November 23, 2020

To:  Knesset and Cabinet members
Fm: Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matan Vilnai
Re: Rash decisions due to extremists’ pressure

Media reports last weekend described pressure by extremist elements on the government to quickly formalize the legal status of 70 settlements in the heart of the West Bank.

The need to address their status is itself a result of the faulty decision process that led to their establishment in the first place.  That process was devoid of an overall strategy that should have prioritized national interests. As was the case with the establishment of these settlements, a hasty decision to formalize their status today could have irreversible implications for national security.

When taken together with other recent measures, including approval of thousands of new housing units, the issuance of construction tenders and related legislative initiatives, this reckless measure constitutes annexation, for all intents and purposes.   While the legal status of some of these settlements does merit consideration, others are mere enclaves in the heart of densely populated Palestinian territory.   If the steps now under consideration are approved, they would limit the freedom of a future Israeli government to separate from the Palestinians, whether in a limited or comprehensive fashion.

Elected officials must be extremely cautious when making fateful decisions of this nature. They must not allow pressure from individuals or groups of an extremist bent to disrupt the careful and considered process of decision making.

As experience has repeatedly demonstrated, decisions on matters of strategic importance must be based on effective staff work by the relevant and authorized government agencies.   Moreover, when such decisions impact on the security, identity and future of Israeli society, they must be accompanied by an open, public discussion.

Finally, we must be cognizant of the impact such decisions could have on Israel’s relations with other countries, both regionally and beyond.  This includes states with which we have just begun to normalize relations, such as the UAE, whom we promised to freeze annexation. It also includes the position of the incoming administration in Washington on these issues, relations with which are a central pillar of Israel’s national security.

On behalf of the hundreds CIS members, I call upon you to block this rash decision, resist pressure from extremist elements and demand a thorough, professional evaluation of all measures involving West Bank settlements.  Government decisions in this area must take into consideration their impact on national security and Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, as they must preserve the conditions necessary for a considered and secure separation from the Palestinians en route to an eventual two-state solution.

Maj. Gen (Ret.) Matan Vilnai
Commanders for Israel’s Security