In October 2018, three months before former Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of the General Staff Benny Gantz registered his new Israel Resilience Party, the Institute for National Security Studies published a new peace plan that had been in the works for two years.
Three former chiefs of staff helped draft the plan behind the scenes: Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Gantz.
Anyone who compares Gantz’s announcement speech to the plan will have a hard time telling the difference between the text: the security fence as the future border with the Palestinians; continued construction in the big settlement blocs; keeping the Jordan Valley under Israeli control; ensuring freedom of operation for Israeli troops in Judea and Samaria, and deferring the issue of Jerusalem to the final stage.
But the Gantz-inspired plan also had another core tenet: Progress in the peace process shall not be contingent on Palestinian cooperation. In other words, Israel will use international backing to move ahead with the plan whether or not the Palestinians sign off.
In January, Gantz said: “If it turns out that peace is not within reach, we will shape a new reality.” And over the weekend, in an interview with Yediot Achronot, he said Israel must learn the lessons of the 2005 unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria (the Disengagement Plan) “and implement them in other places.”
In 2015, Alon Shuster, the former Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council chief, sent a letter in which he summarized one of Gantz’s speeches before a community in the south.
Gantz, it turns out from that letter, has been very consistent in his views: “We are not going to be beholden to our fate; we are going to decide what happens. While we may not be able to decide for our neighbors, who refuse to step up to the plate, we must nevertheless take control over our lives.”
Gantz recently said that he “won’t take unilateral action to remove settlements,” but even if we take him at his word, this does not negate the fact that he believes in other forms of unilateral action—for example, handing over unsettled areas to the Palestinians.
Gantz running mate Ya’alon wrote at length in his book how the 2005 pullout led to the unraveling of Israel’s security. Yes, the very same Disengagement Plan that Gantz said was carried out “lawfully” and “in a good way.”
Ya’alon elaborates on how the pullout led to terrorist group Hamas creating “Hamastan” in the Gaza Strip, how the southern communities and other areas in Israel suddenly became within striking distance of long-range projectiles, how this brilliant unilateral step undid Israel’s diplomatic gains, and how it provided momentum for terrorism and exposed Israel to threats that were manifold greater than prior to the plan.
Gantz presumably heard Ya’alon’s analysis firsthand, but he has nonetheless remained committed to unilateral action, no matter how convoluted his caveats sound.
A Palestinian state, regardless of how it comes about, is a threat to Israel’s security. Transferring Israeli territory to Palestinians will threaten population centers and give a tailwind to terrorism, replicating the results of the Disengagement Plan.
Unilateral pullouts will help Saleh Arouri, deputy leader of Hamas’s political wing, and other terrorists realize their dreams. “In the Gaza Strip,” Arouri once said, “we managed to manufacture rockets despite the siege, and this can be replicated in the West Bank.”
Arouri is but one example. There are many sleeper and active cells in Judea and Samaria who are just waiting for the opportunity to fulfill this dream. No matter how you slice and dice it, unilateral pullouts will handicap Israeli forces and reduce their freedom of operation. Just recall that in 2018, more than 400 major attacks were thwarted by Israeli security forces.
The measures Gantz is advocating will result in a calamity for Israel, just as the Disengagement Plan did.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.