If it were left to some Israeli generals, Israel and the Palestinians would be closer to bridging their differences and reaching a two-state solution, says American journalist J.J. Goldberg, the former editor-in-chief of the Forward, a major Jewish newspaper and website in the United States.
Suggesting they’re far more pragmatic and realistic than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his right-wing government, Goldberg said the generals believe that Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is undermining its security, sowing the seeds of terrorism and dehumanizing its society.
As a result, they are of the view that Israel can and must make peace with the Palestinians, he noted.
Speaking in Toronto on September 14 under the auspices of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, Goldberg said that retired Israeli generals and former members of the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies have been particularly vocal in expressing support for ending the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict.
This has been the case since the Arab League endorsed a comprehensive peace plan in Beirut in 2002, said Goldberg, who has held senior positions with the Jerusalem Report and the Jewish Week of New York City.
The Arab initiative, rejected by Israel, broadly called for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem. In exchange, Arab countries would recognize Israel and normalize relations with it.
Goldberg, now a Forward columnist, said the Arab proposal has won the support of more than 100 ex-Israeli generals. Shabtai Shavit, a former director of the Mossad, backed it in 2014.
This past June, Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a group of more than 200 retired top level officials from Israel’s armed forces, Mossad, Shin Bet and police criticized the government for displaying “passivity” and “inaction” toward Israel’s dispute with the Palestinians
Presenting proposals on how to settle the conflict, CIS called for political and security initiatives aimed at defusing the imbroglio by peaceful means. CIS urged Israel to embrace the Arab peace plan and to freeze its settlement building program in the West Bank.
According to the Associated Press, CIS chairman Amnon Reshef, a retired major general, denounced “the fear mongers” who claim that there is no Palestinian peace partner and that conditions are not right for negotiations.
Repudiating the claim that Israel would be left defenceless should it cede the West Bank to the Palestinians, Goldberg said he was told by the former chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, that the Israeli army can defend any border.
“There is no such thing as an indefensible Israeli border,” Goldberg declared.
Claiming that Israeli generals are more level-headed than some of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers, Goldberg said the current head of military intelligence, General Herzl Halevi, recently recommended that Israel should issue additional day job permits to West Bank Palestinians and release more Palestinian prisoners.
In response to his recommendations, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the far-right Jewish Home Party, accused Halevi of speaking like a Hamas representative.
Goldberg said the mainstream Palestinian leadership has moderated its position on peace since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
The main points of contention between Israel and the Palestinians today, he observed, are three-fold. How many Palestinian refugees should be allowed back to Israel? To what extent should a future Palestinian state enjoy territorial contiguity? Should Israel continue to demand Palestinian recognition as a Jewish state?