This past Tuesday, here in Jerusalem, the Women in Green -- joined now by some other groups -- sponsored their third annual conference: Application of Israeli Sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
The turnout was incredible. Not only did it exceed numbers for the previous two conferences by a good deal, planners had to move the venue because registration was so robust. And even in that larger venue the hall was packed. This provides strong evidence for what I have been saying -- that the Israeli populace is moving right, and is, indeed, weary with notions of a "two-state solution."
What I would like to do here is provide an overview and then touch on highlights.
If there was an over-arching message delivered by speakers (many, not all) it is that sovereignty is something that has to be approached in stages. It is simply not realistic to imagine that the Israeli government is going to get up one fine morning and declare all of Judea and Samaria annexed and fully part of Israel.
What is important, first of all, is the stimulation of public discourse on the issues. People just do not understand, do not have solid information.
It falls to those of use who do understand, and do wish to promote sovereignty, to create the atmosphere for dialogue. And that dialogue must be advanced rationally, via the sharing of facts, and not emotions.
And then, there are measures that might be taken to move the process along. Speakers differ on exactly what those measures should be: application of civil law to all of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria; annexation of area C; etc..
Yuli Edelstein (Likud), Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, suggested that without initiatives such as the current conference, the issue would not arise on the government's agenda.
Edelstein warned that application of sovereignty would not automatically resolve international challenges couched in legal language. But sovereignty would send the world a message, none-the-less.
It is easier to face the international community when we are united by a consensus, he observed. The problem now, however, is that the government sends an ambivalent message instead of stating clearly that we have rights over our land.
He sees several scenarios being pushed: The far left is ideological and sees the need to relinquish land to the Arabs for ethical reasons. The pragmatic left concedes that we have rights to the land, but says that in the current international climate we have no choice but to concede it.
An optimistic scenario to the right of these positions says that we must approach the situation in stages, and this is what he supports. To the right of this are groups not content with stages and pushing for immediate sovereignty as an expression of our rights.
Yari Levin (Likud), Chair of the Knesset House Committee, warned that we must not confuse historical merit in terms of our claim to the land, which is solid, with a legislative process, that is going to take time.
What we can do, says Levin, is apply Israeli law to all those Jews living in Judea and Samaria, put in place laws that permit Jewish development in Judea and Samaria, and pass other constructive legislation that will apply to all of Judea and Samaria.
(As to laws that permit Jewish development in Judea and Samaria, there is a great deal to say --- I have already touched upon this in several contexts but expect to be revisiting it in greater detail with regard to the Levy Report. The bias against Jewish development is currently horrendous.)
Levin is adamant in his opinion that there should be no singling out of major settlement blocs. Any legislation put in place must apply to all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Following this, there should be an attempt to apply full Israeli law to all of Judea and Samaria. But now we must advance plans by building another school and another house.
Moshe Feiglin heads the Jewish Leadership faction in Likud and is currently on Likud's list.
Feiglin made an extremely important point, and one we cannot afford to lose sight of: We have to pay attention to places where we are supposed to already have sovereignty, but are losing it. This is true in communities such as Lod, where there are neighborhoods that Arabs have taken over.
And it is particularly true on Har Habayit -- the Temple Mount. The attorney general has said that Israeli law applies on the Mount, and the High Court has said Jews have a right to pray there. But the police have determined that Jewish praying on the Mount will foment Arab violence and thus have forbidden it.
Earlier on the day of the conference, Feiglin went up on the Mount, as he regularly does, bowed down and began to pray, and was promptly arrested by the policeman who had been following him.
Every time I write about this sort of incident, I find myself ashamed to the core. This is not how a Jewish government should be managing matters on the site that is the holiest to the Jewish people simply in order to appease or avoid confrontation with Arabs. And, indeed, perhaps we need to raise our voices and promote activism on this issue before we talk about annexing Judea and Samaria.
It's all of a piece, of course. A government that does not have the courage to protect sovereignty on the Mount is not going to promote legislation for sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.
Adv. Alan Baker, an international lawyer, former Israeli ambassador to Canada, and a member of the Edmund Levy Committee, which issued the Levy Report, spoke about that report.
What he had to say was exceedingly important. His presentation touches upon so much however, that I want to return to examine it in greater detail on another day.
The mandate of the three-person Levy Committee was to examine the status of Judea and Samaria and to recommend ways to deal with the land.
This was with regard to considering the highly ambiguous situation that pertains there, not with an eye to legalizing illegal construction. An important point must be made, however: Former prime minister Sharon had mandated Talia Sasson with examining the situation in Judea and Samaria, as well. Her report was never formally adopted by an Israeli government. But she made a list of outposts that had been constructed without full authorization -- they were "unauthorized" -- and changed the term to "illegal" (which is not the same thing). The concept of "illegal outposts" was then adopted by the international community.
For a long time, there was a freeze on construction that prevented the issuance of permits. There was no possibility of continuing construction with full authorization (with all proper signatures). Construction done in this manner was termed "illegal."
The over-riding question is whether Israel has rights in Judea and Samaria on the ground. Is Israeli presence there "illegal"?
The committee examined the idea that public lands -- not privately owned -- in Judea and Samaria were automatically Arab and rejected this approach. Ottoman, Jordanian, Israeli and international law were considered in depth.
We do not have "occupation" in the sense implied by international law because we did not move onto the land of a legal sovereign. Our situation is sui generis, which means one of a kind -- without precedent or basis in international law.
The committee rejected completely application of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
We are the indigenous people in this region. After examining the legal history, the committee concluded that the Jewish people has well established rights that cannot be negated or denied. We are talking here about San Remo, the Balfour Declaration and more. These declarations are treaty statements.
Instead of apologizing, we should state our rights. People simply don't know.
The land is not Palestinian -- there is no document that gives the Arabs the right to the land. What we are dealing with is "disputed" land, not "occupied Palestinian territory."
The committee hopes the next government will relate seriously to the Levy Report.
More to follow, including on the Levy recommendations.
Ze'ev Elkin (Likud), Chair of the Coalition and Chair of the Knesset Eretz Yisrael Committee, alluded to two historical periods here in Israel since 1967.
From 1967 until 1992 or 1993, the trend was preserving the status quo in Judea and Samaria. Communities were built there, and there was an assumption that matters would unfold on their own as facts were established on the ground.
From 1992 [with the advent of Oslo] until the present, there has been a back-stepping. We are in a state of confusion now and he hopes this second period is coming to an end. He believes (there is not consensus on this yet) that what Abbas did at the UN has brought the Oslo period to a finish.
Israel postponed the discourse on sovereignty and now we need a new approach. We must apply sovereignty to the maximum possible at any given moment. Slowly we can change the public discourse.
Dr. Moti Kedar, Middle East expert and lecturer at Bar Ilan University, was asked to speak on the Arab reaction to sovereignty.
But, asked Kedar, did Arabs ever agree to sovereignty over Tel Aviv or Haifa? Have Egypt and Jordan -- both of which have peace treaties with Israel -- ever recognized Israel as the state of the Jewish people?
Kedar said that we urgently require an international television station that broadcasts in English and Arabic and that simply tells the truth. People have access to CNN and a host of other stations biased against Israel, while Israel is simply missing from that broadcast discussion.
He further observed that the courts should have nothing to do with determination of borders. This is a political issue, for the Knesset. The courts should be involved strictly with legal issues, which he believes calls for a change in Basic Law.
Kedar, an expert on Muslim/Arab culture, said that only those who are victors can secure their place in the Middle East. Those who seek peace are seen as vanquished and get kicked.
Caroline Glick, columnist, senior editor at the Jerusalem Post and senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs for the Center for Security Policy, was one of four persons on a panel that discussed the issue of the status of Arabs after the application of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
People are afraid of the demographic issue, she said -- the fear that if we incorporate Judea and Samaria into Israel fully we will be demographically overwhelmed. Birthrates are shifting, however, and the public needs to be educated on this. She sees a population 2/3 Jewish and 1/3 Arab.
The precedents that exist on this issue were with Jerusalem and the Golan, and there were no problems encountered in either of these areas. Every Arab would be given the opportunity to request citizenship, provided he or she met the criteria established by the Ministry of the Interior -- with regard to renouncing terrorism and accepting Israel as a Jewish state.
Glick says we are now entering a period that is historically revolutionary. To proceed the issue must happen in the context of a larger change in the Israeli public, and changes in the Israeli legal system will be required. People are tired of the way things currently operate, specifically with regard to the High Court (B'gatz).
She noted the fact that Habayit Hayehudi is expected to be part of the next coalition (from her mouth to Heaven!) and it is advocating annexation of Area C. This represents a huge change.
Other participants on the panel included MK Arieh Eldad, Adv. Elyakim Haetzni, and Dr. Martin Sherman.
You can see the entire conference dubbed in English here (skip the first five minutes, as that is a film of last years conference):
In a few days Women in Green will be providing links to each speaker separately, in English and Hebrew.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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