Netanyahu Takes on Generals in Sovereignty Spat

YERUSHALAYIM -
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Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Yerushalayim, Sunday. (Ariel Schalit/Pool via Reuters)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spiritedly defended his intention to extend Israeli sovereignty over parts of Yehudah and Shomron in response to a letter from a group of former IDF generals who said it would be dangerous to do so.

In a letter to PM Netanyahu, the Commanders for Israel’s Security, who style themselves a nonpartisan body of nearly 300 retired senior officers, urged him to hold a national referendum prior to any annexations, according to Channel 12.

They warned that unilateral annexation would precipitate the collapse of security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and strengthen terrorist organizations.

Netanyahu rebuffed the generals, saying on Tuesday that “swaths of land in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security — they are also our patrimony.”

Then, taking a shot at his critics, he went on to write in a tweet: “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 PM 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) joined Netanyahu in defending the idea of applying Israeli sovereignty as a “natural and moral” step.

Erdan also challenged the nonpartisanship of the group:

“We’re tired of hearing time and again of former senior defense officials using the ranks on their shoulders to push their political viewpoints,” Erdan said. “Tell the public the truth: You are leftists who oppose our presence in Yehudah and Shomron. And don’t hide behind such doomsayings.”

In their letter, the generals and senior officials from the IDF, police, Mossad and Shin Bet security agencies said that without security cooperation with the PA, Israeli security forces would be forced to take control of the entire region. Besides the administrative costs, it would signal to the international community that Israel is no longer interested in reaching a peace agreement.

However, Giora Inbar, a co-founder of the group, told Army Radio on 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 [for the Union of Right-Wing Parties] and Natan Eshel [negotiating for Likud].”

On Monday, Likud MK Sharren Haskel submitted a bill proposing annexation of the Jordan Valley, subject to a referendum among the area’s Jewish and Arab residents.

Haskel’s bill declares that “the communities of the Jordan Valley are a strategic and security asset of the first degree”, but because the area is “under military jurisdiction… we have come to an unreasonable situation where the residents of the Jordan Valley cannot develop their communities.”