By Ted Belman
Moment Magazine just published an article THE MAN WHO STOPPED THE FREEZE by Ilene Prusher. And that man is Dani Dayan
As the very public face of the Yesha Council, what Dayan thinks matters. Yesha, an umbrella organization of muni-cipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and formerly the Gaza Strip, is one of Israel’s most influential lobbies. Known by the acronym for Yehuda, Shomron and Aza, the Hebrew equivalents of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, it is made up of 15 elected settlement municipal leaders and ten community leaders. Its mandate is to assist Jewish settlements in every possible way, working, for example, to acquire bullet-proof ambulances and buses, and pushing the Israeli government to provide roads, electricity and water to the settlements.
The Council serves as the political arm of the estimated 300,000 Israelis living in West Bank settlements and wields power far beyond what its relatively small numbers would suggest: The group was instrumental in exacting a public promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the ten-month settlement building freeze that expired in September would not be renewed, in defiance of U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to restart Middle East peace talks. So far the Yesha Council been successful in preventing the freeze from being reinstated, which is likely to remain the case now that Obama’s foreign policy hand has been weakened by the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Israeli government even turned down America’s hefty December offer of 20 F-35 jets, worth $3 billion, in exchange for reinstating the freeze.
How did the Council stave off a seemingly good opportunity toward what many believe is the only path to peace? Not by amassing messianic-looking armed men wearing sandals and kippas—the dominant image of the Yesha Council in the past and the most persistent picture of the Jewish settler movement in the eyes of the world—but with a high-pressure campaign that included thousands of pre-recorded, computerized phone calls targeting members of the Knesset, central figures in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, and other political movers and shakers.
This new approach is the influence of Dayan, a former IDF major and secular high-tech tycoon who sold his software company in 2004 and threw himself full time into settlement politics. Since becoming chair in 2007, he has worked to transform the council into a Washington-style lobby armed with the latest marketing tools. “We carefully timed a surgical campaign,” says Dayan of the Council’s efforts to prevent the freeze extension. “It was very effective and quite unprecedented. I know for sure that it influenced the prime minister. We showed that we still have political leverage and capabilities.”
Coupled with the phone campaign—albeit to a government that is sympathetic to its cause—is a public relations effort targeted at everyday secular Israelis, most of whom live on the other side of the Green Line and have few ties, personal or otherwise, to the settlements or historic sites such as the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. More importantly, they have come to accept the inevitability of a two-state solution. “I wouldn’t call it PR,” Dayan says hesitantly. “It’s more like hasbara,” the Hebrew word that has come to mean public diplomacy. “We’ve shifted our focus,” he says. “We’re working to negate stereotypes. The Yesha Council was traditionally involved in promoting the interests of our communities, but we neglected the educational component of our task and failed to reach the Israeli public. The Israeli public needs to understand the historical link we have to the territories.” [..]