Former IDF chief indicates Israel should withdraw from West Bank unilaterally

Israel must set own borders, take long view toward peace talks, Gabi Ashkenazi says

Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, in October 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Gabi Ashkenazi, then IDF chief of staff, in October 2010 (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Israel should define its borders, even if this means doing so unilaterally, and separate from the Palestinians, former IDF chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Sunday.

Ashkenazi’s statement, which amounted to a call for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from much of the West Bank, followed similar statements from other high-ranking officials over the past several years, the result of mounting frustration over the lack of a peace settlement and Israel’s continued hold on the West Bank.

“Israel should reduce the extent of the conflict with the Palestinians. The separation is in Israel’s interests,” said Ashkenazi, speaking at the Israeli Business Conference in Tel Aviv. “Israel must recognize the limits of its power and cooperate with forces that support Israeli interests.”

Ashkenazi said Israel should not necessarily wait for a peace deal to pull out of the West Bank, but did not say where borders should be drawn, saying only that they would need to have wide purchase among Israelis.

Israel carried out a similar move in 2005, when it left the Gaza Strip without an agreement with the Palestinians in place.

“We can take the long view toward negotiations, and when the Palestinians want peace, let them come and make peace,” Ashkenazi added. “Let’s put a proposal on the table — an outline that 80 percent of Israelis agree on today, in my opinion — and start working toward it. We should take the initiative.”

Earlier this year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak floated the idea of Israel pulling out of the West Bank on its own if talks with the Palestinians failed to see any progress.

Ashkenazi served as chief of staff from 2007 to 2011. Though widely thought to be eyeing a political career, current law requires high-ranking army officers to wait three years before entering the political arena.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced ostensible peace partner Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his participation in an ongoing reconciliation effort with Hamas, saying that the latter group has ”no intention of compromising with us; they want to destroy the state.”

In turn, Abbas warned Israel not to withhold tax revenues that were to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority, saying he would go to the International Criminal Court if Jerusalem did not honor its agreements.

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