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Former Israeli Security Chiefs Warn Israel Headed for Disaster - 2003-11-14

Four former Israeli security chiefs and a former army chief of staff are warning that Israel is headed for disaster if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not change his policy and start moving toward a settlement of the conflict with Palestinians.

Four former directors of the Shin Bet security service warned that without a peace deal, Israel's existence is in danger.

One of the four, Ami Ayalon, was quoted by the daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, as saying the current Israeli policy was "taking sure, steady steps to a place where the state of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people."

The four said that Israel needs to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, areas Israel captured in the 1967 war, even if it means a clash with some of the 220,000 Jewish settlers who've built towns and outposts there. The former security chiefs said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's preoccupation with trying to halt attacks by Palestinians before agreeing to peace talks is at best misguided, and, at worst, a ploy to avoid concessions that would be politically damaging.

The views of the ex-Shin Bet directors and the army chief carry considerable weight because of their familiarity with the conflict and their distance from domestic politics.

The warnings come as Ariel Sharon is weighing whether to accept a Palestinian offer of a truce that would not be accompanied by a Palestinian crackdown on militant groups. Mr. Sharon's government has always rejected any peace overtures that did not include a requirement that the Palestinian Authority crack down on militants.

The current military leadership is reported to believe that Israel should be willing to halt targeted killings of Palestinian militants as part of such a truce, while the current Shin Bet position is that any such restriction on Israeli operations would only allow militants to rearm.

The former Shin Bet chiefs won praise from Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat who said it "reflects the realistic policy required from the Israeli side."

The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported Friday that Mr. Sharon has yet to make a decision on a possible truce, but that, when he does, his position could determine the direction the Israeli - Palestinian conflict could take.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia has said he hopes to persuade the militants to halt attacks and then get Israel to agree to a truce, arguing that a crackdown on militants would only trigger internal fighting among Palestinians.

On Friday, though, the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas ruled out an immediate end to attacks on Israelis. Spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, said, while he does not object to a dialogue with the Palestinian prime minister, the issue is not currently up for discussion.