Fifty years have passed since we freed our biblical homelands in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria where half a million Jews live.
However, the city building plans of the communities in Judea and Samaria that are operative cover less than 4% of the area. Built-up areas of Jewish settlements are less than 2% of the area. The presence of Jews is a fact, but far from creating an irreversible reality. Despite all the talk of Arab emigration, there are still three million Arabs living in these areas.
Within the framework of my position as head of the foreign desk of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, I was in Washington this past September. Among other people, I met with a very senior journalist. A journalist who has written books, a journalist who writes for a newspaper that is read by tens of millions of people daily, a journalist who received almost on a daily basis a phone call from former president Obama or secretary of state John Kerry with the request to pass on messages. A journalist who does not meet the definition of “one who supports our side.” At that time he wrote a daily column against Trump in the hope that Hillary would be elected.
My meeting with the journalist lasted over an hour and a half. He opened our meeting in the most direct manner and said to me as follows: “Netanyahu won! Today I realize that the two-state solution has vanished. Why? It doesn’t matter. What interests me today are two questions: Is one state the best solution? How will such a one state look?”
I assume that he reached this conclusion because he knows the data. Since the signing of the interim agreements in 1993, otherwise known as the Oslo Accords, what has transpired? According the Civil Administration, the number of Arabs has doubled from 1.4 million to 2.8 million and the number of Jews has tripled from 115,000 to half a million.
Since my conversation with the journalist, five months have passed. Trump was elected and has granted Israel an open check and world events are happening that are changing the reality. But the questions remain the same. Is the settlement enterprise a fait accompli? Can the settlement reality in terms of demographics, politics and government remain as is? Are we in control of developments, are we in the forefront of finding a solution to the issues, or are we trailing behind and clinging on to a changing reality with the hope that it will play out in our favor?
The answer in my eyes is that we are stalling, looking at the reality and bowing our heads because of the uncertainty of what we need to do.
We need to create a clear strategic plan. When we offer all kinds of initial solutions, we are conducting ourselves on a tactical level and not on a strategic plane. A strategic solution puts all the variables into a clear and definitive course.
Look at what happens with the publication of tenders for construction in Judea and Samaria. When 100 housing units are marketed, we receive the same criticism worldwide as when we market 1,000. So why get 10 condemnations when we can make due with one? We legislated the Golan Heights Law and we were severely criticized for it – and remained alive. We united east with west Jerusalem and the Western Wall remained intact. They threatened us that if we built on Har Homa, the country would burn; but we were determined and we built and now thousands of Jews live there in security.
I don’t think that we can conduct ourselves in an arbitrary way. According to the Ben-Gurion school of thought, “It doesn’t matter what the gentiles say, only what the Jews do.” But we should certainly refrain from being concerned all the time by terrorist threats and with the question of what the gentiles will say or what the Europeans will do.
Global reality is turning out to be flexible. Leaders change, realities change. The Arab spring comes and afterward comes fall and the radical Islamist winter. Muslim immigration is welcomed and then cursed. Gates open for the refugees and afterward walls are built.
So why create salami solutions? Incomplete ones? Why bite into a slice at a time and not come up with a comprehensive solution? Is it because we don’t have one? Could it be that we are apprehensive? So let’s think and find one.
I’m against adopting a staged approach. I’m in favor of taking courageous, long term decisions; decisions that take into account all of the variables but do not leave all the cards open.
I also believe that there is no vacuum. The discourse today on the desired solution for Judea and Samaria is based on the realities that we created on the ground. What was done cannot be undone; but there are limits to power and there are statutes and laws that must be honored.
For example, talking about a solution of sovereignty? What shall we do with the Palestinians? Some might say that this is not our problem.
I think that it actually is! Europe is closed to them, the US is closed, even the Arab countries are closed. They have nowhere to go. So the reality is that they are here and we are here. We must therefore produce a plan which responds to all the needs.
In the Jubilee Year which we celebrate this year, it should be noted that the time has come to formulate a clear strategic plan. A plan formulated by thinking outside of the box: a program that takes advantage of opportunities in the Middle East and the needs of our neighbors; a program that takes into account the lack of conventionality of the new US president; a program that responds to our neighbors and to us, and provides an answer to queries as to how do you see the nation’s future? If we are convinced that we have become a fait accompli in the Middle East, and that our enemies are resigned to our existence, then after 50 years we must pass from tactics (which were fairly successful) to a clear strategy.
I believe that a firm, confident, and unequivocal stand will at first bring about international condemnation and could perhaps lead to an antagonistic world choir, but this would over time slowly fade, and eventually the world will appreciate those who believe in the righteousness of their path.
The world is for the most part a religious world that recognizes the divine promise in the Bible to the people of Israel, but the world preys on us since we sometimes see ourselves as grasshoppers.
In the short history of the State of Israel, our decisive victories and amazing operations have brought us the amazement and astonishment of a surprised world.
When we mumbled and tried to justify ourselves, apologized and gave up, we were treated as guilty outcasts.
With a strong, stable and confident position we can continue forward to reach a comprehensive regional solution, a solution that will integrate all the players in the region and also impose responsibility on them.
The newly elected American president thinks in a nonconventional manner. There are those that see this as a drawback.
The challenge is to turn this drawback into an advantage.
Let us take advantage of his term in office and think how we can create something that has not been tried before.
It could be that there are those that have said till now politely, “the Palestinians are not our problem.” But it turns out that even they understand that, in spite of peace accords, the Palestinians continue to be their challenge. The new American president can bring a “container of carrots” that will convince also the Egyptians and the Jordanians that it is worthwhile to cooperate in finding a solution.The writer is mayor of Efrat and international liaison of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
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