The Israeli government is set on annexing West Bank territory as early as the start of July. Some celebrate this move as a completion of the Zionist project, a return to the Jewish homeland in its entirety and the cementing of Jewish presence in what is known as Greater Israel.
But in truth, this dangerous and reckless move could spell the end of the Zionist dream of a safe and secure democratic home for the Jewish people. That’s why hundreds of former IDF generals, heads of Mossad and heads of Shin Bet have come together in opposition to unilateral annexation.
As people who have committed our lives to Israel’s security, it is our obligation to state clearly that unilateral annexation is a security nightmare that risks the entire Zionist project.
Firstly, we need to explain what we mean when we talk about unilateral annexation. Annexation would take West Bank territory that is currently under Israel’s military control, and formally make it part of Israel, without the agreement of the Palestinian people.
Contrary to what some may think, Israel has never made the “Occupied Territories”, that is, Judea and Samaria, part of Israel. In fact, all Israeli governments, including Netanyahu’s, have until now maintained this status quo.
Two reasons governed this persistent policy: first, since the 1967 war, an Israeli presence in the West Bank was essential as a security measure - until our national security needs are satisfied by robust security arrangements incorporated in an agreement about the overall future of these territories.
Second, all Israeli governments and the overwhelming majority of our people were careful not to jeopardize Israel’s Jewish majority by incorporating the millions of Palestinians who live there into our country. Many also believe that if carefully negotiated and gradually implemented, a state that fulfils Palestinians’ aspirations may provide the majority among them with a powerful incentive to root out extremist minorities.
While the details of the plan are yet to be confirmed, Netanyahu has declared his intention to annex the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea, as well as a yet to be defined space of all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which jointly make up around 30 per cent of the West Bank.
Some politicians talk about unilateral annexation as if it were a risk-free move. As individuals who played key roles in Israel’s security agencies, and based on our combined 9,000 years of experience safeguarding Israel, we have concluded that any unilateral annexation - even a partial one – involves the risk of quickly spiralling out of Israel’s control.
Unilateral annexation is likely to bring to an end Israel’s successful security coordination with the Palestinian Authority – an arrangement that has been key to preventing a third intifada and credited with saving countless of lives – Israeli and Palestinian alike.
The Palestinian Authority – which has long lost public support – would lose any residual standing with the Palestinian people, leading either to its collapse or to being ignored by a restless young generation that might resort to violent reaction. Worse still, a terror group like Hamas are best organized to seize upon the ensuing security and governance vacuum and act on its ambition to control not only Gaza but the West Bank as well. This could lead to an unprecedented wave of violence of a sort that has not been seen since the Second Intifada.
To prevent all that, or – should we be too late for prevention – to contain violence and reverse Hamas gains, the IDF will have to reoccupy all Palestinian towns and villages and assume direct responsibility for the Palestinian population.
Unilateral annexation may also damage the stable peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, both constituting irreplaceable strategic assets against such hostile forces as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Annexation would also likely damage Israel’s diplomatic ties and international standing, as noted by leading British Jews in their recent letter to Ambassador Mark Regev.
While no one knows either the extent of annexation or the nature of local, regional and international reaction, this is no fearmongering. This is a likely scenario, one that we at Commanders for Israel’s Security have identified and detailed in our comprehensive analysis of the issue, which the current IDF Chief of Staff seems to share and be preparing for.
As our forces have complete control over the areas to be annexed, it is obvious that unilateral annexation contributes nothing to our security. Consequently, we are deeply troubled by the thought that rather than pursue policies that encourage Israelis and Palestinians to move toward an eventual two-state agreement, our government and Knesset might move in the opposite direction.
We are determined to continue our effort to prevent a decision that might prove detrimental to the future of our beloved country.
Vice Admiral (Ret) David Ben-Bashat is a former commander of Israel's Navy. Brig Gen (ret) Ilan Paz is a former head of the IDF's Civil Administration and Navy Seals