1,554 ex-officers sign ad urging peace, not settlements

JERUSALEM — A letter signed by 1,554 former senior Israel Defense Force officers and police commanders was published Sunday urging the government to choose peace over Jewish settlements.

"A government which prefers maintenance of settlements beyond the Green Line to the elimination of the historic conflict and establishment of normal relations in our region will cause us to question the righteousness of our course," said the full-page letter which appeared in Sunday's Yediot Acharonot newspaper.

Among those who signed are a former chief of staff, Lieut. Gen. (reserves) Zvi Tsur, 11 major generals and 71 generals.

It also called on the government to honor the Oslo Accords and to reinvigorate the peace process.

The letter is similar to one sent 20 years ago by a group of reserve officers to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, urging him to trade land for peace with Egypt.

"The West Bank and Gaza Strip are powder kegs on the verge of exploding," said Naftali Raz, who was among the letter's initiators.

"Senior officers, even some presently in uniform, and the experts all agree that if the Oslo Accords are not carried out and the government goes on expanding settlements then another intifada will break out," he said.

"It is either a redeployment or war," Raz added.

"There is a window of opportunity and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu can be like Begin and go through with it, or he can slam it shut on our fingers." Raz noted that while Israeli politicians tended to dismiss letters that appear in the press, he believed that reactions from abroad could stir them to action.

In 1978, Raz, then a paratrooper sergeant, was one of the signatories of the "Officers' Letter" written to Begin, which presaged the founding of the Peace Now movement.