This election is about the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley’s future

Although no party or senior politicians have talked about it, the central issue in the 2019 elections is the future of the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.

By ORI WERTMAN, CHRISTIAN KAUNERT
April 4, 2019 22:39
Jordan Valley

Houses can be seen at the Jewish West Bank settlement of Maale Efrayim in the Jordan Valley. (photo credit: REUTERS)

For the first time in the history of Israel, the main issue in the elections is concealed from the eyes of the Israeli public. Although no party or senior politicians have talked about it, the central issue in the 2019 elections is the future of the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley.

Let’s face the painful truth: A peace agreement with the Palestinians will not be reached in the near future. There are several reasons for this.

First, although the gap between both sides has narrowed over the years, it is still too wide for concluding a deal. Although the gap was the smallest so far between the two sides during the Olmert-Abbas talks in 2008, those former Israeli policy positions have become outdated. Currently, Israel’s main demands include full long-term Israeli control over the border with Jordan; a demilitarized Palestinian state; Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state; and a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Moreover, Jerusalem rejects any return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

In general, these positions are well reflected in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated statements that even though he is not willing to rule the Palestinians nor annex their land, he is against the creation of another state under Iranian auspices that would launch rockets and terror attacks against Israel.

Second, public opinion on both sides does not support any hard compromises that are essential for concluding a peace agreement. According to a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research last year, the majority of both the Israeli-Jewish public (54% vs. 39%) and the Palestinian public (61% vs. 37%) are oppose to a peace agreement that includes a demilitarized Palestinian state, equal territorial exchange, family unification in Israel of 100,000 Palestinian refugees, and east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Third, the Palestinian leadership is split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and thus unable to make a historic decisions on behalf of the entire Palestinian people. Hence, it is not clear what political constellation could confirm such an agreement. Also, the lack of Palestinian public support for PA President Mahmoud Abbas – together with his unwillingness to be remembered in Palestinian history as a “traitor” – indicate that he would be unable to reach historic decisions in order to finalize peace with Israel.
Finally, it seems that even Trump’s “deal of the century” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not lead to a permanent agreement, as the Palestinians, who believe the proposal is biased and one-sided, will reject it on the spot. Although the US president is about to present his peace plan after Israel’s elections, its framework will offer much less than both of the former Israeli proposals (Barak’s in 2000 and Olmert’s in 2008) or the “Clinton parameters” proposed by the American president at the end of his tenure in the White House.

As it was recently published, Trump’s initiative will propose the establishment of a Palestinian state on 85% to 90% of the West Bank, while Israel will annex large settlements. Also, Jerusalem will be divided, with west Jerusalem and some areas of east Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem, including most of the Arab neighborhoods, as the Palestinian capital. Finally, according to the plan, Israel would retain sovereignty over the Old City and its immediate environs – the Temple Mount and the Western Wall – but it would be administered together with the Palestinians, Jordanians and perhaps other countries.

IN LIGHT of these reasons, Israel must exploit a potential future Palestinian refusal to Washington’s peace initiative and must unilaterally annex the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley. Thus, by executing this unilateral annexation, Israel would deploy its presence to secure borders according to its security interests. Israel would then be able to argue that the Palestinians have again rejected far-reaching peace proposals; such a Palestinian refusal of the American proposal would only serve Israeli interests.
The first reason this should be done is that, since Israel would withdraw from most of the West Bank without contradicting UN Security Council Resolution 242, the international community would no longer consider Israel to be an occupying power. Therefore, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will revert to being merely one of the world’s existing border disputes which the international community has learned to live with. This argument will assist the Trump administration, which has just recognized Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, to support Israel in its international diplomatic campaign.

Second, by executing this unilateral act, Israel would avoid making painful concessions to the Palestinians, such as accepting Palestinian refugees, relinquishing control over the Temple Mount and evacuating more settlements.

Third, since Israel would retain all the strategic assets necessary for its security and would ensure a Jewish majority within its territory – and therefore eradicating its demographic problem there – the pressure would be on the Palestinian side. The Palestinians would then need to decide whether they prefer to finalize a peace deal with Israel or to continue missing an opportunity.

Finally, it appears that the Palestinian leadership under Abbas would also be politically comfortable at this stage in accepting a Palestinian state without signing a peace agreement with Israel, which requires them to make concessions that the Palestinian public opposes firmly.

In conclusion, in order for the annexation of the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley to be carried out and widely supported by the Knesset and the Israeli public – as the Begin government was regarding the peace agreement with Egypt – a unity government led by the Likud and the Blue and White parties, and headed by Netanyahu, must be established after the elections.

Ori Wertman is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, was a foreign affairs and political adviser to former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, former deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and was a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.
Christian Kaunert is a professor of Policing and Security, director of the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, and holds the Jean Monnet Chair of EU counter-terrorism.


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