Retired Israeli Maj.-Gen. Amnon Reshef is a veteran of several Middle East military campaigns and a hero of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 2014, he founded Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), an organization that tallies 85 per cent of the highest ranking retired officers in the Israel Defence Forces, Shin Bet, Mossad and the national police force – 270 members in all.
The group’s detailed 68-page “Security First” plan is designed “to extricate Israel from the current dead end,” and bills itself as “a clear statement that Israel is strong, hence can and must seize the initiative to determine its destiny and shape a better future for our and our neighbour’s children.” It offers a pragmatic, security-based argument that there is “no exclusively military solution to the conflict or to waves of terror.”
According to the Jerusalem Post, Reshef and CIS have received “serious attention” from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reshef will speak in Toronto on Oct. 24 at Holy Blossom Temple, 7:30 p.m. His appearance is sponsored by Canadian Friends of Peace Now and co-presented by the New Israel Fund of Canada.
What do you feel the prospects are for a peace settlement in the next two to five years?
I won’t forecast what might be. If you want to have a settlement in that time, it should start right now, because it takes time. It takes time to build confidence between the parties and it takes lots of time to negotiate. But right now, we don’t think the various parties are ready to enter into negotiations. And I’m not sure of the exact position of the U.S. administration and President Trump. So it’s my understanding that, unless the issue is orchestrated by the U.S., it will not work.
We have three parties in the region: Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab Quartet, comprised of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan. They should be part of the procedures as well.
Do you feel Israel’s security is deteriorating?
No. I would say that Israel’s security would be improved by entering the negotiation period and after achieving the permanent status agreement. But we don’t think there is a status quo. I think it’s a kind of illusion. Things are getting worse and worse in the region because, right now, the government of Israel is thinking of approving about 1,000 homes in the West Bank. It will not help. We don’t think (Israel) shouldn’t develop in the West Bank, but according to “Security First,” we encourage the government to build west of the security fence and to freeze any development east of the fence.
We see development as a kind of confidence-building measure. On the other side, the Palestinians have not had any kind of development approval over the last 20-odd years. They have Areas A and B, and there are 93 villages there. (Israel has built) 20,000 to 25,000 homes in Area C, mostly on private land, close to these villages. We say Israel should redesignate a few per cent of Area C as Area B and to allow (Palestinians) to build in this area, so both parties will give and take.
You have said Israel does not need a partner in peace. Can you explain?
We don’t say Israel doesn’t need a partner. We think Israel should take the initiative, and if the Israeli government says there is no partner, our plan can be implemented and should be implemented independently by the government, regardless of whether we have a partner or not. We don’t need a partner to implement it. And it can be implemented. We think Israel is strong enough and should take the lead, initiate and move ahead.
(Our plan calls for) the Israel Defence Forces to stay in the West Bank until a permanent status agreement is signed and for a lot of years afterwards to make sure everything is under control. We will have to check whether the other parties achieve their targets.
Your plan indeed calls for continued IDF military control over the West Bank until a permanent status agreement is reached, and measures to “reduce friction” between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Isn’t continued military control of the West Bank the chief source of friction for Palestinians?
Not exactly. There are just a few checkpoints in the West Bank right now. You can reduce friction by not developing new settlements (and) not extending the settlements outside the (settlement) blocks.
One of the maps in “Security First” shows Gush Etzion (a bloc of settlements in the West Bank) and Route 60. There is Palestinian and Israeli traffic on this road. We said (Israel) can develop a road for Palestinians with a tunnel under the Gush Etzion junction. Then you have no friction between the two parties. That would improve Israeli security in Gush Etzion and elsewhere.
Another example is the security fence. Only 60 per cent of the fence was built. It’s already been 10 years that almost nothing was done (to complete it). At Gush Etzion, the settlers have no security fence. It’s open. First, we have to complete the fence. Second, there are, on a daily basis, about 50,000 to 60,000 Palestinians entering Israel illegally (without work permits). Suppose, out of that, there are 100 or 250 who are suspicious. Don’t provide them a work permit. All the rest, give them a work permit. Let them bring food and education to their families.
Why is the fence not complete?
It’s simply a political issue, not a question of budget. There are some politicians and leaders who don’t want the security fence because they have plans to go eastward with the settlements. They don’t want the fence because it might be considered in the future as the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state.
Hamas and Fatah have announced reconciliation talks. Is this good news for Israel?
I think it’s good news. It’s only one step in a long journey. I think that, eventually, Hamas won’t have its military branch. According to Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), there is one regime, one rule, one law and one armed force. I hope by doing it they will eventually improve the standard of living for people in Gaza. Once they have a better life, Israel will be better secured.
Your organization has proposed an “Absorption, Compensation and Voluntary Evacuation Law” for West Bank settlers east of the security fence who seek to relocate west of the fence. Have polls shown how many settlers would take this option?
There are polls, (but) I’m not in a position to disclose them, but it’s a substantial number (who would take the option).
More than half?
I wouldn’t elaborate. But I was surprised in a good way.
Has the government been open to your proposals?
What I can tell you is that “Security First” was presented to Prime Minister Netanyahu by three of our members: the ex-head of Mossad, Shabtai Shavit; someone from the Shin Bet and myself. We presented the plan to him and some of his military and civilian advisers for one hour. Then he asked for a second meeting and we spent another hour and a half with him. And he asked for a third meeting. The plan was presented to other ministers, members of the Knesset, government officials, the national security staff and the U.S. administration.
What has been the reaction?
Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to disclose (that).
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.