In a recent article in Ma’ariv, Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. (res.) Matan Vilna’i basically claimed that the signing of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain indicates that Israel must return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
Today, Vilna’i is the chairman of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS)—a well-funded NGO made up of retired senior members of Israel’s defense establishment, some of whom are remembered for their not-so-accurate promises that the 2005 disengagement plan would bring stability and prosperity to Israel and Gaza.
For the past few months, it seemed that something had happened in CIS. Under Vilnai’s relatively new chairmanship, there appeared to be an attempt to re-examine the organization’s flagship program “Security First”—a program based entirely on Israeli territorial withdrawals and the idea that Israel should give up the ability to defend itself by itself.
This program promotes former U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as some of CIS’s senior executives were among the lead researchers for Obama’s staff.
But after reading Vilnai’s article, it is clear that nothing new is happening at CIS, and that the piece is merely another attempt to obscure the group’s real intentions: to entrust Israel’s security to foreign forces. In the article—“A shred of hope”—Vilna’I draws hope from the fact that no the sovereignty was applied by the State of Israel to the Jordan Valley and it’s Jewish communities, and then makes a series of arguments that demand a serious response.
Firstly, Vilna’i begins by stating that “the fact that even in a reality of a pro-Israeli American government, Israeli sovereignty wasn’t executed, and the fact that the father of the idea gave it up for peace with the United Arab Emirates, indicates that there is no escape from returning to the outline of the two-state solution.”
There are some issues here. To begin with, both the U.S. government and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, both orally and in writing, that they did not “give up” the sovereignty plans, but rather delayed them in order to take advantage of the opportunity to advance the peace agreements.
Furthermore, is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan not an outline for a two-state solution? It certainly is, only that in Vilna’i’s world, only a surrender of the whole territory of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley—and a full withdrawal to the security fence (the pre-1967 border)—can be considered a Palestinian state. He will settle for no less.
Secondly, it is worth mentioning here that the agreement with the Gulf States—which Vilna’i congratulates and praises in his article—was, in fact, born in Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress. It was a speech that Vilna’i’s organization severely attacked without understanding its contribution to creating common interests between Israel and Sunni states in the context of the Iranian threat.
Thirdly, Vilna’i overlooks the fact that for the first time, Israel succeeded in bypassing the Palestinian veto on peace agreements with Arab states and misses the magnitude of the significance of this event for the State of Israel.
Fourthly, Vilna’i reiterates the need “to separate from the Palestinians,” and warns that otherwise we are heading towards “the end of the Zionist enterprise.”
In other words, he repeats the cliché that if we do not withdraw from all of Judea and Samaria and create complete physical separation on the basis of the security fence, we will be forced to “annex all Palestinians in Judea and Samaria.”
This claim was never true, but in the relevant context is also contradictory to the Trump plan, which states that Israel will apply sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and almost all Jewish communities outside the security fence, while the Palestinians can establish a demilitarized state in more than 70 percent of the post-1967 territory.
One might point out that Vilna’i’s claim never existed, even when conceiving the Oslo Accords; the late Yitzhak Rabin’s perception was that the Jordan Valley and most settlements should remain in Israeli hands, and the Palestinians will rule themselves within an autonomy that is “less than a state.”
Speaking of Oslo, Vilna’i presents the “need for civil separation.” It’s time someone told him that such civil separation has existed since the Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority; if the Palestinians have Palestinian citizenship and a Palestinian passport, what other “civil separation” is needed here?
Vilna’i states that CIS is updating its security/peace program, and that there will be “no change in the IDF’s presence in the spoken territory: that it will continue to control the entire area as long as alternative security arrangements are not yet made as part of a future peace treaty, and that there will be no forced evacuation of a settler or a settlement.”
In other words, what he is saying is that any Israeli presence—military or civil—beyond the security fence is temporary, and that it will end when there is an agreement. CIS’s objection to applying Israeli sovereignty to these areas comes from the need to preserve them as something provisional, and from their perception that without complete physical separation, Israel will have to annex millions of Palestinians. Therefore, all Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, other than those adjacent to the Green Line, have no future.
Vilna’i repeats a central tier in CIS’s program, which is the completion of the security fence to what serves in their eyes as the new international border. As the CIS plan clearly states, “Israel will have no sovereign demands beyond the security fence.”
Finally, the next amazing point in his remarks deserves serious response. He writes that “Israel should also announce that it views the Arab Peace Initiative positively, and subject to clarifications, sees it as framework for future negotiations.”
For those who do not remember the initiatives, they include: the demand for a complete withdrawal of Israel to the 1949 armistice lines, including all of Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem; and the “right of return” of millions of Palestinians into Israeli territory, while Arab states around the world say they will not allow any Palestinian to become part of their country.
I can only wonder which sensible person or organization can recommend that the State of Israel declare this as the basis on which negotiations with the Palestinians begin? In return for the elimination of Israel, the Arab countries were prepared to promote normalization with what’s left of the Jewish state, and now—thanks to American policy—we have normalization without needing to give up anything.
The bottom line is that CIS is misleading the Israeli public: creating a false display of keeping the IDF and Israeli communities in their place, while practically adopting the Arab Peace Initiative instead of the Trump plan, which ensures Israel’s security for generations by applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and Israeli communities.
Amir Avivi is the director general of the “Habithonistim–protectors of Israel” movement.