Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right allies’ demands for power over civil administration and law enforcement in the West Bank could “lead to the severance of coordination with the Palestinians and a security escalation,” outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned on Monday amidst the ongoing coalition negotiations.
Addressing the Israel Democracy Institute’s annual conference in Jerusalem, Gantz declared that Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir’s ”demands in the coalition negotiations to take powers from the Central Command stem at best from a lack of understanding and at worst from a desire to establish a private militia for Ben-Gvir.”
Such “security mistakes that may cost human lives,” he contended, calling on Netanyahu “not to allow an operational and administrative attack on Judea and Samaria,” referring to the Jewish biblical name for the West Bank.
Ben-Gvir, a discipline of far-right Rabbi Meir Kahane who never served in the military, is set to serve as National Security Minister in the new government and has received promises that the coalition will pass legislation granting him the ability to set policy for the police, including Border Police companies operating in the West Bank.
During his short political career in office, Ben-Gvir has developed a reputation as a firebrand, making numerous controversial statements and using his personal sidearm threateningly.
In the most recent incident last month, he pulled out a pistol and shouted "If they throw stones, shoot them," apparently referring to the Palestinians rioters, during clashes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
"Unfortunately, in the current coalition negotiations, it seems that not only semantic and declarative mistakes are being made, but mistakes that will lead to substantial security breaches and may, God forbid, cost human lives,” Gantz warned, calling the expected new setup “a sure recipe for harming security and the chain of command.”
“Such steps will help our enemies and endanger our soldiers and commanders in international courts because some will see them as elements of applying sovereignty without broad agreement and political coordination," added Gantz. "They may also lead to the severance of coordination with the Palestinians and a security escalation. All this while harming the operational need, in short: lose-lose.”
Ben-Gvir and his fellow Otzma Yehudit MKs have called for a harsh crackdown on the Palestinians in the wake of last week’s double bombing in Jerusalem, which left two dead.
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Speaking from the scene of one of the bombings last Wednesday, Ben-Gvir declared that Israel “must exact a price from terrorism, we must return to the targeted killings, we must impose a curfew on the village from which the terrorists came, we must stop the [summer] camps in the security prisons.”
“It's time to establish a right-wing government as soon as possible,” Ben-Gvir, who until recently kept a photo of Baruch Goldstein, the perpetrator of the Hebron massacre, on his living-room wall, asserted. “Terror does not wait.”
Gantz also condemned last week’s incident in Hebron in which an IDF solider was filmed attacking a left-wing activist as another serviceman warned that “Ben-Gvir is going to bring order, you’ve had it.”
“From a moral point of view, the scenes we saw in Hebron are disturbing. I of course strongly condemn the attack on the civilians. But I am much more disturbed by talks about changing the procedures for opening fire by politicians who have not spent even one minute on the battlefield, who have no experience in the matter,” he said, in an oblique jab at Ben-Gvir. “I am disturbed by the desire to pull apart the IDF from its values, including the fighting ethic, which strengthens us.”