Published March 23, 2004
JERUSALEM – Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin (search), assassinated in an Israeli air strike, offered Israel a 30-year truce in 1997, the mediator who arranged Yassin's release from prison said Tuesday.
Efraim Halevy (search), a former Mossad operative who was called in to resolve an Israel-Jordan crisis after a botched assassination attempt against a Hamas (search) leader in Jordan in 1997, made the disclosure in an interview on Israel TV.
Halevy was a confidant of Jordan's King Hussein (search), and he suggested releasing Yassin from Israeli prison as the price for freedom for six Mossad agents captured in the abortive attempt to kill Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (search). Yassin was imprisoned in 1989.
Halevy, who later served as Mossad chief and is now a private citizen, said that just before the Mashaal affair, "Yassin brought up the idea of a cease-fire of 30 years between Israel and the Palestinians."
Aides to the Israeli prime minister at the time dismissed Halevy's disclosure as meaningless.
In the TV interview, Halevy did not state Yassin's conditions for such a long-term truce. Yassin, who was killed Monday in an Israeli air strike, often said that Israel would wither away by 2024.
In an interview with The Associated Press shortly after he was released in 1997, Yassin offered Israel a 10-year truce if Israel would withdraw its troops and settlers from all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, Yassin made it clear that even then, Hamas would continue to pursue its goal of replacing Israel with an Islamic state.
Yassin made the 30-year truce proposal while still in prison, Halevy said. Yassin "sent the idea to King Hussein, who transferred the message to Israel," he said. However, the proposal was not discussed by the Israeli government, and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have known about it before ordering the attack on Mashaal, he said.
"Perhaps the proposal would have been rejected as not serious, but it was definitely made," Halevy said in the TV interview.
Netanyahu is now Israel's finance minister. His office said Tuesday that such an offer by Yassin, if it was made, would have been "worthless," because "Yassin was involved in terrorism while in prison and encouraged terrorism in prison and outside."
In 1997, Israel and the Palestinians were engaged in peacemaking based on a process of interim peace accords that began in 1993.
Hamas was trying to torpedo the efforts, sending homicide bombers to blow themselves up in Israeli buses and public places, leading Netanyahu to order the assassination of Mashaal, the most powerful Hamas leader outside the Palestinian areas.