Why do Americans think Israelis are stupid?

None of the critics knows yet what the government is going to do.

A Palestinian demonstrator returns a tear gas canister as a car carrying a bride and groom passes by during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, near the Beit El settlement. July 1, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
A Palestinian demonstrator returns a tear gas canister as a car carrying a bride and groom passes by during a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, near the Beit El settlement. July 1, 2020.
As the Israeli government nears a decision on whether to apply sovereignty over some or all the West Bank, American Jews, pundits, politicians, and Middle East experts are telling them doing so will harm their interests. Many apparently believe Israelis are unable to comprehend the consequences, but they do and are prepared to accept them.
The concerns include:
• Provoking a Palestinian uprising.
• Damaging relations with Jordan and Egypt.
• Jeopardizing the normalization of relations with the Gulf Arab states.
• Aggravating relations with the European Union and facing sanctions.
• Attracting condemnation from the United Nations.
• Exacerbating tensions between Israeli and American Jews.
• Giving ammunition to the demonization of Israel and to supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.
• Strengthening critics and angering friends within the Democratic Party.
• Gaining recognition from US President Donald Trump that might be reversed by a potential president Joe Biden.
All of these are legitimate worries for Israel’s leaders. In the past, it was primarily Arabists in the US government who took the position that Israelis must be saved from themselves. Now some of Israel’s closest friends, including Democratic allies in Congress and their nominee for president, are speaking out against Israel taking unilateral action. Many US Jews, who traditionally defer to the Israeli government on matters of war and peace have joined the critics. And it is not just far Left Jews who are speaking out; moderate and even some conservative Jews have joined the chorus.
Meanwhile, none of the critics knows yet what the government is going to do.
Inaccurately referred to as annexation – a nation cannot annex land over which it already has sovereign claims – the government has not decided where it will apply Israeli sovereignty. One option is the Jordan Valley, which Israelis believe must be held for security reasons. A second is to choose some or all the “consensus” settlements, Jewish communities that even the Palestinians acknowledge would never be dismantled. A third option is to apply sovereignty to all the settlements, as provided in the Trump peace plan, and eliminate the possibility of any future withdrawal. A fourth option is some combination, most likely the Jordan Valley and the consensus settlements. A fifth is to put off action on the areas Israel expects to eventually annex and apply sovereignty to the rest of the settlements.
Israel has resisted annexing the territories because of the demographic dilemma of remaining a Jewish state and a democracy if it incorporated nearly three million Palestinians. The Trump plan solves the problem by allowing Israel to maximize its territory and minimize the number of Palestinians – approximately 50,000 – who Defense Minister Benny Gantz said will be granted “equal rights.” The rest of the Palestinians would live under Palestinian sovereignty in 70% of the West Bank.
ISRAELIS HAVE not lost their desire for peace, but they saw that after withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in 2005 the “land for peace” myth blew up with the first of thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis are not prepared to make additional territorial concessions without ironclad guarantees a Palestinian state will not become “Hamastan.”
In the recent election, roughly 80% of Israelis voted for parties that support the application of sovereignty. A May poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 58% agreed the move could lead to a third Intifada; nevertheless, 50% of the public supports applying Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank, 25% support such a move with the US administration’s support, and an additional 25% would support it even without American backing. Just 31% of Israelis oppose extending sovereignty.
Israeli officials recognize that – given Trump’s support – this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to strengthen their hold over territories they legitimately claim as their own. The biggest complaint from US critics is that doing so will threaten a two-state solution.
Two-state advocates envision Israel withdrawing from more than 90% of the West Bank and evacuating most settlements. Today, more than 460,000 Jews live in 131 communities in the West Bank. Nearly 30% live outside the “consensus” blocs, which means Israel would be expected to dismantle 93 settlements and evacuate roughly 140,000 people.
This is not going to happen even if the Palestinians convinced Israelis they are willing to live in peace beside a Jewish state. The best – and perhaps the only chance for Palestinian statehood – is for them to accept the Trump plan, which would give them a state in 70% of the West Bank without requiring Israel to remove a single Israeli citizen.
What do critics think will happen if Israel decides not to act?
When the Palestinians rejected former prime minister Menachem Begin’s 1979 autonomy proposal fewer than 10,000 Jews lived in the West Bank. Instead of stopping the growth of settlements and starting down the road to statehood, the Palestinians chose the path of violence.
By the time the Oslo agreement was signed in 1993, the settler population had grown to 130,000. Instead of fulfilling their commitments the Palestinians again resorted to violence and killed the peace process.
In 2000, then prime minister Ehud Barak proposed dismantling most settlements, withdrawing from 97% of the West Bank and establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. By this time, the settler population was 200,000, former chairman of the PLO Yasser Arafat rejected the offer. In 2008, President of the PA Mahmoud Abbas spurned a similar deal offered by then prime minister Ehud Olmert, when 270,000 Jews were living in the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel’s prime minister ever since and the settler population has grown by almost 200,000 in that time and will continue to increase. Do the Palestinians or their supporters believe the possibility of a two-state solution will improve if the Palestinians hold out?
Israel’s leaders will make a decision that is in Israel’s best interest regardless of what Americans think because they have learned over the years that no concessions they make to the Palestinians will be applauded or bring peace.
The writer is a Middle East policy analyst and author/editor of 22 books including Will Israel Survive?, The Arab Lobby and Death to the Infidels.