A group of high ranking retired officers from Israel’s military and security establishment has a plan for keeping Israel safe while holding the door open for an eventual two-state solution.

This was the message brought to Toronto Jewish audiences on May 16 and 17 by Michael Koplow, Director of the Israel Policy Forum, the American partner for the Commanders for Israel’s Security. Koplow spoke at Toronto’s Darchei Noam Synagogue, as well as at a more intimate luncheon gathering, both events hosted by Canadian Friends of Peace Now.

                                Michael Koplow, Director, Israel Policy Forum

The Commanders is a group of 270 former generals (85% of all retired Israeli generals), as well as top retired staff from the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet, deeply concerned about the weaknesses in Israel’s current security policies and the slide towards a one-state reality. They have put together a comprehensive plan to address these concerns in a document entitled Security First (for full document READ HERE.).

Koplow pointed out that the Commanders group sees no prospects for an early Israel-Palestine peace settlement, because the leaders on both sides are very far from ready to make the necessary compromises. As for President Trump’s talk of the “ultimate deal,” Koplow said the chances of that happening soon are “very,very low”. Therefore, interim measures are necessary to deal with both the here and now and the desired end game.

One of the important elements in the Commanders’ plan addresses the issue of gaps in the security fence (actually a series of fences and walls) Israel has built to limit terror attacks. A full 39 kilometres of the fence have not been completed — and this is neither inconsequential nor accidental. The Israeli right has resisted closing the gaps, for to do so would likely preclude further settlement east of the barrier — particularly expansion in the Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion areas. But the gaps have allowed more terrorists and illegal weapons to slip into Israel than would otherwise have been the case.

The Commanders’ plan not only calls for the fence to be completed, but also for a unilateral Israeli settlement freeze east of the fence. Expansion would be permitted only within the settlement blocs and then only in already built-up areas. However, some minor adjustments to the barrier’s route are necessary to prevent provocative expansion near existing border settlements — expansion that would severely prejudice the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state. And without territorial contiguity, a credible Palestinian state could not emerge, which would be highly detrimental to Israel’s long term security.

The Commanders’ proposed unilateral settlement freeze should not be confused with a unilateral withdrawal such as occurred in Gaza. Instead, under Security First, the IDF would remain in the West Bank until a final status agreement can be achieved. The plan does not stipulate a Palestinian quid pro quo to the proposed settlement freeze because Israel’s security needs alone dictate the necessity for a freeze. It should not be contingent on Palestinian Authority actions or inactions.

Another of the Commanders’ recommendations concerns Palestinian housing. Under the Oslo Agreement, the West Bank is divided into areas A,B and C. With a small shift between areas B and C, the Palestinians would be able to legally build a significant amount of new housing — homes that are currently deemed illegal and hence demolished by Israeli authorities. The status quo harms the Palestinian economy and the lives of its citizens, playing into the hands of Hamas, but also jeopardizing cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces. A small zoning change could turn a lose-lose situation into a win-win confidence building measure.

The Commanders group stresses the need for a two-state solution as the only way going forward to keep Israel both democratic and largely Jewish, with a clear and recognized border. While not on the immediate agenda, the two-state solution must be implemented without too much delay, as demographics are not on Israel’s side. Security First envisions Israel retaining about 3.6% of the West Bank (the carefully designated border settlement blocs) and compensating the Palestinians via land swaps in a final status agreement. This means Ariel — an Israeli settlement bloc deep in the heart of Palestine — would not remain part of Israel. Such a concession is necessary if the Palestinians are to have a territorially contiguous, though largely demilitarized, state.

Canadians will have a chance to hear more about the Commanders’ plan when CFPN brings its head, Maj. Gen. Amnon Reshef (res.) to Canada in the fall. Stay tuned.


Listen to the audio of Michael Koplow’s May 16 talk in Toronto:

Click here to read a transcript of Koplow’s talk.

Also, read Michael Koplow’s excellent weekly column here.

UPDATE: Since Michael Koplow’s talk in Toronto, news reports have revealed that the Israeli government is considering changes to zoning regulations in Area C that, at least in part, move in the direction the Commanders have been advocating. It would mean more legal Palestinian housing construction. If only the government were open to the more pivotal proposals from the Commanders