What do I mean by “a true friend”? On the one hand, you are completely committed to the state’s security and have promised to back Israel as much as required. On the other hand, you are committed to advancing a peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world. If such an agreement is accomplished, it will be the state’s most important security asset, like the strategic peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt.
Unfortunately, it’s very likely that our senior government officials will feed you fables, tales and lies during your visit. That’s not the proper way to treat a friend, but in the current government—whose only real leader is the head of a small and radical party named Naftali Bennett—that’s the mechanism of action.
They will tell you “there is no partner,” despite the dramatic change taking place in the entire Arab world’s attitude towards Israel, and although there is a real desire to advance relations with us and create a strategic alliance against Iran and the radical Islamic organizations. Starting from General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt to the leaders of the Gulf state, everyone is committed to the same plan: “The Arab peace initiative,” which includes solving the conflict and recognizing Israel. The plan has to undergo adjustments in order to match Israel’s security demands, but if you want to succeed, turn it into your basis for negotiations.
They will further tell you that the situation in the territories is irreversible. That’s a lie. A wise agreement, with land swaps, will make it possible to annex the large settlements near the Green Line. Israel has no security interest in keeping the more isolated settlements, which are located deep within the West Bank. As someone who served as commander of the Etzion Regional Brigade, commander of the Judea Regional Brigade and commander of the Judea and Samaria Division, I know that the people who live there are good people who love this country, but from a security perspective—they are a burden rather than an asset.
The evacuation of settlements—with the proper security arrangements—will not only do no harm, but it will actually strengthen security. In exchange for a comprehensive peace agreement—which will make it possible to boost our security, diplomatic and intelligence cooperation with our neighbors—Israel can concede extensive parts of Judea and Samaria.
They will tell you that Israeli society won’t be able to withstand the evacuation of settlements, that it will shatter us from the inside. You should know that Israeli society is strong, united and Zionist, unlike the split and victimized image nurtured by our leaders. We have overcome huge challenges throughout the years: We have won wars, welcomed immigrations, tackled economic crises, built the strongest army in the Middle East and created a glorious high-tech industry.
A country which successfully took in more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union is capable of successfully overcoming the challenge of evacuating isolated settlements. It will require a lot of moral strength, but this has been required from us Israelis time and again, from the day we established this state. You surely know that we have always succeeded.
They will further tell you that one can’t work with the Palestinians or trust them. That is a lie you have already discovered for yourself. In your press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this month, you lauded the excellent cooperation between the IDF, the Shin Bet and the Palestinian security apparatus, which has been going on for nearly a decade. You noted that “they work together beautifully,” and as someone who has taken part in the security coordination for years, I must say that you are one hundred percent right. That does not contradict Israel’s need to maintain its control of the borders and its ability and right to defend itself both in the air and on the ground in any agreement. With you in the White House, I have no doubt that will happen.
They will say that a diplomatic agreement is pointless and recommend that you “focus on the economy.” In practice, it’s impossible to achieve peace without guaranteeing strict and reliable security arrangements, and it’s impossible to achieve real security without setting a borderline of peace. And these two cannot be achieved without advancing and developing the economy. The conflict itself is an obstacle to improvement in the Palestinians' economic situation, and only an approach that combines peace and security will lead them to growth—as well as open the Israeli economy to huge markets in Arab countries which are currently inaccessible.
You have probably also heard that the Israeli public is leaning toward the right and won’t support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if he goes for a peace agreement. The truth is that the Israelis have been distrustful and cautious since the second intifada, and rightfully so. Nevertheless, the majority of the public understands that controlling millions of Palestinians is a recipe for the state’s destruction. The Israelis want and are interested in putting an end to the conflict—they just don’t believe it’s possible. If you do the right thing and draft for the peace initiative all of Israel’s partners in the region to the anti-Iranian alliance, you may succeed in changing the equation. Don’t doubt your persuasive abilities. You made millions of Americans vote for you, despite being politically inexperienced.
Expect to hear lies and excuses from the Palestinians as well. They will claim that the talks failed in the past because of Israel, although history proves that Yasser Arafat and Abbas made bad decisions and missed opportunities to reach an agreement. They will blame Israel for the situation in the Gaza Strip, although Hamas is almost fully responsible for the crisis. They will talk about the right of return, but you must know that not a single Israeli, neither from the right nor from the left, accepts that.
In light of the voices on both sides, which aim to present a distorted picture that is completely “fake news,” I was unable to keep silent and decided to publish this letter. If you want to succeed, it’s important that you carefully filter these comments and check every “fact” twice.
Netanyahu and Abbas have demonstrated considerable flexibility in past negotiations, but at the moment of truth—due to short-term political considerations—they always found a way to avoid doing the right thing. Don’t let them drag you into arguments which are the result of their cowardice. Otherwise, you will find yourself in the same place your predecessors reached and your reputation will be negatively affected.
In conclusion, and based on my service in the IDF, I suggest that you put on the table a clear formula for an agreement: Set a strict timetable for negotiations—less than a year—and make it clear that the agreement will be implemented over a long period of time. The Palestinians want to know what their state will look like. The Israelis want to know that the process will be cautious and responsible. You are capable of bringing these two considerations together and reaching the “ultimate deal” which your predecessors failed to bring. Your success is our success.