Anyone who reads my material regularly knows that I see God’s hand in the inception of the modern State of Israel and in her astounding development. It defies rational explanation.
I mention this now because ‒ in spite of all our manifold blessings, and fantastic achievements, and the possibility of extremely good things happening ‒ Israel is in a difficult place. Going forward we need a maximum of wisdom and good judgement. We need the help of Heaven.
The struggle I refer to above, one of many we are confronting, involves application of sovereignty (of Israeli law) over portions of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley.
From a right wing Zionist perspective, the application of sovereignty would seem to be a no-brainer. We have an opportunity to establish as part of sovereign Israel land that is ours by virtue of ancient heritage as well as international law.
After the Six Day War, Israel acquired control of Judea and Samaria, but did not apply sovereignty. Now we find ourselves with a window of opportunity that might make it possible to partially rectify this situation.
But it is not that simple: The opportunity is tied to the “Peace to Prosperity” plan of the Trump administration, developed by Jared Kushner (team head, right, below) and Jason Greenblatt.
I addressed this issue in a prior posting, but return now for another look. As is often the case, the more closely the situation is examined the more complex and unclear it becomes. So much is in flux that I still can provide only an overview and not final resolution of issues, as I had hoped to do. That should come in the next few weeks. But please read this to the end as the issues are of great importance.
Currently, there is an American administration that recognizes Israeli rights in Judea and Samaria. This hasn’t happened before. Over the course of 53 years, one US president after another insisted that Judea & Samaria in its entirety must be part of a Palestinian state. We pray that Biden will not win the US election in November, but should he, he would revert to that mind set.
It is Trump who moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel. And it is Trump who is providing what may be a window of opportunity now.
But the catch – and it’s a big one – is that the “Vision” of the “Peace to Prosperity” plan includes a Palestinian state on part of Judea and Samaria. Israel would have only 30% of this area. What is more, we are expected to freeze building beyond that 30% for four years (to give the Palestinian Arabs time to get their act together) and agree to negotiate with the PA.
There are some – the Sovereignty Movement (founders Yehudit Katsover, Nadia Matar); Arieh Eldad, former MK and retired IDF brigadier general; and others – who are adamant about the fact that we must claim all of the land and not buy into a plan that allocates to us only part of what belongs to us. “…not a single nation in the world gives its homeland to its enemies unless defeated on the battlefield,” Eldad wrote last Friday.
But many others maintain that this is an opportunity not to be missed: that we absolutely must take what we can get even if it is less than what we are entitled to. They point to the fact that we have in the past taken less than we were entitled to because it was better to get something than nothing.
The model for this thinking is David Ben Gurion who declared independence on far less than the area to which we have been attached for 3,000 years, and which was legally ours according to the Mandate. He took what he could get rather than not declare a state. And look how we have grown since then!
The underlying premise now is that even though the “Vision” provides for a Palestinian state, it is never going to happen and we need only bide our time and have faith that it will work out. Barring an astonishing transformation, the conditions for a state set out in the plan are not ones with which the PA will ever comply: renouncing terrorism, taking over Gaza and demilitarizing it, etc. etc.
(There is some concern about how compliance with these criteria – not spelled out in the plan — would be determined when we are dealing with an entity known for duplicity.)
But beyond this, there are problems with the “Vision” and the messages we are receiving from the US.
The plan is presented as “conceptual,” and does not provide details in writing (except with regard to the map, and I’ll get to that). This means that much of what is expected of us now and what the US promises in return has been communicated and discussed only orally.
One troublesome element of this situation has to do with US recognition of our sovereignty in that 30%. I heard David Friedman clearly say, in a video of a presentation to the JCPA, that once we applied sovereignty the US would recognize it. Why would Israel have incentive to agree to a freeze otherwise? he asked. But just a couple minutes later in that same presentation, he seemed to say that US recognition would come in four years, if Israel had held to the freeze and was negotiating with the PA.
And sure enough, just weeks later, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said that discussions about Israel applying sovereignty ought to be part of the peace process.
“We really think annexation should be part of a peace process where Palestinians should have a say.”
Whoa! Exactly what can we depend upon here?
A representative of an Israeli NGO that works extensively on these issues told me just this week that they find that Friedman says different things at different times.
I believe David Friedman is a very sincere friend of Israel. But it is his job to represent US positions. While US President Donald Trump (who can be unpredictable, in any event) is devoted to doing what he perceives to be best for his country, as he should be.
When our leadership loses sight of these elemental facts and fails to act in Israel’s best interest, then we confront problems, big time. Facing this reality is actually more difficult when the foreign leader we are dealing with is friendly. But, as the Sovereignty Movement put it: “the leadership in Israel must not surrender to the bear hug.”
At the heart of the issue of applying sovereignty is the map, which presumably tells us where we can apply that sovereignty if we are to receive American recognition.
The Yesha Council put out a major statement on Friday opposing sovereignty if it requires the creation of a Palestinian state. The Council also expressed concern that the plan, if activated, would actually cause the demise of certain small communities in Judea & Samaria. The plan itself would not require the elimination of these communities. The problem is the map. There are 15 communities – Har Bracha, Elon Moreh, Kiryat Arba/Hevron, Mevo Dotan, etc. – that would be isolated within areas reserved for the Palestinian state, and would be significantly cut off. There would be for each community only a single access road (going through Palestinian Arab territory, I note).
Explains South Hebron Hills Regional Council head Yochai Damri (pictured), for example, “those living in South Hebron Hills settlements can drive to Jerusalem or Beersheba. But under the Trump plan, the road to Jerusalem would be blocked and they could only travel in the direction of Beersheba.”
Similarly, “this means that those in Jerusalem who want to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs (in Hevron) can no longer travel directly to it. They would have to travel first to Beersheba and then back in the direction of Jerusalem through the South Hebron Hills and onward to the tomb.”
Leaders of the larger communities such as Ariel and community blocks such Gush Etzion are more supportive of the Trump plan, which would grant sovereignty – most outspoken is Efrat Council head Oded Revivi.
The leaders from the communities that would be negatively affected, however, are vociferous in their objections. They speak of evacuations of these communities hidden in the plan. The plan states that “The Israeli population located in enclaves that remain inside contiguous Palestinian territory but that are part of the State of Israel shall have the option to remain in place unless they choose otherwise.” (Emphasis added) What these leaders are saying is that it is set up so that the lives of these people will be so onerous and so insecure that they will indeed opt to leave.
“Sand has been thrown in our eyes,” declares Damari.
My friends, I tell you that I felt some of that same outrage when I read the plan (multiple times, actually). Part of what is proposed on the map is an” innovative network of roads, bridges and tunnels that enables freedom of movement for the Palestinians.”
A similar network of roads, bridges and tunnels was not proposed for those 15 isolated Israeli communities. See the document here (the quote above is on page 7):
The issue confronting us now is two-fold: Will the US make satisfactory changes to the map, and, if not, will Prime Minister Netanyahu go ahead anyway?
When the plan, with the map, was released in January, the US made it known that Israel could not yet apply sovereignty to any areas of Judea & Samaria because work still had to be done on the map to finalize details. It was clear from the Israeli side that there were problematic features in the map and there seemed to be some early American receptivity to these concerns.
A joint committee was announced in February: the American committee consisted of Ambassador David Friedman, his adviser, Aryeh Lightstone, and C. Scott Leith of the National Security Council, while Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, acting director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz, and Likud Minister Yariv Levin (now Knesset Speaker) made up the Israeli committee.
Friedman said that the Israeli government could do as it wished, but cautioned that if Israeli application of sovereignty did not comply with the map there was no reassurance that the Trump administration would recognize it. This was not, “Israel has a right to sovereignty,” but rather “We will not recognize Israel’s right unless application of sovereignty conforms to the “Vision.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Israel would apply sovereignty only with the agreement of the Trump administration.
When the unity government agreement was drawn up, application of sovereignty was included, to be initiated after July 1. Deputy/Associate Prime Minister Gantz went along only reluctantly.
For a period of time nothing was heard publicly; there has certainly been the distraction of coronavirus. There was no public announcement, and no new map was released. There had been talk of finalizing everything right after the Israeli election in early March, but this never happened. It was this week that the issue of the map became a heated controversy.
It began with the statements from the Yesha Council that I shared above. Then, on Tuesday, Ayelet Shaked (now in the opposition with Yamina) put out a press release indicating that she had been in touch with the Yesha Council and was told that they had been denied the opportunity to participate on the committee, and that amendments to the map that they were permitted to submit were rejected.
See here for further details, which are unsettling:
Shaked claims: “Netanyahu and the Americans want to stick to the original American map…Even when we were in the coalition, the Prime Minister didn’t share details about this issue. We asked for the maps and details and couldn’t get any.”
As Yesha Council director-general Yigal Dilmoni tells it, after the Prime Minister’s Office denied the Council’s request to participate on the committee, it said it would accept materials from Yesha with regard to the plan. But once material was submitted, they were told the US would not accept their input and that “there would be no changes to the map.”
Yesha Council chairman David Elhayani said settlers created three alternative maps that correct the problems; they offer a sovereignty blueprint for territory comprising 32.5%, 35% or 38.5% of Judea & Samaria. It is my understanding that suggested changes have been submitted by other parties as well.
Yariv Levin, who is on the committee, says the Yesha claim that suggested changes were rejected by the American committee is not true. Rather, “the Americans have not conveyed any stance on the matter.” I do not find this enormously reassuring.
Netanyahu said that his office works with the American committee all the time. This too tells us nothing. He didn’t say his office finds the Americans receptive to changes. He has once again announced his intention to declare sovereignty in compliance with the American vision in July.
Where are we with all of this? Darned if I know: For there are still too many unknowns. Maybe in the end adjustments to the map will be made that are satisfactory to Israel.
But what I suspect is that there is no satisfactory solution to this conundrum from the American perspective. They had set out to make it possible for a Palestinian state to be established. If the map is adjusted to address Israeli security needs and the rights of Israelis in all communities to maintain their lives where they are, it may interfere with the vision of that Palestinian state. From our perspective, this may be the most desirable resolution we might hope for at the moment.
If there are no map changes, I would like to think, to hope, that Netanyahu would accept his responsibility as a leader of his people and refuse to proceed in cooperation with the Americans.
He would then have two options. To do nothing (and he can find excuses for delays), or apply sovereignty unilaterally to a greater area than permitted by the map and forgo American recognition.
I am not holding my breath.
I am staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state, but am not advocating application of sovereignty to all of Judea & Samaria now. The problem of assuming responsibility for all Palestinian Arabs would be huge, and overwhelming at this difficult economic time.
I would love to see sovereignty over all of Area C, where all Israelis in Judea & Samaria live. The problems presented by the current map would disappear. And there would, I believe, be a way to absorb the much smaller number of Arabs in this area (hopefully, with those who came illegally moved out). There would be no room for that Palestinian state as envisioned by Trump, and what I see down the road would be some sort of autonomy.
At a bare minimum, I would want to see sovereignty applied to a part of Area C sufficient to accommodate all Israeli residents with security and freedom of movement, which means some contiguity between the areas where they live.
It would be sad if no sovereignty were to be declared in Judea & Samaria, and this window of opportunity would be lost. I know that individuals in the Yesha Council, in Yamina, and in other organizations, are working for a way to make sovereignty happen. Just sovereignty, not two states.
To add another factor to this complex situation: The IDF now says there will be heightened violence by the Arabs after sovereignty is declared, and they will not be ready to handle it by July 1.
PLEASE! Share this as broadly as you can – people need to know what the situation is. Encourage everyone to speak out for Israeli rights in the land.
Thursday night and Friday, we celebrate Shavuot. Hag Sameach to all who are celebrating!
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by independent journalist Arlene Kushner. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.