Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on his commitment to annexing the occupied West Bank, after almost 300 former security officials signed a petition urging him to reconsider.
In a letter to Netanyahu, "Commanders for Israel's Security" (CIS) – a self-described nonpartisan body of nearly 300 retired security officials – urged the prime minister to hold a public referendum before annexing the West Bank to Israel, claiming the move would endanger security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and leave a power vacuum in the territory.
The letter wrote that CIS is "united in the conviction that a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, as part of a regional security framework, is essential for Israel's security, as well as for its future as the democratic home of the Jewish people".
"Each of us shares the view," the signatories wrote, "that the application of [Israeli] law in [the West Bank] – in whole or in part – outside the framework of an agreement, will trigger a chain reaction that will seriously damage Israel's economy, its regional and international standing, but mainly the state's security."
The petition continued: "A decision by the Knesset to pass legislation for annexation, however partial, can only be interpreted in the territories, the region and the world as a national decision to slam the door on any future arrangement."
Netanyahu, however, has slammed CIS' letter, writing on Twitter that "land in [the West Bank] is not only a guarantee of Israel's security – it is also the heritage of our forefathers."
The prime minister then went on to criticise CIS, slating "those 'experts' [who] supported the nuclear agreement with Iran and warned: 'Bibi [Netanyahu] is wrong in navigating and destroying the alliance with America'." This, the Times of Israel explained, was in "reference to a press conference the CIS held in 2015 ahead of Netanyahu's trip to Washington in which he appealed to [the US] Congress to oppose the [President Barack] Obama administration in its nuclear accord with Iran."
Other Israeli politicians expressed their support of Netanyahu's position, including his Likud party ally Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan. Erdan said in a statement that "we're tired of hearing time and again of former senior defense officials using the ranks on their shoulders to push their political viewpoints". "Tell the public the truth," he added, "you are leftists who oppose [Israel's] presence in [the occupied West Bank]. And don't hide behind such doomsayings."
Asked in an interview with Israel's Channel 12 why he had not yet annexed the country's illegal West Bank settlements, the prime minister replied: "Who says that we won't do it? We are on the way and we are discussing it. You are asking whether we are moving on to the next stage – the answer is yes, we will move to the next stage. I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don't distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements."
Netanyahu's promise was almost universally condemned, with the UK, Turkey and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) slamming the announcement. The US, however, appeared to support the planned annexation, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that he didn't think such a move would harm the "deal of the century", the long-awaited "peace" plan spearheaded by US President Donald Trump and his advisors.
Netanyahu's presumed coalition partners – among which is the controversial Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) – have vowed to hold the prime minister to his pre-election promise, reportedly demanding that he follow through with West Bank annexation in return for their advancing of legislation to guarantee his immunity in the myriad corruption cases he faces.