WASHINGTON (Jun. 13)
A group of retired senior Israel Defense Force officers, who advocate trading land for peace, said Monday that withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would not pose a security threat to Israel if the Arab side promised certain guarantees.
The group, known as the Council for Peace and Security, calls for a transitional period of Arab autonomy in the administered territories longer than the three years called for in Secretary of State George Shultz’s initiative, as well as demilitarization of the area except for some IDF presence.
At a news conference at the National Press Club, four members of the group gave their views: Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, a former director of military intelligence; Maj. Gen. Ori Orr, a former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force Central Command; Brig. Gen. Ephraim Sneh, who headed the civil administration in Judea and Samaria from 1985 to 1987; and Brig. Gen. Yoram Agmon, who once served as Israel’s air force attache at its embassy in Washington. Yariv said that 80 officers belong to the group.
The American Jewish Congress is sponsoring their U.S. tour, which was to include a closed-circuit hookup Tuesday to 22 Jewish federation board rooms throughout the United States.
Robert Lifton, AJCongress president, said the tour is a product of his group’s decision last September to speak out openly about the dangers of maintaining the status quo in the territories.
Yariv said the dangers of the Palestinian uprising are that IDF and civilian morale suffer; Israel’s image is tarnished abroad; Israel has to divert resources to this “nonproductive” area; and the strife undermines relations with Arab countries, especially with Egypt, which “sooner or later will lead to the drawing together of Arab states” in a war against Israel.
Sneh said the group’s “basic motive” is to save the next generations from having to fight future wars.
Orr said the main threat to Israel is demography, not geography. He said relinquishing the territories for peace solves the demographic problem of having 650,000 Arabs in the Gaza Strip and 850,000 on the West Bank, who could become a majority in Israel if those lands were annexed.
Pointing to a map, he argued that although the distance from Netanya to the West Bank is just 10 miles, security could be maintained by barring non-Israeli forces west of the Jordan River.
Yariv said that in return for peace, he would be willing to part with the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. But he said the group has not assessed the future status of East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed, because it is an issue of politics, and not security.