The settler leader who became an advocate for Trump’s peace plan

ANNEXATION AFFAIRS: Efrat Council head Oded Revivi says US vision would eliminate possibility of Palestinian terrorist state

ODED REVIVI: In the Trump deal, there are things that are hard to swallow. There are things that are against what we wanted. But let us give it at least a chance. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
ODED REVIVI: In the Trump deal, there are things that are hard to swallow. There are things that are against what we wanted. But let us give it at least a chance.
"Do you think they will ever give this back?” Tzvi Lipski asked, upon being shown his grandson Oded Revivi’s new home in the West Bank settlement of Efrat.
It was 1993, the year that the Oslo I Accord was signed in Washington. But it was economics, more than politics, that had brought Revivi, now the Efrat Council head, to the Gush Etzion hilltops, just outside of Jerusalem.
Revivi had just married his wife, Lisa. Priced out of Jerusalem, the young couple viewed Efrat as an ideal commuter suburb, which was just “15 minutes, door-to-door,” Revivi recalled, as he spoke with The Jerusalem Post in his office.
Politics was not at the top of his mind on that 1993 day, but it was on the mind of his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and children in World War II.
“I was shocked by the question. It never even crossed my mind,” Revivi said.
The improved interest rates on their mortgage and the grants they received due to the home’s location gave him the sense the government was committed to the retention of the area.
Some 27 years later, Revivi stands in the heartbeat of the battle to ensure that his grandfather’s fears will never materialize, by advocating for the application of sovereignty to Efrat. All the settler leader support sovereignty, of course. But they are divided between those who think it should happen outside the contours of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, and those, like Revivi, who hold that the plan is essential to the application of Israeli law to portions of the West Bank. He insists that the proper terminology is “the application of Israeli law.” Full sovereignty would occur only with the declaration of borders in the Trump peace process, he said.
A CAUTIOUS, formal politician, who is often seen in a suit and tie, Revivi has been heavily aligned with the top leadership in the Yesha Council and, until recently, was its foreign envoy.
But Revivi broke with the top leadership over its opposition to the Trump plan. He has garnered the support of some 11 other settler leaders out of a group of 25 in the Yesha Council.
The split represents a sea change within the settler community, which once was marked more by ideologues than by pragmatists, particularly in the early post-Six Day War days, said Revivi. Today, he said, Judea and Samaria are home to a much more diverse population, a growing number of whom have moved to the area for lifestyle, economics and schools, rather than political ideology. Traditionally, it has been ideologically driven politicians that have been most outspoken, Revivi said.
This time around, voices like those of Revivi are heard more loudly.
Revivi was one of four settler leaders who traveled to Washington in January 2020 to hold meetings on the sidelines of the unveiling of the Trump plan. He is the only member of that quartet who supported the plan, with the understanding that it offers Israel a unique and historic chance to ensure that all West Bank settlements, including Efrat, would become part of Israel’s sovereign borders.
Where settler leaders opposed to the plan see an existential threat, Revivi sees opportunity, even if it leads to the creation of a Palestinian state.
The reason “I fell in love with” the Trump deal is that it is the first time a different approach has been taken that focuses on the realities on the ground. Neither the one-state nor the traditional two-state plan have provided good options in the past, he said.
REVIVI, LIKE many of his peers, has withstood one failed diplomatic initiative after the other – Oslo, the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, Annapolis and the Obama administration’s housing freeze.
The violence that accompanied past peace processes and initiatives helped underscore for Revivi how futile those initiatives were.
He recalled how, early in the Oslo process, he traveled from Efrat to Jerusalem with his eight-day-old infant, his wife and her British parents. They were heading to their son’s brit, traveling via Bethlehem, when a Palestinian threw a stone at their car.
“Luckily, [the stone] just hit the metal. I understood what had happened, but my father-in-law asked me, ‘What was that?’ In order not to cause more fear in the car, which was tense as it was, I said, ‘We must have hit a rock.’”
The attack did not diminish his commitment to peace, Revivi said.
“As a religious Jew who prays three times a day for peace, I can’t ignore any attempts at peace, whether I believe [in those attempts] or not,” Revivi said.
He often finds, however, that his understanding of peace differs from that of the Left. This was particularly so during the Oslo years.
“It is a myth” that peace is solely the purview of the Left, he said.
Comments that former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin made against settlers at the time “were like a slap in the face” and were particularly distancing, he said.
One “can’t be the prime minister of a nation and tell a group of people I am ignoring you.”
Then there was the manner in which Israel, during the Oslo years, seemed to divorce the peace process from violence.
The saying at the time was, “We will carry on peace negotiations as if there are no terrorist attacks, and we will fight the terrorist attacks as if there is no peace,” Revivi recalled. “That is not the peace I envision, that is not the peace I am praying for.”
REVIVI HAD always leaned to the Right of the political map. As a child he was inspired by former prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir. He recalled that he made clay candlesticks in elementary school which he gave to Begin’s wife, Aliza, during the weekly open house when it was possible to come and shake the prime minister’s hand.
Born in Ramat Gan in 1969, Revivi grew up in Jerusalem, save for two prolonged stays abroad. His parents were Jewish Agency emissaries who served for three years in Englewood, New Jersey, and for two years in England, leaving him with an easy fluency in English and a slight British accent. After serving in the IDF, he returned to England to do a law degree, then worked for 12 years as a litigator and property attorney.
He found that it was fortuitous that he ended up in Efrat, a community that was dedicated to good relations with its Arab neighbors and which had no interest in placing a fence between them, and this included the security barrier.
As an attorney, he said, he helped file a joint petition by the Palestinians in the area and the residents of Efrat against the barrier.
That kind of joint activity, he said, “is the meaning of peace, which is way stronger and more powerful.”
Revivi likes to describe how he entered politics by accident, after twice lending his organizational skills to failed campaigns for the same candidate to head the Efrat Council.
The third time around, his neighbors knocked on his door and urged him to run on his own. Initially, he rejected their appeals and went on vacation to England with his family.
“We came back at the end of August, somebody else knocked on the door and said, ‘Oded, we need to get the campaign on the road.’ I said, ‘Which campaign?’
“They said, ‘The elections are on November 11. There is not a lot of time.’ I said, ‘But I never consented.’ They said, ‘It’s a bit too late. We started to spread the word on the street that you are running. We started publishing fliers on your behalf. We suggest you cooperate.’ The next thing I know, in November 2008, I actually get elected. That is the funny side,” said Revivi.
As he talks, he often refers to himself as “mayor,” a title many settler leaders often use, even when their communities are not cities.
On a serious note, Revivi said, it was the 2005 Gaza withdrawal that inspired him to enter politics.
“I was rather disturbed,” Revivi said, by the way former prime minister Ariel Sharon backtracked on his campaign pledges, stating prior to the 2002 elections that the fate of the former Gaza settlement of Netzarim was that of Tel Aviv. Then, after the election, he announced his intention to destroy the 21 Gaza settlements there, including Netzarim.
Although his rationale for entering politics stemmed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he imagined that by taking on the leadership of Efrat, his job would be much more managerial. During the elections, he deferred all questions about party affiliations and larger political views.
“I didn’t understand the level of political interest of the international and local media,” said Revivi, who has since affiliated himself publicly with the Likud Party.
Revivi explained that he never imagined hosting foreign dignitaries, or that he would go head-to-head at the Saban Forum with former US secretary of state John Kerry or receive an invitation to Trump’s inauguration in Washington.
Almost from the start, Revivi said, the ways in which his job involved coexistence was clear. In those first days, he was given a tour of Efrat’s water tank, which also services two Palestinian villages. He was surprised to discover that the settlement’s emergency water supplies did not include extra gallons for those villages.
“I understood that if I did not have water, they would not have water, and the pressure would be on me,” Revivi said.
Upon returning to his office, he wrote a letter to the Defense Ministry, asking for more water reserves, and within a week the extra water gallons were delivered.
A few days later an entire delegation from the Palestinian village came to his office to thank him.
Revivi is hopeful that the Trump plan could renew opportunities for those among his Palestinian neighbors who want peace. Their voices are not being heard, and they do not even have a right to vote for their representatives, because the Palestinian Authority has not held elections for 14 years, he added.
“My hope is that the Trump deal will be another indication for the Palestinian people, saying to them, if you carry on going down the road of always saying no, the opportunities are running out,” Revivi said.
The Trump deal removes the areas where Jews are living in Judea and Samaria from the negotiations, by erasing the 1967 and 1948 borders from the conversation toward the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
It confirms that these areas will be part of Israel, Revivi said.
Under this plan, Palestinians would know that if they do not start negotiations now, they could stand to lose even more territory, Revivi added.
“What I am hoping is that if there is really something meaningful on the table, there will be enough practical voices on the other [Palestinian] side, who will come out and say, ‘You know what, we have to find a way to live side by side with one another.’”
Opponents of the Trump plan have argued that it would create a “terror” state in Israel’s backyard, a move that would pose an existential threat.
Revivi contends that the truth is exactly the opposite, because should the Trump plan lead to Palestinian statehood, the terms of that statehood would eliminate such dangers.
“In the words of the US ambassador, it would make them [the Palestinians] look like Canadians. If you could imagine Israel becoming the United States and the Palestinian state becoming Canada, then that is how the deal looks at it. Is that a reality? I don’t know. But I think we need to give it a chance,” Revivi said.
When pressed about support for Palestinian statehood, Revivi said, “It is hard for me to answer that question, but what I am willing to say is that I understand that this is a possibility which is on the table.... I understand that once we engage with the deal, it might lead to, in the words of the American president, a Palestinian state,” Revivi said.
He added that the only way forward is through compromise.
“In the Trump deal, there are things that are hard to swallow. There are things that are against what we wanted. But let us give it at least a chance,” he said.