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The land cannot be divided, newly retired general says

Gaza pullout commander says settlers will return to the Strip

Gershon Hacohen bashes idea of Palestinian state as ‘so 20th century,’ calls for a single state and no more withdrawals

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen (res.) speaks at the Yesha Council annual conference on Monday, June 15 2015. (Miri Tzahi)
Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen (res.) speaks at the Yesha Council annual conference on Monday, June 15 2015. (Miri Tzahi)

The newly retired Israeli general who served as the commander of the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 came out strongly on Monday against the notion of a two-state solution, saying that the demographic reasoning behind the removal of Jewish settlers “was a manipulation” and that Israel would yet build settlements in the Strip.

Maj. Gen. (res) Gershon Hacohen, who comes from a family of national religious rabbis and is himself a believer, was tapped to head the August 2005 Disengagement Plan precisely because of his deep ties to the settlement movement.

Over the years he has revealed how difficult the decision was for him on a personal level. On Monday, at a settlers’ conference for advocacy and media in Jerusalem, he told a semi-circle of still grieving settlers, after his formal address, that “my heart was with you there” and that “I didn’t want it to happen.”

When a man from the Jewish settlement in Hebron told him he should have served as an example and stepped down the moment he received the order, he replied, “You have no idea how much worse it would have been had I not been there.”

Forgiveness, he said, was something he would seek from the “Ruler of the World.”

A Jewish settler argues with a female soldier during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip on August 17, 2005. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)
A Jewish settler argues with a female soldier during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip on August 17, 2005. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

The pullout from Gaza was part of prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to draw formal state borders and to receive US backing for unilateral moves that may have continued into the West Bank but likely would not have included all of the territory won in the Six Day War.

Speaking from the podium before a nearly entirely religious crowd, many of whom still feel hurt by the move, Hacohen said that the withdrawal had been “an experiment” and that the very idea of partition and of two states for two peoples was anachronistic.

Those who speak of a two-state solution, he said, “belong to the 20th century. Whoever is part of the 21st century understands: one state.”

Hacohen said that in an age of asymmetric warfare, civilian settlements were, once again, a pillar of Israel’s security. He added that even his dead mother, who “lies in dust” on the Mount Olives, was fulfilling a strategic role in holding a patch of earth.

Gershon HaCohen, pictured in 2013 when serving as the IDF's director of Infrastructure (Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Gershon HaCohen, pictured in 2013 when serving as the IDF’s director of Infrastructure (Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The decades-long conflict in Lebanon, he said, was so costly in terms of Israeli military casualties because there were no civilian settlements there. The February 1997 helicopter crash that claimed 73 Israeli soldiers’ lives and signaled the beginning of the end of the occupation of south Lebanon happened chiefly because Israel, without settlers north of the border, was unable to hold the roads, he said.

The notion of a clear distinction between war and peace, he added, has waned and the army, which is not built for extended warfare, requires the settlers on the land in order to hold the line. “Where there is a farmer on his land,” he said, “the army has the strength to rule.”

He described the settlers in Har Bracha near Nablus as akin to the transcendental-yoga-practicing dwellers of Hararit in the Galilee, saying that all maintain sovereignty solely by clinging to both the sword and the plowshare.

Finally, he said, after 20 years of trying to figure out how to partition Israel and a future Palestinian state, the time has come to recognize that the land cannot be divided. “That’s the starting point for all solutions. There can be no division of the land. All the rest, all of the arrangements, are open for discussion.”

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