'We will tear them apart'

Labor hopeful says Israel should ‘kick out’ Palestinians in future war

Departing from his party’s long-held dovish stances, former IDF general Amiram Levin urges expansion of settlements, says Israel was ‘too nice’ in the Six Day War

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Amiram Levin (C) at a protest against government corruption in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Amiram Levin (C) at a protest against government corruption in Tel Aviv on December 2, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Appearing to call for ethnic cleansing, a retired IDF general seeking to become a key figure in the left-leaning Labor party said that if the Palestinians continue to violate their agreements with Israel, the military should “tear them apart” in a future war and forcibly transfer them to “the other side of the Jordan River.”

Amiram Levin criticized longstanding left-wing policies, espoused the expansion of Jewish settlements and called for the rejection of the 1967 borders, in excerpts published Wednesday from an interview with the Maariv daily set to appear on Friday.

“The Palestinians caused the occupation. They didn’t accept the borders of the partition plan [after the 1948 War of Independence], and they started the war [of 1967]. We were right to take Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank.

“We need to engage in tough negotiations that do not take us back to the ’67 borders,” Levin said of Israel’s pre-Six Day War borders, which negotiators have generally agreed will form the basis for partitioning the land under a future peace agreement.

“We will give [the Palestinians] a carrot in the form of a state, and if they don’t want it, we will tear them apart,” he said. “I have said many times in the past that next time we have a war, they will no longer remain here, we will kick them out to the other side of the Jordan River. That’s how we need to fight. We were too nice in ’67.”

Levin ran an aborted campaign in July’s Labor leadership race, and has since been touted as one of the party’s security experts by new leader Avi Gabbay. In a sign of his unofficial status in the party, last month Levin escorted Gabbay on a trip with Labor lawmakers to the Gaza border.

Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay (C) tours the Gaza border with Amiram Levin (2R) and other members of his party, November 21, 2017. (Courtesy)

With his military chops, Levin would burnish the party’s credentials on security, an area often claimed as the forte of the right.

Gabbay declined a request by The Times of Israel for a comment on Levin’s interview with Maariv.

The retired general — who at various times headed the IDF Northern Command, commanded the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, and served as deputy director of the Mossad spy agency — said in the interview that he supported ending Israeli control over the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, but not out of concern for the Palestinians.

“They don’t deserve anything,” he said. “The problem is that controlling them corrupts us; it is a threat to us and I want to save our society.”

But the excerpted interview was short on details of how Levin sees a Palestinian state emerging. He also said Israel should expand its control over certain areas of the West Bank to limit the territory of a future Palestinian state.

“I cannot image there will be applause [in Israel] for dismantling settlements. People live there, it’s their home and we sent them. On the contrary, it’s thanks to [the settlers], that we will retain control of the settlement blocs under any future agreement. The City of David will be ours,” he said. “Today, Jerusalem is divided. Most of the [Palestinian] neighborhoods are not included. I say that, as opposed to the ’67 borders, we should expand and the areas we expand to will become ours.

“I am not with the left on this issue,” he said emphatically.

Levin’s comments were rejected vehemently by Arab Israeli lawmakers.

MK Jamal Zahalka of the Joint List said the comments “expose the true face of the Labor party that is overtaking Likud from the right.”

“This is a party that is trying to be extremist in order to gain power,” fellow Joint List MK Hanin Zoabi echoed.

The interview comes as Gabbay appears to be steering the Zionist Union rightward in a bid to swell its ranks, having made a number of comments at odds with Labor’s traditional stances.

Labor party chief Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 20, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 via JTA)

Last week Gabbay said preserving a “united” Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty was more important than clinching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Speaking with Hadashot TV news on Thursday, Avi Gabbay praised US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a day earlier, and said over 90 percent of Israelis “yearn for a united Jerusalem.”

In light of that, he said, “A united Jerusalem is even more important than peace.”

Although Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capital is embraced by parties on both sides of the political spectrum, the tone of Gabbay’s remarks seemed at odds with the history of the dovish Labor, which has long been the Israeli political standard-bearer for reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

In October, Gabbay said he would not evacuate West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, and days later called the settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”

Levin himself also appears to have shifted rightward. In December 2015, he took out a full-page advertisement supporting the controversial Breaking the Silence NGO, which collects testimonies about alleged abuses by IDF soldiers against Palestinians.

“The IDF must encourage ‘Breaking the Silence’ and those like them to speak out without fear in the IDF and in Israeli society,” he wrote at the time.

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