Bezalel Smotrich: Greatest danger to sovereignty is a unity government

US President Donald Trump plan creates the danger of a Palestinian state – Minister Bezalel Smotrich wants to forestall this by adopting the sovereignty parts of the plan here and now.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
US President Donald J. Trump’s diplomatic plan, known as the “Deal of the Century,” has met with mixed and nuanced responses from the right. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich is convinced that it is important to distinguish between the good and bad in the plan. With all the good that the plan offers, he says, it also contains a serious pitfall that must be avoided.
Smotrich prefers to introduce his comments with a premise familiar to us all regarding the persistent Arab refusal to agree to a compromise of any kind, as expressed by the stream of harsh invective Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen recently hurled at the plan and the American president.
“The chances that anyone from the other side will ever be willing to compromise – and certainly under these conditions – are infintesimal. I don’t think that what hasn’t happened in 70 years will suddenly happen now, or that the DNA of the Arabs will suddenly change and they will be willing to sign a peace agreement with the State of Israel. While it’s true that we cannot and must not rely on that, it must be taken as a given when weighing the facts and making assessments so that we can maximize the outcome.”
As is his wont, Smotrich’s remarks combine political positions with spiritual-philosophical approaches, and this is reflected here too: "My dilemma is whether the Almighty is testing us or presenting us with a great opportunity. Based on a great many indications surrounding the matter, I am convinced that the Almighty is offering us a great opportunity, for example because of the important principle that good things come about through good people. When all is said and done, Trump is basically a good person in these contexts: He supports Israel, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognized Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – and so in general terms, if this very important thing comes about through him, then G-d willing, it will be a great merit.”
At the same time, further to the positive aspects, Smotrich warns of the potential conceptual harm embodied in the plan. “Under no circumstances can an official entity such as the government adopt this plan. We must not recognize the establishment of a Palestinian state under any conditions, and we refuse to accept that in any way, shape or form. Eretz Israel is not ours to give away; it is G-d’s and we have no right to relinquish sovereignty in it to anyone that is not the Jewish people. That is why the government has not authorized it and will not authorize it, and if anybody presents it to the government, we will oppose it with all our might, and I assume that we will not be able to continue to be part of such a government.
“In order to prevent the risk of such a thing occurring, we need to apply sovereignty now. The assessment is that if we start with the sovereignty part of the deal, there’s no chance in the world that the Palestinians will come along for the rest. If, G-d forbid, they decide nevertheless to enter into negotiations that could possibly culminate in the establishment of a Palestinian state, it would be a great danger. Consequently, the question of whether this is a sovereignty plan or Oslo III, a continuation of the Oslo agreements, whose purpose is to establish a Palestinian state, will be determined by where we begin. That is why we are demanding that the prime minister apply sovereignty here and now, before the elections. That will create facts on the ground and almost certainly cause the Palestinians to upset the apple cart. That will minimize the danger.
“The alternative is to squander a huge opportunity to secure and consolidate the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria once and for all with major recognition, and as an interim stage that will prove that creating facts on the ground works. We’ll need to expand the sovereignty eventually to the rest of the territory too, with international recognition coming later, G-d willing,” says the minister. He emphasizes that despite the feeling that the Americans are demanding that the plan be approved en bloc, that is not at all the situation.
“The feeling is that Kushner is trying to slow-walk the process in order to create a team that will draw precise maps that will not prevent the future establishment of an Arab state. But the Americans have not conditioned the application of sovereignty on the entry of the Arabs into the process, and certainly not on its progress. One of the most important innovations of this plan is the American understanding that Israel cannot be held hostage to Arab intransigence. That is why we should take now what according to their plan will be ours in any case later.”
“It’s important to bear in mind that the alternative is to say no to everything and squander a huge opportunity to move ahead. To say that because there is concern that this opportunity might ultimately lead to problematic places we should give up on the whole thing is the wrong way to look at it. In this world, we have to manage risks. Anyone who doesn’t want to take the chance that he might be injured or worse in a road accident must stay at home and never get into a vehicle,” he explains, analogizing from his ministry. “If I thought there was a serious danger that this could lead to a destructive outcome, then certainly we would oppose it. I am not willing to sell one thing to get another, but that is not the case here. Here we have a 100% chance of getting the good part with a 99.999% chance of preventing the bad. I don’t take the conceptual, declarative implications lightly, and that is why everything must be stated in no uncertain terms, leaving no room for ambiguity.”
Nevertheless, as Minister Smotrich sees it, there remains a significant danger and that is why he is demanding the application of sovereighty immediately. The name of that danger is a unity government.
“We are demanding that sovereignty be applied immediately and I am certain that Netanyahu can do it. If he wants to, he will succeed in reaching understandings with the Americans and addressing any difficulties there may be with Kushner. Incidentally, I expect him to apply sovereignty even without getting a green light from the Americans. Begin didn’t wait for a green light when he applied sovereignty to the Golan Heights and Levi Eshkol didn’t wait for a green light when he applied sovereignty to Jerusalem. And the same goes for Ben-Gurion when he declared the establishment of the State of Israel. After the Americans said what they said, we can have a bit of chutzpa and take a step forward even without their agreement.”
His main concern, says Smotrich, is that a unity government will be formed after the elections without sovereignty first being applied. "The excuse of a government of that kind will be that this is an opportunity to reach a historic settlement and so they won’t apply sovereignty, but rather engage in negotiations. That will be Gantz’s ladder to climb down from the tree of intransigence. It will also represent a very good opportunity for Netanyahu to be treated with kid gloves by the left, the media and later the judges. That is my greatest fear and as I see it, it is also the reason he made sure that Gantz was also invited to Washington, in order to prepare the ground for a unity government. That would be a very dangerous thing. The only way to neutralize that danger is for the right to win at least 61 seats in the Knesset. In other words Yemina must be a large, strong party because it is the only one that categorically and absolutely opposes a Palestinian state."
As for Netanyahu’s speech, Smotrich notes that he was careful not to include the phrase “a Palestinian state” in it. “The only problematic part was when he spoke about the Arab aspiration for self-determination. I consider that problematic although it’s not new. Netanyahu said that he doesn’t want to rule over another people and he also gave his BarIlan speech. He believes in security and is counting on a demilitarized state, which is of course a fiction, because no one can decide for a sovereign state what it will or won’t be. But Netanyahu is a person that believes in strong security. He wants control over the Jordan Valley, a demilitarized state and so on, but he has no problem with Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination. That is not especially new – he said the same things before in his BarIlan speech in 2009, as well as in the Knesset and on many other occasions. The only political party that completely rules out any form of Arab sovereignty in Eretz Israel is Yemina. The most we are willing to talk about is municipal administration. That is why it’s imperative that Yemina be as big as possible so that we can prevent this danger from happening.”
Published in Sovereignty Supplement and sponsored by Women in Green