May 12, 2019

Scoop: Former IDF chief of staff warned Trump advisers of West Bank escalation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Israeli chief of staff Gadi Eizenkot give a press conference, Dec. 4, 2018. Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

The former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, warned White House officials last week that there could soon be a violent escalation in the West Bank, and he recommended that the Trump administration take this into account as part of its calculations for the upcoming release of its peace plan.

Why it matters: Eizenkot, who was the IDF's chief of staff until just 4 months ago, is highly respected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, most of his Cabinet ministers and the Israeli public.

Eizenkot gave his warning at a closed-door meeting last Tuesday in Washington between President Trump's special envoy Jason Greenblatt and a group of 10 Middle East experts from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and other think tanks who were part of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.

  • The purpose of the meeting, which lasted 3 hours, was to discuss the upcoming U.S. peace plan and for Greenblatt to hear different views from the former U.S. negotiators.

Details: According to 5 sources who are well-informed about the content of the meeting, Eizenkot told Greenblatt that the situation in the West Bank is "sensitive and explosive" — partially due to the total cessation of U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority and its security forces.

  • According to the five sources, Eizenkot told Greenblatt: "The West Bank could erupt before, during or after you present your peace plan, and you should add this to your calculations. Once this genie is out of the bottle, it will take 5 years to put it back in."
  • The former IDF chief of staff added that regardless of whether or not the U.S. releases its peace plan, the U.S. should promote steps on the ground that will de-escalate the situation so that it will be "a win-win for both sides." Eizenkot proposed renewing U.S. aid to the Palestinian security forces and taking steps to improve the economic situation.

What to watch: The sources tell me that following Eizenkot's remarks, Greenblatt said that the Trump administration is aware of the situation in the West Bank and the risk of escalation, but is keen on presenting its peace plan soon — likely after the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot, which ends on June 10.

  • Greenblatt told me: "While I won’t comment on private discussions, Israel’s security is of paramount importance to the Trump administration and the plan takes Israel’s security into account."

Go deeper: Israel warns White House about cutting off aid to Palestinian Authority

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