You annex foreign land, not your own country. – Menachem Begin
Right now Israel is facing a momentous decision to do something that is practically nothing.
That is to extend Israeli civilian law to some parts of Judea and Samaria, specifically the Jordan Valley and other areas where Jewish communities are located.
Why do I say it is practically nothing? Because the official position of our government, although it often does a rotten job of explaining it, is that those areas are already part of Israel. Nothing is being “annexed” as the EU insists (here is why). And while the areas are currently governed by a military government, little will change in most practical legal matters.
Of course it is a big deal for the Palestinians, for the Europeans, and indeed for anyone who wishes that the Jews did not have a sovereign state. This is because it symbolizes the end of the pretense that was so dear to them, that the “West Bank” (as they prefer to call it) is not part of Israel and ultimately will need to pass into Arab hands. It means that any “two-state solution” that could happen in the future will happen according to a map more like the map found in the Trump Plan – one that is consistent with UNSC 242 that called for “secure and recognized boundaries” – rather than the very insecure boundaries that would result from basing them on the 1949 armistice lines, as previous US administrations wished to do.
It is also a big deal for us, for the same reason. It is a recognition that justice is on our side. It is a repudiation of the idea that we are holding onto something that belongs to someone else. It is an affirmation that Eretz Yisrael is the land of the Jewish people.
Let me dismiss the objection that the Palestinians will react violently. What else is new? The Palestinians will always be as violent as they think they can get away with. If they see that we’re prepared, they will content themselves with verbal complaints.
And King Abdullah of Jordan won’t abrogate his treaty with us. He can’t afford to, and in addition he probably would prefer not to have a border with any future Palestinian entity.
Most Israelis favor this step. But some have objected that the map in the Trump plan would leave numerous Jewish communities cut off, enclaves in the Palestinian entity without the ability to grow and difficult or impossible to secure. It would be, de facto, as much an abandonment of those communities as the withdrawal from Gaza was for Gush Katif. They also point out that any Palestinian state in the center of Israel’s heartland would be dangerous.
The US has said that it would “recognize” Israel’s action only if Israel offered to negotiate with the Palestinians on the basis of the Trump plan, coordinate the map with the US, and agree to freeze construction in parts of Area C that are not included in the area to which Israeli law will be applied. This implies that Israel would actually lose territory as a result.
I don’t want to minimize their concerns. But I think we need to step all the way out of the “peace processing” box and take a different approach. I propose that:
- We announce that we agree in principle with the Trump plan, although we do not sign onto any specifics. We offer to talk with the Palestinians.
- We draw a map that meets our security needs and provides for access to and expansion of all the existing Jewish communities.
- We present it to the Americans and explain that this is our interpretation of the Trump plan, and we hope that they will be able to agree that it is reasonable.
- We take the needed steps to extend civilian law to the areas indicated in the map.
Note that American “recognition” of Israel’s action is meaningless. We are not declaring a state that needs to be accepted into international organizations. We are making a change that is an internal matter, consistent with the principle that Judea and Samaria are part of Israel in accordance with international law.
I’m confident that the US will accept our action. It is not in its interest to reject it: whether the map is closer to what the American officials who originally drew it envisioned or to what the people who today live in Judea and Samaria prefer, the negative reactions from Europe and the Palestinians, as well as the (disingenuous) complaints of the Arab nations, will be the same. So why make the details a sticking point?
Keep in mind that the US has other concerns. It seems to me that the position of President Trump is precarious. I also believe – though I hope I’m wrong – that the disturbances that we are seeing now in cities across the country are not a short-term phenomenon but mark the beginning of a prolonged state of instability. And the Coronavirus is not going away.
We are an ally, not a vassal of the US. It may be that in the long run we may be able to do more for it than it can do for us.
Western Europe, with its history of colonialism, antisemitism, and genocide against the Jews and others, is not a moral exemplar; its politics are politics of interest larded with a large measure of Jew-hatred. At the same time that we extend civilian law in Judea and Samaria, we should take the strongest possible steps to eliminate EU influence there, as well as in various areas of Israeli politics and society.
We can and should take this step. Even though it is practically a very small step, it is psychologically and spiritually important. It may not be possible, even in a few months. Don’t wait until it’s too late.