Former Shin Bet Chief: Hamas Doesn't Want a Conflict, It Wants a State

Yoram Cohen says the Israeli army has no alternative to the approach it's taking to handle protesters on the Gaza border

Palestinian demonstrators run for cover during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, at the Israel-Gaza border, May 14, 2018.
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

A former director of the Shin Bet security service said on Thursday that Hamas does not seek a confrontation with Israel, but instead wants “a state like any other state” and “to be a people like any other people.”

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Yoram Cohen, who was the director of the Shin Bet for five years until 2016, also told Army Radio that the Israeli army had no alternative to the approach that it took in handling the Palestinian protests at the Gaza border fence this week.

Israeli security forces have come under domestic and international criticism after they killed 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border on Monday alone as tens of thousands massed on the border with Israel. Hamas, Cohen said, is behind the protests and has injected a military aspect into them. It was necessary, he added, to improve the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which many observers see as dire.

Turning his attention to the West Bank, the former security agency chief said Israeli annexation of the West Bank would be an “absolutely terrible move,” adding that if Israel wishes to achieve a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it needs to avoid irreversible steps. Annexation must not be carried out “even if the Palestinians agree” to it, he said.

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The Habayit Hayehudi party and some cabinet ministers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party are urging the government to annex the West Bank, a deeply controversial issue within the governing coalition, for among other reasons due to concern over the international community’s reaction. During the previous Knesset term, the prime minister blocked several proposals calling for the annexation of West Bank territory.

Lawmakers Yoav Kish of Likud, and Bezalel Smotrich and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, both of Habayit Hayehudi, attempted to advance legislation that would apply Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration to West Bank settlements. Bills to annex the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim near Jerusalem and to bring Jerusalem-area settlements under the city’s jurisdiction are two of the many proposals regularly submitted to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and rejected. In December, the Likud Central Committee voted unanimously to adopt a resolution calling on the party’s leaders to formally annex the West Bank.