High on the list of topics in Israel and one of the most discussed subjects in diplomatic circles of the world is Israel’s proposed and imminent extension of sovereignty over additional parts of our country. This is perceived by most of the international community as depriving the Palestinian Arabs of their land, illegal under international law and making it impossible to establish a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. The date for its implementation published by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is July 1.
There is, however, a great deal of confusion as to the precise extent of this proposed sovereignty. A variety of options have been suggested, depending on the political affiliation of the proposer. First and foremost after a prolonged period of hype there is US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” promising Israel sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. Besides the so-called major settlement blocs, the map that has been published shows a confusing array of dots representing a number of isolated Jewish villages to be included in the plan, while an estimated 25 smaller communities are doomed to be destroyed. This adds up to just 30% and is effectively severing 70% of Judea and Samaria to become a Palestinian state – not the deal that the Israeli public was led to believe, but a scheme aimed to appease Palestinian demands.
Further, it merely serves to fulfill the aspirations of Trump to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, a feat that no one before him could accomplish. In the end, his plan for Middle East peace will, like all others before him, also end up in the dustbin of history.
It was surprisingly naive to believe the Palestinian Authority leadership would freely accept a plan that places Israeli towns and villages as islands under Israeli sovereignty, dotted within what is earmarked for a Palestinian state.
Our interlocutors have already condemned this plan because firstly, they claim that it prevents contiguity and free movement within their state and secondly, that they will never tolerate Israelis within their sovereign area. That is a condition often repeated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; yet Arabs reside and move freely inside Israel. In any case, the PA’s demands are much wider.
Within Israel there is division and debate if it is politically and diplomatically advisable to implement any extension of sovereignty at this time, in light of strong international opposition and warnings by even the ‘warm’ Arab states that such action will severely harm the relationship.
Therefore, as neither the PA nor the Arab countries in the region will accept that kind of Palestinian state, the Trump plan is effectively dead.
Netanyahu is facing a dilemma. There is a considerable constituency, even within his own ranks, requesting him to nevertheless declare sovereignty according to the plan.
Jeff Barak, former Jerusalem Post editor and seasoned journalist, asked last week in a piece in this paper “If Israel has survived and prospered for over 50 years without annexation, what’s the rush?”
Well, if he will ask Nadia Matar or Yehudit Katsover, today’s leaders of “Women for Israel’s Tomorrow,” a grassroots movement known as Women in Green, they will tell him that precisely because we have already waited so long in the hope that a solution would be found, it’s now time to end the illusion that peace can be achieved by giving up yet more of our homeland and establish another country within it – and that “Eretz Yisrael l’Am Yisrael,” that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel according to the biblical promise made by God to the Jewish people.
More secular supporters who advocate for total annexation “from the river to the sea” base their claim on the resolutions of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the San Remo Conference of 1920 and the recognition of the State of Israel by 162 member states of the UN.
The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine,” then still part of the Ottoman region. The declaration was contained in a letter dated November 2, 1917 from the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The text of the declaration was published in the press on November 9, 1917.
The San Remo Conference, convened three years later to decide the future of the former territories of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, one of the defeated central powers in World War I, resolved and specifically noted that the Mandate for Palestine will be responsible for carrying out the Balfour Declaration, working for the establishment of the Jewish national home without prejudice to the rights of existing non-Jewish communities. There was no mention of an independent Palestinian state. The San Remo and Balfour declarations referred to Palestine as the area which included today’s Kingdom of Jordan.
Those who class the Balfour Declaration as merely a letter of intent have to be reminded that the full text of the declaration became an integral part of the San Remo resolution and the British Mandate for Palestine; thereby transforming it into a legally-binding foundational document under international law.
It is also important to note that there has never been an Arab state in Palestine. Its Arab inhabitants have always considered themselves to be part of the great Arab nation, historically and politically and as an integral part of Greater Syria, a designation that extended to both sides of the Jordan River.
The 1916 Asia Minor Agreement, commonly known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, named after its British and French negotiators, made a mess of the area between parts of Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea, by dividing it arbitrarily into administrative zones regardless of religious or tribal considerations, of which the western part was one of the sections given to Britain. That was the creation of what today we know as the troubled Middle East.
Taking all that into consideration, the Jews with tri-millennial history in this land now the modern State of Israel, have an indisputable right to the area between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea. The question is: What will the consequences be following a total annexation of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley? Would it be better to take what we can today and kick the can down the road, hoping to annex more another time, as is the view of many Israelis? Or to annex all and face the music?
It is certain that even by implementing the Trump plan, there will be the strongest international condemnation, maybe even threats of trade embargoes and isolation. We may have to expect that, or alternatively surrender to pressures and intimidation that will never change and set a precedent for ever. To believe that we could ever recover from such a mistake is, as Matar would say, an “illusion”. The uproar of the international opposition would be no stronger and no louder if we were to take courage and once and for all extend sovereignty over the whole of our land from the river to the sea, as it would be by annexing piecemeal (highly improbable), beginning with the Trump plan. The choice is either total annexation, or face the same music each time we make an adjustment, even if only to build a road.
Israel is strong enough in every respect to overcome these temporary disagreements with the international community.
Countries’ long-term interests, such as standing to benefit from Israel’s developments in science and technology, determine their policy and will overcome any pressure to prevent the return to the status ante.
So Netanyahu, use this window of opportunity to ensure your historic legacy to have completed what prime minister Menachem Begin started and establish the final borders of the State of Israel from the river to the sea, so that we do not have to wait for the Messiah.
The writer is the host of Walter’s World on Israel National Radio and The Walter Bingham File on Israel Newstalk Radio, both of which are broadcast in English.