Former Shin Bet head warns of ‘bloodshed’ that West Bank annexation would cause

As security cabinet advances plan its members say brings Israel closer to extending sovereignty beyond Green Line, Yoram Cohen says state should be working to ‘reduce occupation’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Yoram Cohen, then-chief of the Shin Bet security agency, attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on November 18, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yoram Cohen, then-chief of the Shin Bet security agency, attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on November 18, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The former head of the Shin Bet security service warned the government on Thursday against West Bank annexation, days after the security cabinet approved a construction plan beyond the Green Line that ministers say will bring Israel closer to enacting sovereignty in the territory.

According to Yoram Cohen, who led the Shin Bet from 2011 to 2016, annexing even parts of the West Bank would lead to “unnecessary bloodshed.”

“Steps must be taken toward reducing the occupation or the visibility of the occupation in Judea and Samaria by improving transportation, improving work [opportunities]… by converting Area B to Area A,” he told Army Radio, referring to two sections that make up 40 percent of the West Bank. Area B is under Israeli military control but Palestinian Authority civil control, and Area A is under full PA control.

On Tuesday, the security cabinet unanimously approved a plan proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that will grant some 700 building permits to Palestinians and 6,000 building permits to settlers in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurates a new promenade in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 31, 2019, alongside Efrat Mayor Oded Revevi. (Igur Osdetchi)

Confirming a Walla news site report, a spokesman for one of the security cabinet ministers said that the plan would also include the mapping of all buildings and populations in Area C, allowing the state to have a better understanding of which Palestinian structures were built legally and which could be demolished.

The spokesman said that this mapping as well as the government’s new intention to only allow Palestinian construction in “non-strategic areas that don’t leave a door open for an eventual state” brings Israel closer to extending sovereignty over Area C and possibly other parts of the West Bank as well.

Roughly 450,000 Israelis and over 200,000 Palestinians currently live in Area C.

While Cohen said he favors, in theory, working toward a two-state solution, he asserted that the option was not currently relevant given the unstable nature of the Palestinian leadership.

“The only thing that we can do at the moment is [offer] ‘autonomy-plus’ because we’re concerned about… a failed state there,” he added.

Young Palestinian men clash with Israeli soldiers in the al- Amari refugee camp near Ramallah in the West Bank after troops stormed the camp on May 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

In listing ways in which Israel could limit its rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank, Cohen insisted that a withdrawal would benefit Israel most of all because it could prevent a future scenario in which it finds itself forced to govern an additional hundreds of thousands or even millions of Palestinians.

On Tuesday, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the Trump administration’s peace plan seeks “Palestinian autonomy” and self-governance, but stopped short of endorsing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In an interview with CNN, the US diplomat also downplayed his past comments on Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank under a future accord, saying Jerusalem has not raised the issue with Washington, leaving the subject entirely “hypothetical.”

Friedman, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss the unwrapping of the political section of the Trump peace plan.

Palestinians crowd into checkpoint 300 near Bethlehem in the West Bank in October 2018. (Screen capture/Hadashot news)

As Israel girds for elections in September, several right-wing parties have vowed to prevent Palestinian expansion in areas of the West Bank that they hope Israel will annex.

Netanyahu himself has vowed to annex parts of the West Bank if reelected.

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