Israel Hayom, December 26, 2016.
It is time to act unilaterally to assert Israel’s core national interests by massive building in the greater Jerusalem envelope.
In my column “A crystal ball for 2016,” published on January 1 of this year, I warned that “the late-term US president will be unable to resist his own ideological urges to further squeeze Israel, and will act to set markers for an internationally imposed ‘solution’ of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Obama will seek to support a United Nations Security Council decision that guts Resolution 242, rupturing forty years of US-Israel understandings on pursuit of negotiated peace in the Middle East, and giving new strength to the Palestinian campaign to criminalize Israel.”
I added: “The danger zone for such Obama action lies in the seam period between the November presidential election and January 2017 inauguration, but Obama is likely to telegraph this in another one of his moralizing speeches in the spring.”
“Israel and its friends in the US will have to warn of truly harsh reaction in order to dissuade Obama from moving in this ruinous direction. Israel will have to genuinely threaten to annex the majority of the West Bank, and Congress to slash almost all funding for the UN. But I’m not sure that even such pressures will deter Obama.”
Just after Hillary Clinton (and Obama) were defeated by Donald Trump, I published another column in these pages entitled Beware the revenge of Obama (November 11). “For some time, it has been our assessment that President Barack Hussein Obama was likely to move dangerously on Israeli-Palestinian issues during his 72-day lame duck period between the November presidential election and the January 2017 inauguration of his successor. The ruckus he could cause in this danger zone even earned a name: The December Surprise.”
“After being resoundingly repudiated in this week’s presidential election, Obama became an even more dangerous politician. Obama was trashed and trounced by the American public, on ideological grounds – which indubitably makes him bitter and determined to get his way; out for revenge in his dying days. Remember that Obama made it clear that this election was a referendum on his ‘legacy.’ So his defeat must sting.”
“Rejection leads to projection,” I warned. “A man as ideologically unrepentant as Obama is sure to double-down on, not back away from, those things that he most believes in and has yet still to achieve. It is therefore more likely than ever that in his final weeks in office, Obama will unilaterally act to impose his worldview and move the policy markers wherever he still can.”
“He will sneer at the aides who tell him that his time has passed, and that he shouldn’t rock the boat. He will reject advisers who assert that he should focus merely on protecting his ‘achievements’ like Obamacare and the Iran deal. He will rebuff activists who are concerned about the state of his camp; he doesn’t give a damn about the fortunes of the Democratic Party.”
“Instead, Obama will strike-out to make a lasting mark, and strike at those he resents most. And this means seeking to impose Palestinian statehood, and punishing Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
“Remember that from Day One in office, Obama prioritized the push towards Palestinian statehood. His very first acts were to appoint George Mitchell as Mideast peace negotiator and squeeze Netanyahu over settlements. Even as Mahmoud Abbas slid precipitously from purported peace partner to out-and-out fomenter of violence and hangman of Israel in international fora – Obama hasn’t wavered in his coddling of Abbas or his commitment to the ‘urgent necessity’ of Palestinian statehood.”
“If anything, Obama has ramped-up his rhetoric over the past year about the need for ‘justice’ in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has repeatedly insisted that Israel’s best interests – about which is an expert and to which he is deeply committed – lie in the rapid establishment of a Palestinian state. Even if it is a runaway state that hasn’t settled its central grievances with Israel. So I fully expect Obama to hurl forth, even now, no matter how deleterious this may be to real peacemaking or to American positioning in the Mideast.”
I then asked: What can Israel do to counter Obama’s expected foray, probably at the UN Security Council, into the Palestinian morass? My answer was that Israel should make it clear, both as a threat and as a policy principle to be put into action, that unilateral action (against Israel) will beget unilateral Israeli action in response.
“If they move the markers, Israel will move the markers. If the US under Obama violates decades of commitments to Israel and acts to prejudge the outcome of direct negotiations between the parties by imposing parameters for a ‘solution’ – say, by recognizing Palestinian statehood, or by articulating border lines, or by criminalizing settlements – Israel should act to shore-up its core interests in Jerusalem and the settlement blocks. That means significant new building in these areas (long overdue!) and even annexation.”
Unfortunately, Jerusalem made no such credible threats; and truth be told, any such warning probably wouldn’t have dissuaded Obama from acting on his pique again Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The question now, is what should Israel’s response be? This situation certainly calls for something more than tiny little protests against Senegal, New Zealand and Ukraine.
Consider: Israel no longer has to fear the revenge of Obama. Obama already has moved the markers. Now it’s time to wreak revenge on Obama, and assert Israel’s core interests in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem by unilaterally moving the markers too.
This means reinforcing Israeli control in the greater Jerusalem envelope through significant renewal of home construction. This includes all Jerusalem neighborhoods (beginning with Givat Hamatos, Gilo and Ramat Shlomo) and the blocs strategically flanking Jerusalem, specifically Gush Etzion in the south, Beit El/Ofra in the north, and Maale Adumim in the east – and especially in the E-1 corridor between Jerusalem and Maale Adumim.
Israel should immediately begin construction of 50,000 apartments in this strategic sector, to shore-up its religious, historical, and national security stake in the very center of the Land of Israel.
As David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin understood well, and Binyamin Netanyahu does too, “Greater Jerusalem” is the key to the Jewish People’s claim on its historic homeland. United Jerusalem is the DNA that holds the key to the future of Israel. Strategically, “Jerusalem” is a zone of settlement that runs from Tel Aviv to the Jordan Valley. From Jaffa to Jericho.
Israel should solicit from the incoming Trump administration an explicit return to the “Bush letter” understandings of 2004 for effective and permanent Israeli control of the so-called settlement “blocs,” plus an upgrade on these understandings to include E-1, and an end to Obama’s obsession with blocking the growth of Jewish Jerusalem.
Then, Trump hopefully will move the US embassy to Jerusalem, and participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, this coming May.
This would be a razor-sharp diplomatic signal that UN-Obama parameters for an Israeli-Palestinian accord are passé. That the 1949/1967 lines are obsolete. That maximalist Palestinian demands aren’t sacrosanct. That Israelis are not interlopers in Judea. That effective Israeli control of greater Jerusalem is a fact of life forever.