Ex-intel chief: Israel should advance peace initiatives now, while we’re strong
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Ex-intel chief: Israel should advance peace initiatives now, while we’re strong

Amos Yadlin says final deal with Palestinians a ways off, but interim steps can be taken, criticizes 'totally political' decision to block Qalqilya expansion

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Amos Yadlin, (Flash90)
Amos Yadlin, (Flash90)

The former head of Israeli army Military Intelligence and current director of a top Israeli think tank called for the country’s leaders to take concrete steps towards an agreement with the Palestinians while the defense and economic situation of the country is strong.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Press Club on Thursday, retired IDF general and head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Amos Yadlin described Israel’s security situation as being calm but precarious, as an Iran-backed Shiite coalition bolsters its forces across the Middle East, threatening both the Jewish state and Sunni Muslim countries.

According to the former general, Israel has found itself in an uncommon position of tranquility and should take advantage of it to further its interests.

“Israel has an opportunity that we haven’t had since the country was founded. Israel is very strong, very strong, [even] with all the threats around it,” he said.

Yadlin, a former fighter jet pilot who served as the Labor Party’s candidate for defense minister in the 2015 election, noted that Iran does not yet have nuclear capabilities, that Syria is in shambles, that ties are improving with many Sunni Muslim countries in the region, that Israel has lasting peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and that there’s a US president who at least appears to be supportive.

“It’s a huge opportunity to go forward with the Arabs, with the Americans, to advance peace with the Palestinians, under Israeli parameters, and to prepare a set of values for the final deal,” he said.

However, Yadlin predicted that US President Donald Trump’s efforts to reach that full resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will ultimately fail in the short term.

“The thought that this is some kind of real estate deal that can be reached in the end with the right kind of lawyer — it’s not going to work,” Yadlin said.

‘Obama came with an all or nothing approach, and we were left with nothing’

However, the INSS directer said that the Israelis and Palestinians could take tangible steps toward an interim agreement that could prevent the de facto formation of a binational state and maintain the prospect of a two-state solution.

Yadlin saw this gradual approach as something that former US president Barack Obama failed to appreciate and attempt during his tenure.

“Obama came with an all or nothing approach, and we were left with nothing,” he said.

After making his remarks at the event, Yadlin spoke to The Times of Israel about the cabinet’s recent decision to delay a plan that would allow the Palestinians to expand the West Bank city of Qalqilya into an area of land that is currently under full Israeli control.

A map of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. The colored area represents reported plans for expansion (Courtesy of Samaria Regional Council)
A map of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. The colored area represents reported plans for expansion (Courtesy of Samaria Regional Council)

Though the plan was initially approved by the cabinet in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government stayed the proposal on Wednesday following pushback from settler leaders.

The former intelligence chief decried the decision, saying it was “totally political” and not based on security concerns.

Some settler leaders have derided the plan as a “reward for terror” and have noted that Qalqiliya sits next to a major Israeli highway at the country’s narrowest point, just 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the Mediterranean Sea, and could prove a launching ground toward Israel’s heartland.

However, Yadlin noted that although Qalqilya does abut the Route 6 highway, the proposed expansion would be on the opposite side of the city, into an area of privately owned Palestinian land.

In addition, over the past two years of increased terror attacks, Qalqilya has also been one of the calmest Palestinian cities, in that no assailants have come from there.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman presents his plan to allow Palestinians to expand the West Bank city of Qalqilya into area currently controlled by Israel, during a tour of the Maale Shomron settlement on July 12, 2017. (Eden Moldavski/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman presents his plan to allow Palestinians to expand the West Bank city of Qalqilya into area currently controlled by Israel, during a tour of the Maale Shomron settlement on July 12, 2017. (Eden Moldavski/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made a similar point on Wednesday ahead of the cabinet meeting during a tour of the West Bank, saying the controversy over the Qalqilya expansion had little to do with the plan itself and was rather “an excuse” for a larger ideological conflict within the right-wing.

Yadlin added that not only did the Qalqilya plan not endanger Israeli security, but that it could potentially improve it.

“The Palestinians won’t just disappear. We can either provide them with living conditions that prevent terror or encourage terror,” he said, walking out of Jerusalem’s scenic Yemin Moshe neighborhood.

Qalqilya, which is surrounded on three sides by Israel’s security barrier, is the West Bank’s most densely populated Palestinian city.

The proposal to expand the city — eventually allowing it to double in size — was part of policy of “carrots and sticks” that was presented by Liberman last year, in which Palestinians would be rewarded for maintaining calm and swiftly punished for attacks and other disturbances to day-to-day life in the West Bank and Gaza.

In response to claims that ministers were blindsided by the military establishment over the issue, the cabinet instructed the attorney general Wednesday to formulate a position designating the authority of the government and the army in the West Bank with regards to matters of construction.

While the proposal speaks of allowing Palestinians to build 14,000 housing units, however the number is specified as a projected maximum that can be built within the legal bounds of strict Israeli planning rules. The plan also specifies a more “realistic” figure of 6,187 units, which would only be completed by 2035.

Moreover, the plan indicates that roughly 1,000 of the units have already been constructed and will simply be receiving retroactive approval.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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