Netanyahu’s Defining Moment
Last weekend, thousands of Israelis protested Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria beginning on July 1. The protest was organized by the far-left Meretz party and the communist wing of the Arab Joint List Party (Hadash). The heads of both parties called the sovereignty bid “apartheid.” In a video statement, Bernie Sanders opposed the plan and, again, falsely accused Israel of “occupation.” Sanders has an abysmal record when it comes to Israel.
Despite all the naysayers, Netanyahu has a clear mandate for applying sovereignty, which is Israel’s inalienable right. Israelis support this move in large numbers (50.1 percent according to an Israel Democracy Institute poll, versus 30.9 opposed and 19% not knowing/refusing to answer) and over 60 percent, according to a recent Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security poll. After three years of political deadlock, Netanyahu now leads a unity government that supports sovereignty. By boldly moving forward, Netanyahu can gain a legacy as one of the greatest Israeli prime ministers.
What the Greater Sovereignty Plan Should Look Like
Netanyahu should submit a bill containing the following to the Knesset:
- A statement explaining why Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria, the heartland of the Land of Israel, is not one of “occupation”;
- A statement explaining why Israel has a right to build Jewish communities (known to many as “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria;
- A statement explaining why Israel should apply sovereignty to most of Judea and Samaria;
- A statement explaining why Israel should oppose a Palestinian state; and
- A map delineating Netanyahu’s vision of what Israel’s borders should be.
This bill should argue that Israel 1) retain as much of Judea and Samaria as possible and practical and 2) absorb the smallest number of additional Arabs in order to maintain its strength and its Jewish and democratic character. There are several ways to implement these parameters, which include scenarios for citizenship status of the Arabs remaining in Judea and Samaria but outside of Israel’s new borders. At the very least, the amount of land Israel applies sovereignty to should be larger than the 30 percent envisioned in President Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan, and closer to the Yamina party’s proposal, which calls for Israel to establish sovereignty over the at least 60 percent of Judea and Samaria known as “Area C.”
A Bold Sovereignty Play Would Unify the Israeli Right
Such a bold move would unify the right under Netanyahu’s unity government. The leaders of Judea and Samaria now appear to be perfectly split between support and opposition for the Peace to Prosperity plan. Seven leaders of Judea and Samaria, including Efrat Regional Council leader Oded Revivi and Ariel mayor Eli Shaviro, support the plan, while seven others oppose it, including most vocally Samaria Regional Council leader Yossi Dagan and Jordan Valley Regional Council leader David Elhayani.
Opponents have voiced concerns that the plan would include a settlement freeze, would create vulnerable Israeli enclaves within a Palestinian entity, could lead to at least 15 Jewish communities comprising approximately 14,200 people total being uprooted, and allow for the creation of a Palestinian terror state. Other critics maintain that 25 small towns, altogether 2,000 people, will be left out of Israel entirely. However, many disagree minimally on the amount of territory. Three alternative maps made by the opposition call for Israeli sovereignty over 32.5, 35.0, and 38.5 percent of Judea and Samaria. An even bolder sovereignty move from Netanyahu would alleviate these concerns and increase chances of support from current adversaries, including MK Ayeled Shaked (Yamina), David Elhayani, and Yossi Dagan.
The U.S. Administration Would Likely Support Greater Sovereignty
While this sovereignty plan would be significantly different from that envisioned by the U.S. administration, it is likely that the U.S. would not oppose it. For example, even though the Peace to Prosperity plan calls for a conditioned establishment of a Palestinian state, actions by the Palestinian Authority since the unveiling of the plan in January have rendered this moot. The PA has already rejected the plan: President Abbas has said “We say a thousand times, no no no.” Abbas even went as far as to personally insult President Trump as “a dog and the son of a dog.” On top of that, Abbas has decreed that the PA has “absolved” itself of all agreements with Israel (which, interestingly, includes the Oslo Accords which served as the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria). The PA has continued to engage in its hysterical anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda campaign, now containing defamatory accusations that Israelis and the Jews are infecting Palestinians with coronavirus despite Israel’s massive coronavirus aid. Given these tantrums, why should Israel be expected to adhere to the exact parameters of the plan? And why should the United States continue to offer the Palestinians the benefits laid out in the plan?
Further, the administration is likely preoccupied with reopening the country following the coronavirus shutdowns and domestic unrest. U.S.-Israel relations are much more likely to emphasize the need for cooperation on Iran and China and increasing ties with the Gulf States.
Some Arabs will Chose Pragmatism over the Palestinians
While the idea of Israeli sovereignty has been met with the usual veiled threats of violence from the PA, others in the Arab world likely value the benefits of increased ties with Israel, including cooperation against Iran, over concerns over where Israel builds its houses and draws its border. While the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and the Arab League vocally oppose Israel extending sovereignty, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have reportedly signaled that they are okay with it privately. Jordan, Egypt, and reportedly the United Arab Emirates and even possibly Kuwait have reached out to Israel for assistance in fighting the coronavirus. Traditional fault lines in the Middle East have changed, and there is an increasing rivalry pitting Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia and Qatar against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Israel would be a great asset to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates in that rivalry.
Despite murmurings that Jordan will re-evaluate its peace treaty with Israel, it is unlikely that even a robust sovereignty move will materially change the Israeli-Jordanian relationship. While this strategic partnership has faced its challenges, Israel has given Jordan invaluable security benefits, including saving it from invasion (and possible extinction) by Syria in 1970, gifting Cobra helicopters for the fight against ISIS, and vouching to protect it against ISIS. Also, Jordan is regretting its 2019 decision to reorganize the Wakf in Jerusalem and allow Turkish Islamist organizations to gain clout on the Temple Mount. Jordan therefore needs to maintain close ties with Israel to roll this back. To this end, Saudi Arabia is reportedly in talks with Israel for a role in the Wakf to counter Turkey’s growing influence there. Jordan is also reportedly considering revising its peace treaty with Israel to allow for Israeli sovereignty of the Jordan Valley.
Sovereignty Would Be Yet Another Bold Yet Wise Move from Israel
Israel has made some of its most consequential decisions when faced with enormous pressure. David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948 despite opposition from U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall. In 1967, when faced with mobilization of the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Iraqi armies against it, Israel struck pre-emptively and emerged victorious in the Six Day War. Even though Israel faced international condemnation following extended sovereignty to eastern Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981, Israel still has sovereignty over these territories to this day. Despite intense pressure from the Bush administration, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moved forward with Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, marking the beginning of Israel’s victory over the Second Intifada. Israel has also destroyed the nuclear reactors of its Ba’athist archenemies Iraq and Syria, in 1981 and 2007, respectively. A robust sovereignty move would add to this list, and earn Netanyahu the legacy of being one of Israel’s best prime ministers.