Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top lawmakers from his Likud party on Tuesday spoke out forcefully in support of extending Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, after a group of former senior security officials warned the move would endanger the country.
In a letter to Netanyahu first reported on by Channel 12, Commanders for Israel’s Security, which describes itself as a nonpartisan body of nearly 300 retired senior officers, urged him to hold a public referendum before making any moves to annex such territory.
They said such a step would bring about the collapse of security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and strengthen terrorist organizations.
Netanyahu dismissed their concerns. Using the biblical Hebrew names for the West Bank, he wrote on Twitter that “swaths of land in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security — they are also our patrimony.”
He added that “The same ‘experts’ supported the Iran nuclear deal and warned that ‘Bibi [Netanyahu] is taking a wrong turn and ruining the alliance with America’” — a reference to a press conference the CIS held in 2015 ahead of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington in which he appealed to Congress to oppose the Obama administration in its nuclear accord with Iran.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) also responded to the letter, saying in a statement that applying Israeli sovereignty was a “natural and moral” step.
“We’re tired of hearing time and again of former senior defense officials using the ranks on their shoulders to push their political viewpoints,” he said. “Tell the public the truth: You are leftists who oppose our presence in Judea and Samaria. And don’t hide behind such doomsayings.”
And MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said: “The only thing that truly endangers Israel is to partition the country.”
She said the former officials “are welcome to enter into politics to influence and convince.” She noted that Labor, the party that oversaw the Oslo peace process which proposed that Israel relinquish much of the West Bank, won a paltry six seats in April’s Knesset election. “The majority of the people favor sovereignty,” she said.
In the run-up to elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised several times to “apply Israeli sovereignty” or “extend Israeli law” to all the settlements, and said he hoped he would be able to do so with American support.
Some saw the announcement as a play for right-wing votes and expressed doubts over whether he would continue to push for such moves after the election.
Last week, Channel 12 reported that the Trump administration’s Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal will provide for all Israeli settlements to remain under Israeli rule in any permanent peace accord, and the administration will not oppose the extension of Israeli law to all West Bank settlements.
In their letter, the former officials, who come from the IDF, police, Mossad and Shin Bet security agencies, warned that without security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, Israeli security forces would be forced to take control of the entire West Bank, and that Israel would then need to administer and bear the costs of managing the Palestinian population, with no exit strategy. They also cautioned that it would send a message to the Palestinians and the world that Israel is no longer interested in reaching a peace agreement.
They warned of “a chain reaction that will seriously harm the nation’s security, economy and regional and international standing.”
Giora Inbar, a former general and co-founder of the group, told Army Radio Tuesday that the letter was not meant to decide on annexation, but rather that “it won’t be decided as part of coalition negotiations between Bezalel Smotrich and Natan Eshel.”
Smotrich is a lawmaker from the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties and Eshel is helping manage talks for Likud,
On Monday Likud MK Sharren Haskel filed a bill proposing an annexation of the Jordan Valley, subject to a referendum among the area’s Jewish and Arab residents. The MK filed a similar bill in the previous Knesset but was asked to put it on hold. She said she hoped Netanyahu would support her initiative this time.
Haskel’s bill reasons that “the communities of the Jordan Valley are a strategic and security asset of the first degree” but that as the area is “under military jurisdiction… we have come to an unreasonable situation where the residents of the Jordan Valley cannot develop their communities.”