Benjamin Netanyahu rejects generals' warning against West Bank annexation

Retired officers told Israeli PM that seizing Palestinian territory would lead to a dangerous escalation

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, May 19, 2019. Ariel Schalit/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo *** Local Caption *** - RC115077EA20
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Israel’s prime minister doubled down on his pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank this week after Israeli media reported that a group of retired generals had warned him against any such move because it would endanger the country.

“Swaths of land in Judea and Samaria are not just a guarantee of Israel’s security – they are also our patrimony,” Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted in response on Tuesday, using his preferred Biblical Hebrew names for the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu was responding to a news report first aired by Israel’s Channel 12 that the Commanders for Israel’s Security, a nonpartisan group of about 300 retired senior military and security officers, had sent him a letter warning that extending sovereignty over parts of the West Bank would dangerously lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and a violent power vacuum.

The group also urged the prime minister to hold a public referendum before moving forward with annexing any territory.

"Just as we promised to stand by you as you take steps to separate from the Palestinians while continuing to control the security [situation] until an agreement is reached, so too we pledge to stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, against advocates of annexation whose ideological fervour shadows the clarity of their view of the severity of the consequences," the letter said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Stressing their commitment to the two-state solution, the officers said “each of us shares the view that the application of the law in Judea and Samaria – in whole or in part – outside the framework of an agreement, will trigger a chain reaction that will seriously damage Israel’s economy, its regional and international standing, but mainly the state’s security”.

Mr Netanyahu, who is facing indictment in several corruption cases, was re-elected in April in a vote seen as a referendum on his legacy. In a last minute pre-election gamble, seen as a play to pull votes away from his rivals to the right, he promised to annex parts of the West Bank if elected.

Mr Netanyahu is now in negotiations to form a coalition government. He is reportedly looking to have his coalition push through some kind of immunity to prevent his indictment while in power. Israeli analysts have speculated that a push towards annexation, supported by Mr Netanyahu’s competitors, might be part of a backroom deal.

Members of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party have also condemned the letter as a politicised attack.

“We’re tired of hearing time and again of former senior defence officials using the ranks on their shoulders to push their political viewpoints,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement. “Tell the public the truth: You are leftists who oppose our presence in Judea and Samaria. And don’t hide behind such doomsayings.”

On Monday, Likud Knesset member Sharren Haskel put forward a bill to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank. The bill stipulates that annexation would be subject to a referendum by the area’s Israeli settler and Palestinian residents. Ms Haskel proposed the bill last year but put it on hold because of party politics. The bill was not expected to pass but this time, Ms Haskel said, she is hoping for the prime minister’s support.