December 7, 2020

To:  Members of Knesset, Cabinet
Fm: Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Matan Vilnai
Re:  Stopping bill requiring a plebiscite on withdrawal of settlements

According to reports earlier this week, legislation is afoot that would mandate a referendum to approve the withdrawal of any settlement from the West Bank.  The law is intended to formalize the status of dozens of settlements established, outside any national planning process, in densely populated Palestinian areas.  If passed, it will legitimize irresponsible and illegal settlement activity, mortgage Israel’s future as the national home of the Jewish People, and tie the hands of any future government that attempts to secure the Zionist vision and guarantee a solid Jewish majority in our democracy by separating from the Palestinians.

The proposed law could also undermine Israel’s security and other national interests, in the following three ways:

First, making the withdrawal of settlements located outside sovereign Israeli territory legally equivalent to the forfeiture of sovereign Israeli territory is tantamount to annexation, in everything but name.   Such a law would prevent separation from the Palestinians, whether provisional and civilian in nature or permanent, as part of a future agreement.  Separation is vital in order to reduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians in the short run, and to defend Israel’s Jewish majority in the long run.  The proposed law, thus, has strategic significance.   By impeding steps towards separation, it would contribute to the establishment of a one state reality between the Jordan River and the sea.  Such a state would be neither Jewish nor democratic, nor would it operate in accordance with the values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Second, the law could undermine stability in the territories.  Every Israeli step — whether declaratory or practical in nature — that reflects opposition to a future two-state agreement, further erodes the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority, and of its cooperation with Israel’s security forces.  Thus, the proposed legislation could endanger Israel and its citizens by accelerating the decline and possible breakup of the PA itself.  The Palestinian Authority might be dismantled by a decision of the Palestinian leadership or, more likely, due to the loss of its ability to govern.  Either way, Israeli security officials have repeatedly warned against such a development which would draw Israel into the military and governance vacuum created by the PA’s decline.

Third, the proposed legislation would add to other, recent steps towards annexation (including formalizing the status of illegal outposts, euphemistically termed “young settlements”), that undercut the credibility of the prime minister’s commitment to freeze annexation, made as part of the process of normalization with the UAE.   This is no way to begin a new set of strategic, regional relationships. Violating our commitment could undermine the development of our relations with the UAE, and preclude agreements with additional states.

Israel’s legislature must ask itself whether it has solutions to the problems raised by the de facto annexation it plans to legislate.  It must consider whether we have an exit strategy after the IDF has been deployed throughout Palestinian population centers and is obliged to finance and manage the lives of millions of Palestinians.

Therefore, on behalf of the hundreds of members of Commanders for Israel’s Security, I call upon you to halt this dangerous measure, to oppose the bill and thus prevent it from contributing to instability in the territories, damage to Israel’s security, and undermining our country’s credibility in the region and beyond. 

Responsible national leadership must take advantage of the potential offered by regional developments to change the direction of our relations with the Palestinians by strengthening the governance of the Palestinian Authority and promoting a secure and carefully planned separation between the two peoples en route to a future two-state solution.

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