Is Benjamin Netanyahu's Coalition Itching for Fight With Palestinians?

Military Brass at Odds WIth Government Over Security

Misguided: Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline policies have military brass worried. They fear Israel is only boosting hardliners among the Palestinians and undercutting their best possible partners for peace.
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Misguided: Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline policies have military brass worried. They fear Israel is only boosting hardliners among the Palestinians and undercutting their best possible partners for peace.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published April 28, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
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Coming from anyone else, all this might just be interesting speculation. But not from Fishman. His admirers, including yours truly, consider him a top analyst with extraordinary intelligence sources. His critics say he’s little more than a mouthpiece for Military Intelligence. Either way, his analysis of Yaalon’s new Gaza policy must be seen as a distress signal — or a shot across the bow — by the intelligence community.

A second blow came in an April 18 article (a truncated English version appeared April 19) by Palestinian affairs correspondent Elior Levy of Ynet, Yediot’s stand-alone website. Levy reported that “the defense establishment” had given the government a list of proposed “gestures” toward the Palestinian Authority with the aim of avoiding mass unrest on “Nakba Day,” the May 15 anniversary of Israel’s founding. The gestures are also meant to encourage renewal of peace talks without damaging Israeli security or violating current Israeli policy, such as settlement construction.

Levy wrote that the document had been given to the government shortly before President Obama’s March 20 Jerusalem visit. However, he wrote, given the statements by Israeli officials, following the April 8 visit by Secretary of State John Kerry, that Israel “does not intend to present any confidence building measures towards the Palestinians,” it’s “not clear” whether the gestures will find any traction.

Levy didn’t specify what part of the “defense establishment” had drafted the purported document. He told me in an email that the source who showed him the document insisted on complete anonymity. He made it clear, however, that it came from the military. Given the tone and language of the proposals, it appears likely that it came from the General Staff’s strategic planning branch.

Topping the list of gestures is the release of 30 to 40 elderly or ailing prisoners deemed incapable of endangering Israel. The army is said to hope this happens before May 15 in order to reduce popular unrest, which has been mounting following several prisoner deaths.

Also sought before May 15: giving Palestinian security forces additional ammunition and crowd control equipment to deal with the expected Nakba protests.

Other gestures would come in stages, in exchange for reciprocal diplomatic gestures from the Palestinians. Among the proposals: easing prison visiting rules; permitting construction of new Palestinian police stations; expanded planning and construction of housing and infrastructure in Palestinian villages, and permitting a new bypass highway around Ramallah.

But, again, all this appears fanciful as of today. Paradoxically, the army wants the Palestinian security forces to get better weapons so they can continue working with the army to fight terrorism. But they’re unlikely to get it, because the politicians consider the Palestinians hostile and untrustworthy. The politicians believe the radical decline in organized West Bank terrorism is entirely the work of the army, no matter what the army says.

That’s the paradox of Israel’s political-military tension in a nutshell. The politicians don’t trust anyone but the army to keep the country secure. The generals say security is more complicated than that. But the politicians don’t believe them. They don’t trust the generals.

Basically, they want them to shut up and shoot.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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