Former Defense Minister, Courted by Labor Party: There'll Be No Peace, West Bank Can Hold Millions of More Settlers

'The illusion of peace has now evaporated,' said Moshe Ya'alon, but so has 'the illusion of a Greater Land of Israel'

The Israeli settlement of Abraham Avino surrounded by Palestinian houses (top) and a cemetery (bottom), Hebron, West Bank, October 09, 2017.
The Israeli settlement of Abraham Avino surrounded by Palestinian houses (top) and a cemetery (bottom), Hebron, West Bank, October 09, 2017. HAZEM BADER/AFP

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed support on Thursday for continued Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank, but not independence, and said the territory could hold one or two million additional Jewish settlers.

After speaking at a religious girls’ school in Beit Shemesh on Thursday, Ya’alon was asked his views about Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and about evacuation of Jewish settlements more generally.

Ya’alon said that as army chief of staff he had opposed the withdrawal. “My home is the kibbutz,” he said. “The border is marked by the furrows of the plow. The border is marked by the children’s house. Where there is no children’s house, there is no army. If you want to hold territory, you need for there to be people living there.”

Turning his attention to the peace process with the Palestinians, he said: “On one hand, I don’t see prospects for a [peace] agreement in the foreseeable future. The gap between us is not bridgeable. They have not agreed to any proposal to divide the land. They are not prepared even to accept a state along the 1967 borders and a division of Jerusalem. From their standpoint, that’s just 22 percent of Palestine,” he said.

Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, September 1, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

“I don’t foresee that they will have a leadership that will want to divide the land,” adding that he doesn’t foresee it among the leadership of Fatah, which controls the Palestinian Authority, or among Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip.

“On the other hand,” he said, “I don’t want a binational state,” noting that the Palestinians already have autonomy. “I say we will not evacuate Jews or Arabs. On the map that already exists at the moment, we can protect our interest that there not be a binational state. There won’t be settlers on every hilltop.”

Referring to the West Bank by its biblical name, the former defense minister said: “There is enough room in Judea and Samaria to settle one or two million more people in locations that suit us through a policy not to become a binational state. This is done through a policy that is thought out, not through illusions. The illusion of peace has now evaporated. The illusion of a Greater Land of Israel has also evaporated,” a reference to Israel’s remaining in control of all of the West Bank.

“Between the two, we need to find a way for [the Palestinians] to live in political autonomy, not voting for the Knesset but rather for their own parliament. There isn’t peace now here. There won’t be. We need to manage things wisely, looking to our interests. That’s true [with regard] to a Palestinian state, Syria [and] Lebanon. If we conduct things wisely, there will be unprecedented quiet.”

Ya'alon also said that since becoming Labor Party chairman in July, Avi Gabbay has been pressuring him to join the party.

Gabbay was the environmental protection minister, representing Kulanu, when he resigned in 2016 to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s firing Ya’alon and replacing him with Avigdor Lieberman. Gabbay has said privately he has no political differences with Ya’alon.