people in Israel, not just the leaders, do not like to hear. You like to hear that Arafat is guilty and that he is the only factor in the disasters in our region. The army said that the general staff reconnaissance unit had again captured Jenin and the refugee camp there. The next day there was a terror attack.”

Question: The terror attacks also hurt the Palestinians.

“Of course we made mistakes. This Intifada is not being run by computer and by a catalogue and we have to learn the lessons. But you have to realize the message of this war. I am not talking about terror attacks in Nahariya or Tel Aviv, which the PA really was opposed to, but which we cannot prevent because the Israeli army took security control of the territories. They seized all the buildings and reoccupied the West Bank. Mabruk. Good for you. But let them not come now and ask me why I am not being responsible.

“The IDF wants to control security on the West Bank, be my guest. But let the army do the work and deliver the goods. The situation of the army and of Sharon is that they want to occupy the West Bank and destroy everything. They present their acts as successful. The next day there is a terror attack and they find no one to blame except for Yasser Arafat. That’s your solution, you blame him, but then what, what happens after that? Sharon and the army lie to you and I offer you a different way. You will give up, you’re not made to control the West Bank, as long as you do not give us our rights.

“There’s a much simpler way, respect us, respect the people who are killed every day waiting at the roadblocks in the West Bank. The moment you kill a baby, a public figure should stand up and apologize. Your leaders only know how to ask us to apologize. That is why I’ve despaired. There will never be peace with the present government, Sharon can dream of such a peace as much as he likes at his farm, but he can forget it. The only solution is you there and we here, and anyone who comes or even thinks about crossing our border, we’ll arrest them or fight them, we’ll handle them. You are being lied to all the time saying that we want to go back to Tel Aviv and Haifa. I tell you, the majority of the Palestinian people do not want that.” [… ]

This appeared in Maariv on November 22, 2002