Shlomo Riskin: The true legal status of Judea-Samaria, the Jordan Valley

An open letter to King Abdullah of Jordan and to Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates from Efrat's founding rabbi.

A view of Efrat (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A view of Efrat
An open letter to King Abdullah of Jordan and to Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba of the United Arab Emirates:
I read with great interest your desire to dissuade Israel from realizing approximately 30% of its initial sovereignty over Judea and Samaria as well as the Jordan Valley for two cogent reasons:
1) It would likely prevent the continuation of the burgeoning relations – especially in the spheres of security and economy – between Israel and the more moderate Arab states in the Middle East, and
2) It would rule out the two-state solution for peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
As someone who views with optimism the normalizing relationships between Israel and her neighbors and who – albeit a proud settler and the acting rabbi of Efrat – is yearning for peace between the descendants of Yishmael and the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s grandsons, I am optimistic. This peace is promised by our biblical and midrashic traditions to the effect that “Yishmael will dwell together with Isaac,” and Yishmael will become a “righteous penitent” (Gen 16:12, and 25:18, Ramban ad loc).
I am sympathetic to your fears about the after-effects of Israeli unilateral sovereignty. I do believe, however, that you are making the wrong request of the wrong party in this conflict; if indeed you truly seek a fair and peaceful solution to the Arab – Israel enmity in the Middle East.
First of all, you certainly noted that I wrote of Israel’s yearning to return to a portion of land over which Israel previously had exclusive sovereignty, and I studiously avoided use of the term “annexation.” Annexation applies to settling on land which is not yours but where occupants are not strong enough to rebuff your control (see the authoritative Black’s Law Dictionary) – an illegal act!
The people of Israel, however, were the sovereign nation ruling over the Land of Israel (including Jerusalem, the entire West Bank and the Jordan Valley plus a good deal more) from approximately 1200 BCE until 70 CE, when we were vanquished – our Holy Temple and capital city Jerusalem destroyed – by the powerful Roman Empire.
Many foreign powers occupied the land from then on, until the defeat of the Ottoman Empire (which had incorporated the conquered lands of Israel) at the end of the First World War (1918). In 1920, Great Britain, France and Italy, the Western European victors of the Great War, met at San Remo (1920), where it was decided that Great Britain would have the mandate over the biblical Land of Israel (which they called “Palestine”) as well as Trans-Jordan.
The boundary of British “Palestine” went from the Mediterranean Sea on the West to the entire length of the Jordan River to the East, from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. According to the Balfour Declaration, which was incorporated into the San Remo Agreement, the Jewish homeland state was to be established within these boundaries, always maintaining complete civil rights and even autonomy for the Muslims within these borders.
Unfortunately, the United Nations Partition Plan of November 29, 1947, carved up British-mandated Palestine, only awarding Jewish Israel a small portion of land. David Ben-Gurion, representing all the pre-state Zionist organizations, agreed (for the time being).
IMMEDIATELY UPON the departure of the British from mandated Palestine (May 14, 1948), Ben-Gurion declared our Jewish state. The surrounding Arab countries never accepted even the paltry Partition Plan; they began a war against the Jewish presence which was for them anathema – despite our history in the region outlined earlier and the historical archaeological records that prove our ancient sovereignty beyond a shadow of a doubt.
What followed were the War of Independence (1948) and the Six Day War (1967) – each begun by the Arab states to erase Israel entirely from the Middle-East map. Mirabile dictu, our miraculous victory of the Six Day War reincorporated much of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley back into the British mandated lands of Israel – with respect for the complete autonomy of the Arab areas.
Despite the fact that the United Nations has consistently tried to force Israel back to the pre-’67 borders – called the “Auschwitz line” by Abba Eban – we succeeded in peacefully settling crucial parts of the West Bank and in arriving at honored peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan.
This period, however, has been fraught with a frigid “peace”: two intifadas, drive-by shootings, terrorist murders and outright wars specifically in Gaza. Despite many attempts to negotiate peace with the “Palestinians” living in the West Bank (they adopted for themselves the name used for the entire region of the British Mandate while under the rule of Yasser Arafat), with especially generous offers by prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Olmert to cede to them the great majority of the West Bank. Unfortunately “they have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
Now it appears that the United States has offered the Palestinians a demilitarized Palestinian state on 70% of the land, with Israel receiving 30%. Israel has expressed its willingness to negotiate on this basis, and the Palestinians have characteristically refused.
Your honors King Abdullah and Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, instead of asking us to refuse to accept 30% of the West Bank and continue to live under conditions of much lessened security, I would respectfully submit that you pressure the Palestinians to accept the “Deal of the Century” and begin to negotiate.
We have proven our readiness to negotiate and compromise; thus far, the Palestinians have told us by their refusal that we must give up entirely  on our right to our God-given patrimony in the West Bank. This truly means the end of a two-state solution. The Trump peace plan allows for each side to give a little without requiring any of us to give up completely.
I truly believe that with mutual cooperation we can work together to turn our God-given land into a veritable Garden of Eden. My 37 years of experience in Efrat tells me that the Palestinian people on the ground are ready, willing and able to work together with us, and they come to the table with an ambitious work ethic and a strong desire to succeed. (I speak of the people, but not necessarily the leadership and certainly not of the Hamas leadership).
God forbid that we miss another opportunity for peace, prosperity and security for all the peaceful residents of the Middle East!
But honorable leaders, I hope you understand that Israel dare not relinquish a significant portion of our homeland because of the intransigence of the Palestinians. We have been offered a sacred gift from President Trump, and to reject it would be like committing the transgression of the scouts who refused to fight for the promised land.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Founding rabbi of Efrat