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An Israeli warns of `Samson complex'

By E.A. WayneStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 18, 1988


I DON'T know if you have this saying, but in Israel we say no one is a prophet in his own city,'' says Yehoshafat Harkabi, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence. Now a professor in Jerusalem, Mr. Harkabi is explaining his often lonely efforts to persuade Israel to respond to what he sees as new Arab willingness to accept Israel's existence.

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He says Israelis are missing an opportunity for peace because of ``distortions of reality,'' of ``blind spots'' in their approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

To miss this opportunity, Harkabi says, ``verges on crime - national crime.'' Part of his work is to try to encourage among Israelis the ``maturity of judgment'' to face the difficult choices.

But in Israel, he says, debate has come to be viewed as ``unpatriotic,'' and public opinion is ruled by the ``heart'' - religious fervor - rather than the ``head.''

Harkabi does not fit the image of a ``dove.'' He is a battle-tested military leader who argues on the basis of Israel's basic interests. ``I'm not motivated so much by ethical considerations ... but by considerations of realism,'' he says.

A retired general, Harkabi has served as chief of military intelligence (1955-59), special adviser to the Israeli prime minister (1960-63 and 1977), and as director of strategic research for Israel's Defense Ministry (1963-68).

Most of his recent years, however, have been devoted to studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern studies at Israel's Hebrew University.

Physically small, Harkabi has a view of history, Jewish tradition, and Israel's place in the world that is large.

The danger if there is no change in Israeli thinking, he argues, is a ``Samson complex.'' In the biblical story, he recounts, the blinded and shorn Samson says, ``Let me die with the Philistines,'' and then brings down the temple on himself and everyone else present. Similarly, unless Israel changes its approach to the Palestinian question, the next war could well bring down Israel and everyone else, Harkabi says.

On the other hand, if Israel can shed what Harkabi calls its current blinders, he envisions the promises of peace and of a ``Zionism of quality'' replacing the current ``Zionism of acreage.''

Over the years, he says, he has evolved from a ``hawk'' to a ``Machiavellian dove.'' ``We and the Palestinians are in the same boat.... If there is no settlement, there will be hell for them and us.

``I demand concessions of Israel for the love of Israel,'' he says. ``The choice for us is not between good and bad ... but between bad and worst.'' Harkabi agrees with those who say a Palestinian state would be bad, but he says the alternative would be worse.

The most important thing right now ``is to change the climate of thought in Israel,'' he argues, and by this to change the reality of Israeli politics.

Harkabi advocates negotiating peace with the Palestinians through the Palestine Liberation Organization and Jordan. He would, in the context of a satisfactory agreement, yield most of the territories that Israel occupied as a result of the 1967 war.