Netanyahu's strategy to strengthen Israel in its 75th year - opinion

Netanyahu's life-long purpose has been to consolidate Israel's security in the tiny homeland west of the Jordan River.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, as opposition leader, attends an inauguration ceremony for a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, last July.  (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, as opposition leader, attends an inauguration ceremony for a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the Binyamin region of the West Bank, last July.
(photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)

It didn’t take long for Israel’s new coalition government to be fighting fires, this time over National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s thirteen-minute visit to the Temple Mount – the stroll heard around the world; defending the long-awaited rollback of agenda-inhibiting excessive judicial review; and answering all kinds of speculation about the coalition’s intentions regarding Judea and Samaria.

Behind the noise, however, this government has received a strong mandate and opportunity from voters to end the doublespeak over the disproportionately visible Palestinian issue by revealing what is actually happening on the ground in Judea and Samaria. Two states for peace was a romantic ideal but it’s over.

It is not that an area the size of the state of New Jersey cannot accommodate 15 million people, it is that most Arabs living west of the Jordan River are living on the exact land of Judea that is, in religious liturgy and archeological history, the homeland of the Jewish people. This latest national election marks 30 years of tortuous land concessions by Israel, reciprocated only with violence and continuous rejection of the nation’s very right to exist on formerly Muslim-occupied land.

It's time to move on

Yalla, time to move on. Jews are compassionate, peace-loving people. Whether religious or secular, they understand their obligation to treat all peoples with justice and dignity and to bring principle and healing to the world. Israel’s new government may be ready to reveal positive actions that have been advancing behind the front-stage political charade about borders and land: developing Judea and Samaria to concretely elevate the practical lives and opportunities of all communities living there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein seen during the vaccination of the two million recipients, in Ramla, January 14, 2021. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein seen during the vaccination of the two million recipients, in Ramla, January 14, 2021. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Yes, it involves expanding Jewish communities but what the world does not yet appreciate is that development is proceeding thoughtfully, with all practicable human consideration and economic opportunity, for the people of neighboring Palestinian communities, too.

This is not a Western-style solution, it is a culturally appropriate process of communal integration. Three-quarters of a million Israelis – almost 10% of Israel’s total population – now live and work among and increasingly with an estimated three million neighbors in Palestinian communities. They are driving on the same new roads, working together in the same gleaming new industrial facilities, financed by the Israeli government and developed by private inter-population enterprises.

Without these Israeli investments in the territories, the Palestinian communities would be languishing in abject poverty, if at all – except, of course, for the few PA cronies whose mansions, financed with stolen United States aid money, adorn the hills outside Ramallah.

Why, then, are these Israeli investments in cross-cultural collaborative startup cities still in stealth mode? Why hasn’t the Israeli government told us? Why aren’t US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his European counterparts going to Ariel and other new cities in Samaria or even historic Hebron in Judea to see for themselves? There are two reasons.

What are the two reasons?

The first is that ordinary Arabs living in neighboring communities have been routinely arrested and jailed in Ramallah by their own PA government for the crime of working cooperatively for a better life with their Jewish neighbors.

The second has more to do with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal dilemma. His life-long purpose has been to consolidate Israel’s security in the tiny homeland west of the Jordan River. As such, he opposed territorial compromise but was still obligated to carry the Oslo process he inherited in his first term. His long game appears to have been incremental: working toward two states for two people when conditions are right, while quietly developing and integrating Jewish communities in the territories.

Netanyahu has earned the stature to speak without ambiguity

LIKE HIM or not, having served Israel’s government for most of its life and his own, Netanyahu has earned the stature to speak without ambiguity. He ascended to the leadership of an Israel that was still a fledgling, quasi-socialist-agrarian nation in a hostile neighborhood, lacking the confidence to consolidate biblical lands at the core of Jewish identity, surprisingly recovered in the defensive Six Day War of 1967. Instead, he more confidently dismisses the description of the territories as “disputed” or “occupied.”

Under his leadership, Israel has been transformed into a vibrant market economy and a technological, intelligence and diplomatic powerhouse. Defying even his own expectations, Netanyahu secured peace agreements with a large portion of the Arab world; the Abraham Accords circle of peace is still expanding, and Israel is establishing diplomatic and economic relations globally at a spectacular pace.

This is Netanyahu-the-Diplomat’s moment to end the confusing dual-action tactic of sipping West Bank development while blowing two states bubbles from the same rhetorical straw.

Likud, religious Zionists, PA and Hamas are apparently unanimous on this: No one is interested in two states west of the Jordan River. Yet, their people of all cultures seem to coexist peaceably for mutual benefit without a political theater in the Old City of Jerusalem and these newer West Bank cities. More narrative clarity from Israel might help well-intentioned international allies move on, too.

A visible integration framework could include ending the "occupation" by suspending military law in the West Bank and applying Israeli civil law across the territories. As the functional integration described here advances, Israel could initiate a process for easing travel restrictions and work quotas for Palestinians between the territories and the rest of Israel.

Palestinian community leaders would have incentives to monitor and preempt security risks, which would be a paramount regulator of the pace and flow of integration for law-abiding Palestinians who would enjoy social mobility in Israel’s labor market. In other words, Palestinians’ individual and leaders’ choices would determine the pace of their access.

Continuing progress on these vectors of integration could deliver fair access to opportunity for all law-abiding inhabitants of the territories, consistent with Jewish religious and cultural principles. It would help to create a virtuous circle of development both within Judea and Samaria and the rest of Israel, consolidating support for the governing coalition within Israel and providing a realistic vision for diplomatic progress for all of Israel’s international allies, including supporting a core diplomatic priority of encouraging Saudi Arabia’s accession to the Abraham Accords circle of peace.

A new vision could be revealed in action, upgrading tentative words of defense. A new transparent narrative for a new process: freer movement and freer access to opportunity for all of Israel’s inhabitants. Ground-level practical integration could also involve community self-governance - always security-dependent - and in due course a constitutional path toward national participation on terms consistent with Israel’s unique status as a Jewish nation.

On the eve of Israel’s 75th anniversary, Netanyahu’s Likud and its partners have finally won the chance to reveal and deliver Israel’s destiny as the Prophet Isaiah’s light unto the nations, a beacon of spiritual and moral virtue for all humanity.

The writer is CEO of Xerion Investments and assists the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce with inter-population investment strategy.