Former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, number three in the new center-right National Unity party, took aim at settler activists and supporters who advocate building settlements “everywhere” in the West Bank on Wednesday, saying that they would lead Israel to “disaster.”
The remarks at National Unity’s first parlor event, in the northern town of Metula, put him on a collision course with several senior members of the joint slate — namely No. 2 Gideon Sa’ar and No. 7 Ze’ev Elkin — who are staunch supporters of the settlement movement and of annexing large parts of the West Bank.
It also represented one of the first times that Eisenkot has revealed his position on this controversial issue after managing to avoid doing so all the way through his entry into politics last month. The level of candor may have had to do with the fact that the event was closed to the press, but the Israel Hayom daily managed to obtain a recording of his appearance.
“People who fail to understand… will lead [us] to a bi-national state,” Eisenkot said, joining a long list of former Israeli generals who have sounded the alarm against unlimited settlement expansion and continued control over millions of Palestinians, which they argue threatens Israel’s ability to remain a majority-Jewish and democratic state. The former chief of staff said far-right Religious Zionism lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, along with “some in the Likud” party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, are responsible for steering Israel in this direction.
Eisenkot, who served as military chief from 2015 to 2019 under Netanyahu-led governments, indicated that some of those lawmakers do not truly believe in expanded settlement, but “the political reality pushes them to hold views that are against the national interests of the State of Israel.”
He further attacked Ben Gvir, saying he was radicalizing Israeli youth by offering simplistic and populist answers to questions regarding Israel’s national security policy. He lamented that individuals like himself, who have given decades of their lives to the security of the state, are losing out in the battle for the minds of the young to people such as Ben Gvir, “who sit in the studios… and use their abilities on social media” to push extremist positions. “I see it as a flaw,” Eisenkot said.
In additional remarks that put him at odds with Sa’ar’s New Hope faction in National Unity, Eisenkot expressed his opposition to canceling the 2005 Disengagement Law, which bars Israelis from returning to the four settlements it agreed to dismantle along with 22 settlements in the Gaza Strip.
Both Sa’ar and Elkin have in the past voiced their support for nixing the legislation and Sa’ar said earlier this year that if it were brought before the cabinet, he would vote against dismantling an illegal outpost that has been established on the grounds of the Homesh settlement, evacuated in 2005.
Eisenkot maintained that failure to dismantle the illegal yeshiva — which the current government has allowed to remain intact at Homesh after it was razed dozens of times over the past 15 years — amounts to a violation of Israeli law.
While National Unity’s chairman, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has in the past expressed his support for demolishing the Homesh yeshiva, right-wing members of the politically diverse government have managed to block its razing following a terror shooting that killed one of the seminary’s students last year.
Eisenkot lamented the politicization of Homesh, arguing that the decision on whether or not the yeshiva there is demolished should fall on the military leadership, not cabinet members.
He said that his position was actually in line with the National Unity party’s platform, which calls for “enforcing the law” in both Israel and the West Bank.
The former IDF chief of staff characterized himself as a “big expert on the Palestinian issue,” saying that his approach would feature the completion and sealing of the West Bank security barrier, the creation of West Bank hospitals for treating Palestinians, the establishment of West Bank industrial zones to improve the Palestinian economy, and energy independence for the Palestinians.
Eisenkot is reportedly Gantz’s choice to replace him as defense minister in the event that the National Unity chairman manages to form the next government and serve as prime minister.
Smotrich, the head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, slammed Eisenkot for his remarks, saying that the former IDF chief was expressing left-wing political views, even though he is a member of a center-right party.
“If it walks like the left and smells like the left and quacks like the left, then it is the left (even if Gantz and Eisenkot wrapped their left in some right-wing and religious fig leaves to steal the hearts of right-wing people and transfer votes from the right to the left),” Smotrich tweeted.
Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, said in a statement that Eisenkot was the “new spokesman for Peace Now,” referring to the left-wing group.
“This desire to uproot settlements is starting to look like an obsession,” Dagan said.
“With the exception of the extreme left, everyone in this country has understood for a long time that only settlement brings security and prevents terrorist attacks,” the settler leader declared.