Published in The Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2020; and in Israel Hayom, July 5, 2020.
Critics say attaining sovereignty will undermine the peace process and ruin Israel’s reputation abroad, but these myths do not hold up to scrutiny.
According to critics, application of Israeli law to security and settlement zones in Judea and Samaria will ruin everything. It will undermine the “peace process” (as if there was one), and wreck Israel’s international reputation (as if everybody loved Israel nowadays).
These myths do not stand up to scrutiny.
Myth 1: “Annexation” would be a violation of international law.
Fact: “International law” is a malleable concept, and neither the Government of Israel nor the Supreme Court of Israel ever have accepted the view that Jewish settlement over the Green Line is a violation of international law. Nor can Israel’s assertion of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria be considered “annexation” because the land never “belonged” to the Palestinians. The “Pompeo Declaration” and the “Trump Plan” explicitly accept the historical right of the Jewish People to settle in their Biblical homeland (and consequently the US government already has recognized Israeli sovereignty over united Jerusalem and the Golan Heights).
Myth 2: Israel risks ultimate global isolation by asserting sovereignty over any part of the West Bank.
Fact: The threat that the “diplomatic sky will fall” if Israel annexes is akin to the panic once caused by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. But the menace of BDS was deliberately overstated and wildly overestimated; an artificial threat magnified a thousand times by media repetition. Now too, the specter of Israel’s ostracism is exaggerated, and in any case, Israel could manage most degrees of negative blowback.
Myth 3: Sovereignty assertion will jeopardize the progress that Israel has made in ties with the Arab and Moslem world.
Fact: In the immediate term, it may slow these developing relations. But in the longer term, which is what counts, the forces that are driving Israel and Gulf states together will prevail. These are the threats from Iran and radical Islam, alongside a desire to advance into the 21st century (and benefit from Israeli technological advances) without being endlessly tied down by the self-immolating Palestinian national movement.
Myth 4: Reckless Israeli action will lead to a Palestinian uprising and regional conflagration, and this will distract Israel (and America) from more pressing threats.
Fact: Most experts do not see a “third intifada” (Palestinian wave of terror) developing, nor do they see the Moslem world rallying to the Palestinian Authority’s side beyond the usual, ritual murmurings of support. The exceptions to this rule are Turkey and Iran, which continue to stoke Palestinian-Israeli conflict with money and weapons. Israel will not be distracted from its laser-fine focus on confronting these bad actors.
Myth 5: An Israeli sovereignty move will create apartheid. What will be left for the Palestinians are mere Bantustans, islands of disconnected land surrounded by Israel. Nor will a future Palestinian state be fully sovereign because Israel will maintain security control of the total territory.
Fact: There is no apartheid here. The “enclaves” and “exclaves” of both Israeli and Palestinian settlement that already exist and will persist according to the American peace plan are the inexorable result of the principle that no Palestinian or Israeli will be forced out of their home. Yes, the new American two-state map is complicated, but this reflects reality. This speaks for, not against, the peace plan.
As for Israeli military predominance in the entire West Bank envelope: Well, yes, that must always be the case. There is no other way to ensure the demilitarization of a Palestinian state and to block Iranian infiltration of the West Bank and Gaza.
Myth 6: The American plan, and Israeli assertion of sovereignty based on this plan, undermine the two-state solution.
Fact: The opposite is true! The American plan and its approval of near-term Israeli border adjustments offers the only realistic path towards the vision of “two states for two peoples.” Historical truths and concrete realities replace stale formulas based on maximalist Palestinian demands (– uproot all settlements, withdraw from the entire West Bank, and divide Jerusalem).
Moreover, the plan reverses a long-term deleterious dynamic (whereby Israel was expected to give land in exchange for empty Palestinian promises of peace and compromise) and instead tells Palestinians that time is not on their side. The longer they reject peace with Israel, the less independence they might obtain. This creates critically needed pressure towards concrete engagement in a true peace process.
Furthermore, the plan also treats Palestinians as responsible adults, with no free pass regarding the type of state they might establish. Meeting essential US benchmarks – like ending payments to terrorists, disarming Hamas and other armies, and ending the teaching of genocidal anti-Semitism in schools and media – could make for a genuine peace process leading to a viable two-state solution.
Myth 7: Unilateral actions are the opposite of peacemaking.
Fact: Well, over the past decade Palestinian leaders have taken multiple unilateral actions against Israel, while international observers stood by in acquiescence or were complicit.
This includes Palestinian appeals to have their statehood unilaterally recognized by the UN without negotiation or compromise; appeals to the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice to criminalize and penalize Israel; launching UN resolutions that deny Jewish history in Jerusalem and Judea; building Palestinian settlements in Area C of the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords; ongoing warfare from Palestinian Gaza against Israel; and repeated unilateral Palestinian walk-outs from negotiations where Israel made gigantically generous peace proposals, while blaming Israel for collapse of the talks.
Israel was expected to do nothing in response to these Palestinian assaults. It was “told” to hang on patiently for another negotiation that the Palestinian leadership does not want and repeatedly rejects.
No longer. The American plan forces everybody to face the fact that Israel cannot be expected to freeze development of its strategic and historic heartland while waiting endlessly for a peaceful and democratic Palestinian political culture to emerge, miraculously. Israel cannot be held hostage to never-ending Palestinian vetoes.
You might say that an Israeli move is necessary to shake-up skewed approaches to Mideast peacemaking. And since it will be coordinated with Israel’s most important strategic partner and the major Western superpower, it is not completely “unilateral” or in violation of so-called “international parameters.”
Myth 8: Asserting sovereignty now, even over a small part of Judea and Samaria, is just not worth it. It will alienate Israel’s friends abroad and divide Israeli society too. Better to refrain and build credit for a move in the future with more global support.
Fact: Israeli leaders reckon the risk/reward ratio more favorably, and do not buy the argument that is best to do nothing now. Each time Israel is urged not to rock the boat, the international goalposts seem to shift in favor of the Palestinians. Who really believes that if only Israel makes just one more show of good faith (say, by sitting back and giving the Palestinians another chance to enter/refuse talks), then Israel will have greater legitimacy to assert its rights at a more propitious time in the future with wider Western backing?
In any case, acting now will not divide Israeli society. The territorial contours and security parameters of the American plan make eminent sense to most Israelis. The country is united is asserting that the Jordan Valley is Israel’s permanent eastern security border and that the settlement blocks that straddle united Jerusalem are rightfully Israeli sovereign territory.