My Word: With or without sovereignty

Much of the debate about annexation has focused on the ultimate bogeyman: the apartheid card.

A VIEW OF the Ramat Gilad outspot in Samaria. (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
A VIEW OF the Ramat Gilad outspot in Samaria.
(photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT/FLASH90)
A particularly useful Hebrew phrase keeps coming to mind lately: “Lalechet im u’lahargish bli,” “To go with and feel without.” It entered the Hebrew lexicon as an advertising slogan for a bra. As a marketing tool, however, it fell flat. Not many corporations can get away with a slogan that doesn’t mention the company name. Over time, most Israelis forgot what company and then what product it originally referred to. Meanwhile, the phrase took on a life of its own – like Nike’s “Just do it!” became a trademark that left its mark way beyond the world of footwear.
Over the years, the popular Hebrew catchphrase even became reversible and “To go without and feel with” – lalechet bli u’lahargish im – is equally part of the local lingo. The advertising copywriter who first came up with the concept could rightly say: “If I had a shekel for every time I heard the phrase, I’d be rich.”
Over the last few weeks, “Lalechet im u’lahargish bli” could have served as the succinct title of many news stories. Take the so-called unity government, which is anything but united – and seems more dedicated to infighting than fighting the coronavirus pandemic, which was the ostensible reason for its creation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to join with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, but clearly he prefers to go with him while trying to ignore him. Alternate Prime Minister Gantz – a “to feel with and go without” mirror title if ever there was one – evidently feels the same.
But it was with the intensifying discussions of the extension of Israeli law to areas of Judea and Samaria that the catchphrase really came into its own. The July 1 date from which sovereignty could begin to be enacted has come and gone, but no one really knows what the full plan entails. Nonetheless, the title “To go with and feel without” suits the diplomatic effort almost as much as the better known “Deal of the Century” or “Peace to Prosperity” vision.
The Palestinian Authority has rejected the plan outright. The Palestinian leadership is not even willing to discuss it. Theirs is a classic case of going with and feeling without. Actually, it’s a classic case of chutzpah. The PA has both declared itself a state – one recognized by more than 130 UN member states – and yet, with UN support, the “State of Palestine” continues to declare that its subjects are perpetual refugees. If Israel goes ahead with the sovereignty/annexation plan, which affects 30% of the disputed territory, the PA warns that it won’t be responsible for the results: not for any violence against Israelis and not for the well-being and welfare of the Palestinians in the other 70%. In effect, the Palestinians are saying we have a state; we don’t have a state; we want a state; but if we don’t get a state – without preconditions – then we want Israel to be responsible for us instead. (Regular readers know that I favor some form of Jordanian option, linking the Palestinians to their Sunni, Arabic-speaking brethren in the Hashemite Kingdom, which has a Palestinian majority but wants to feel without.) Either way – with or without annexation – sadly, the Palestinians don’t seem likely to give up the threat and use of violence to get their way (which is the main reason Jordan doesn’t want to link its fate to them).
Much of the debate about annexation has focused on the ultimate bogeyman: the apartheid card.
According to common wisdom, if Israel extends sovereignty to include the nearly half a million Jews living in communities in Judea and Samaria, while leaving the majority of the territory and the Palestinians in the PA’s control, this will be considered as an illegal and discriminatory act.
That the Palestinian Authority won’t agree to having Jewish communities in its midst somehow is not perceived as problematic. The Palestinian demand that nearly 500,000 Jews be removed is not considered a call for ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians definitely don’t want to feel any Jewish presence. They want to be and feel judenrein.
One frequently raised issue is why the Palestinians shouldn’t get a vote for the Knesset. It’s a good question as far as it goes – and it goes just as far as the new borders extend. Those under full Israeli control should be able to seek citizenship and a vote. But curiously, it is another case of going with and feeling without. No one is asking about the obligations that go along with the rights. Israeli citizens are obliged to do military service, for example. I’m in favor of Arab citizens, the ultra-Orthodox and others who do not want to serve in the IDF, doing a comparable period of civil national service. I can hear you laughing at the very suggestion that this be extended along with sovereignty.
It’s often overlooked that residents of those territories under full Palestinian control do have a vote – at least they would have one were the Palestinian Authority to hold elections. The PA last held parliamentary elections in 2006 – the year before Hamas so unceremoniously ousted the Fatah-led authority from Gaza, throwing PA personnel from rooftops in a particularly forceful way of saying goodbye and good riddance. PA head Mahmoud Abbas – not willing to risk being dumped from power, let alone from the top of his presidential mansion – has avoided holding elections for his position since 2005. Not bad for a four-year term. If this is democracy, it sure doesn’t feel like it.
I am often asked what will actually change if the sovereignty-annexation plan goes ahead and the answer is: Not a lot. At least not on the ground. The value of the plan is that – while not perfect – it changes the paradigm. Or it should. It would move the Palestinians toward independence if that were their goal, and grant Israel the defensible borders it desperately needs, not the 1949/1967 borders from which the Jewish state was repeatedly attacked. It would also allow Israel to remain in charge of most of the significant Jewish religious, cultural and historic sites such as Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was once located.
The Palestinians in the West Bank (and Gaza) will continue to exercise self-rule and Israeli law will be extended to the Israeli citizens, who for a long time have been both “with and without.” As several friends have told me, the biggest change will be that if they want to build an extra room or a balcony, they will not have to apply to the Civil Administration for a permit.
When Menachem Begin’s government applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in 1981 residents there quipped that the biggest difference was they were now obliged to wear seat belts when driving in the region. Until then they had been able to go without and feel nothing of it.
One change as a result of sovereignty is the extension of Israeli labor laws that would also protect Palestinian employees. In May, it was announced that for the first time Israeli employers are required to provide health insurance to Palestinian workers from Judea and Samaria who are employed in Israel. The measure is part of the “emergency regulations” in force due to COVID-19 but is an example of the sort of positive change that sovereignty could bring.
The whole world is praying that a vaccine for the novel coronavirus will be found soon. In the meantime, I’d be happy to find the ultimate comfortable mask. I already know the perfect marketing slogan for it: Lalechet im u’lahargish bli. “To go with and feel without.”