Taken together, three apparently separate initiatives may point at a process leading to a deliberate strategic objective for the future of the West Bank. Neither the government, the cabinet, nor the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has decided to adopt this plan. It has never been subjected to national-level staff work by Israel’s National Security Council or by the defense agencies. It has all coalesced beneath the radar, far from the public eye.
One of these initiatives was manifest when Finance Minister Bezalel Somtrich instructed government offices to prepare for settling another half million Israelis in the West Bank. He has requested that detailed staff work be performed to facilitate this and ordered that infrastructures be upgraded in settlements and illegal outposts at the cost of billions of shekels.
“This goal... will be realized via a political-legal act of imposing sovereignty on all Judea and Samaria, and with concurrent acts of settlement: the establishment of cities and towns... and the encouragement of tens and hundreds of thousands of residents to come to live in Judea and Samaria. In this way, we will be able to create a clear and irreversible reality on the ground.”Bezalel Smotrich
Its second feature is encapsulated in the planned judicial overhaul, which would endow the executive branch with unfettered power, including in executing this plan.
A third aspect was reflected in Operation Shield and Arrow, Israel’s recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which was in line with a deliberate government policy of strengthening Hamas and undermining the Palestinian Authority, vitiating what remains of the latter’s operational capacity.
Taken together, these three initiatives lead to a common set of results. They will make a political solution with the Palestinians less likely, while compromising Israel’s security, economy and foreign relations in the region and beyond. What underpins them all is a messianic belief that somehow everything will just work out.
The politicians backing the plan are remarkably arrogant in their complacency, as they forge ahead with this suicidal policy. The plan itself, however, has managed to elude public scrutiny. We act as if it were just another mundane real estate deal. Iran’s nuclear program has justifiably been subject to widespread public discussion and detailed examination by the security establishment. For some reason, however, Israelis have turned a blind eye to the nuclear threat of accelerating efforts to reestablish Israeli control and then to annex territory on the West Bank.
What is Smotrich's messianic 'Decisive Plan' to annex the West Bank?
THESE ARE far from abstract musings, as a perusal of the Decisive Plan, published by Bezalel Smotrich in 2017, will bear out. In it, Smotrich writes that “This goal... will be realized via a political-legal act of imposing sovereignty on all Judea and Samaria, and with concurrent acts of settlement: the establishment of cities and towns... and the encouragement of tens and hundreds of thousands of residents to come to live in Judea and Samaria. In this way, we will be able to create a clear and irreversible reality on the ground.”
According to Smotrich, West Bank Arabs can respond in three possible ways. They can (a) accept their status as Israel’s subjects; (b) emigrate; or (c) resist violently. In the latter case, the IDF will take aggressive action to suppress opposition and achieve decisive military control. Suffice it to say that Smotrich’s analysis completely ignores the views of Israel’s senior military experts regarding the Palestinians.
Smotrich’s Decisive Plan is a practical expression of his worldview and the extremist, messianic vision that has embedded itself ever more deeply in recent decades. He and Itamar Ben-Gvir were able to secure the cabinet posts they demanded thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fecklessness and willingness to mortgage Israeli security for his own political survival.
Thus, Ben-Gvir was handed the National Security Ministry, providing him with a veritable Molotov cocktail he can toss at will, and Smotrich received the Finance Ministry and a portfolio in the Defense Ministry, powerful positions that enable him to promote his agenda, shielded from public scrutiny. It is, thus, no surprise that Smotrich placed such a high priority on controlling the Civil Administration and the legal adviser in the Defense Ministry with responsibility in the West Bank. In his capacity as Finance Minister, meanwhile, he can allocate the vast resources necessary to put his plan into practice.
The results of all this are already evident. Nine outposts, illegal by Israeli and international law, have quickly received post-facto authorization; plans have been approved to build thousands of housing units across the West Bank; the Disengagement Law (which secured withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and five West Bank settlements and was based on a commitment by the United States administration) was repealed in the northern part of the West Bank; despite US protestations, the settlement of Homesh has effectively been reestablished; and vast new budgets have been approved for settlement infrastructures.
Viewed in this light, Smotrich’s outrageous statement about erasing the village of Huwara – later corrected as directed at state institutions, not individual vigilantes – is merely a manifestation of the third option (above) for handling West Bank Arabs. Furthermore, a clear line connects the effort to expand settlement deep inside the West Bank and the policy of eliminating the Palestinian Authority, thereby generating chaos that would require the IDF to reestablish control over the entire area, with all the bloodshed and other long-term consequences that would entail.
The signs posted on West Bank billboards, earlier this month, condemning IDF OC Central Command were a clear warning to those who would stand in the way of annexation or attempt to enforce the law in opposition to the messianic, settler vision. It is a vision that justifies any price, be it military, social, political or economic. The distance between the defamation of IDF officers who take a stand against lawlessness and their outright proscription as traitors is a short one, indeed.
Why is judicial reform vital to Smotrich's plan for the West Bank?
The proposed judicial overhaul, too, is vital to the success of the messianic Decisive Plan. Smotrich explains it as follows: “Coping with this unprecedented reality justifies unprecedented solutions and arrangements, which may be difficult to defend in other situations but which can certainly be justified in the context of the State of Israel. New democratic and legal constructions might be required to ensure this situation, but there is no need to balk at the thought of their creation. To take a concept from contemporary constitutional discourse in Israel: the purpose is worthy enough to justify a proportional deviation from accepted principles.”
The Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul is a necessary precondition for implementing Smotrich’s annexation-apartheid program. In order to justify the plan, it is necessary to mislead the majority of the Israeli public into believing that annexation will bring military, economic and political benefits; that Western democracies will understand; that countries in our region will accept it and that the whole thing will only deepen the moral, democratic values upon which Israeli society stands.
This is a fraudulent act of deceit. The Jewish people have already paid for similar mistakes in the form of 2,000 years of exile. Today’s mistakes threaten Jewish sovereignty, yet again.
Annexation-apartheid will spell the end of Israel as a democratic society. In a word, it would be suicide. If the late Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Elazar Shach were still at the helm of the haredi community, one would have expected them to fiercely resist such a development. Unfortunately, today’s haredi leadership has prioritized sectoral political and economic gains over collective responsibility.
Deliberately and fully aware, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Israel into the abyss, all to avoid facing justice for his actions. He and he alone bears overall responsibility for what is about to transpire. This is neither an ideological debate between Left and Right, nor a question of starry-eyed altruism.
At stake is the Zionist vision that has guided us for the past 130 years and which is embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Agents of messianic chaos must not be allowed to bring it to an end. That is our fight today and we are determined to persevere.
The writer, an IDF major general (ret.), is a member of Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a former coordinator of government activity in the territories (COGAT), and a former deputy director-general for oversight of the defense establishment in the Office of the State Comptroller.