Former high-ranking security officials called out Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday for championing the annexation of portions of the West Bank, a move they said would put Israel on a course to lose its Jewish and democratic character.
The officers were members of a group known as Commanders for Israel’s Security, which is made up of approximately 200 former top officials from the country’s security services and is dedicated to advancing the two-state solution.
That cause is now under attack as “Bennett and his friends are leading us to the annexation [of the West Bank],” former Israel Police chief Asaf Hefetz told reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening.
Hefetz was joined by the group’s chairman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amnon Reshef, a respected former commander of the IDF Armored Corps; former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit; former head of IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. (res.) Gadi Shamni; former deputy head of the National Security Council Yisraela Oron; and former head of the NSC Dani Arditi.
Bennett, leader of the religious Jewish Home party, has called for an annexation of large swaths of the West Bank, particularly Area C, where Israel maintains full control. He plans to put forward a law to extend sovereignty over the Jerusalem-area settlement of Ma’ale Adumim later this month.
“We shouldn’t annex the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians. We must preserve Israel as a democracy and a state for the Jewish people,” Reshef said.
The group, which was formed in 2014, made waves Sunday when it took out full-page ads in two of Israel’s most influential newspapers and unveiled billboards across the country that warned of an impending Palestinian takeover of Israel.
The adverts featured a picture of a Palestinian mob over which was written “Soon we will be the majority” in Arabic and “Palestine: One state for two people” in English, two references to the West Bank’s growing Palestinian population.
Left-wing activists and Arab lawmakers attacked the campaign, calling it racist.
“This isn’t a campaign for peace. It’s a campaign for hating Arabs. It’s ugly and unnecessary and, in the time period we’re living in, it’s also dangerous,” MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List, wrote on Twitter about the billboards.
Reshef denied the campaign was offensive.
“We’re not doing any demonization. There’s nothing here that’s racist,” he said.
At the Tel Aviv press conference, the group reaffirmed its commitment to the two-state solution as the only way to ensure the security of Israel and its citizens.
“I don’t want trucks to come from [the East Jerusalem neighborhood of] Jabel Mukaber into Jerusalem and run over soldiers. I don’t want them,” Shamni said.
Shamni was referring to a terror attack last week, in which a truck driver from Jabel Mukaber rammed his vehicle into a group of IDF soldiers, killing four of them and injuring more than a dozen others.
According to Shamni, the only way to prevent such attacks is to disconnect entirely from the Palestinians.
“I want us to be here and them to be there. We’ll be like good neighbors,” he said.
Shamni responded, preemptively, to those who would compare their separation plan to Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, in which all Israeli civilians and soldiers were moved out of the coastal enclave. The Palestinian Authority initially took control over the Strip, but eventually lost it to the Hamas terrorist group, which has now ruled Gaza for a decade.
In the years since the Disengagement, thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza. To prevent such attacks, the IDF has conducted three large-scale operations in the Strip, one in 2008-2009, another in 2012 and most recently in 2014.
“Those who take Gaza and the disengagement as an example don’t know what we’re talking about,” Shamni said. “We’re talking about a new Palestinian Authority.”
Last May, the group released a plan, “Changing the Rules of the Game,” that outlined how to “extricate Israel from the current dead end” and kickstart the paralyzed peace process.
The plan calls for separation from the Palestinians and completion of the border fence in the West Bank, a freeze on settlement building, the acceptance in principle of the Arab Peace Initiative and the recognition that East Jerusalem should be part of a future Palestinian state, “when established as part of a future agreement.”
Under their plan, the Palestinian Authority, which was previously “weakened,” will have to be built back up to ensure both its survival and that it can uphold its end of any agreement reached with Israel.
But in the months since they released their plan, the former top officers said they’ve seen no changes, except for “messianists” pushing the country to annex the West Bank.
Shavit, who led the Mossad from 1989 to 1996, said the country’s leadership has no plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Does anyone know what Israel wants today? When I say Israel, I mean the government. Does anyone know where the hell we’re going?” he asked. “Or, more accurately, does anyone know where they’re taking us?”