What I sense in the air is not a fireworks display, but a sense of progress: A movement in the right direction, in both senses of that word. Imperfect, less steady or defined than we might like, but progress.
I don’t celebrate the secular new year, but I imagine that many, if not most, of my readers do. And so, I am delighted to wish one and all a good year.
Most encouraging is a vote that took place in the Central Committee of Likud Sunday night, at a hall outside of Tel Aviv. By the unanimous vote of more than 1,000 members, the following resolution was passed (emphasis added):
“Fifty years after the liberation of Judea and Samaria, and with them Jerusalem, our eternal capital, the Likud Central Committee calls on Likud’s elected leaders to work to allow unhindered construction and to extend Israeli law and sovereignty in all the areas of liberated settlement in Judaea and Samaria.”
This is not binding on the Knesset, or even on Prime Minister Netanyahu, who chose to absent himself from the vote.
This is, however, an important step forward, and it will have impact beyond the symbolic. Come primary time, hopefuls for the Likud list must depend upon the support of the members of the Central Committee.
I would note here just a few details:
The wording is somewhat vague so that some people are interpreting this as applying to all of Judea and Samaria, and others, to Area C, and still others, to the built up areas of Jewish communities. I have been informed by a knowledgeable source that this vagueness was deliberate. It remains to be seen how this plays out.
What is clear is that this moves definitively beyond “the two state solution” as it has been touted for twenty plus years. It speaks in unambiguous terms of sovereignty and is clearly an historic step forward.
As to that term, “sovereignty,” some clarification is also required: In some news reports the term “annexation” is being utilized. This is not synonymous with “sovereignty” and is inappropriate in this context.
Annexation applies when a nation attaches to itself land that did not previously belong to it – incorporates land into its domain. But according to international law, Judaea and Samaria are rightfully part of Israel, but have not to this point been fully claimed. To extend sovereignty to this area means fully claiming our rights to it, applying Israeli law and assuming it is under Israeli jurisdiction.
As to Prime Minister Netanyahu, the point has been made that while he chose to absent himself for the vote, he did not move to block it. How he will handle this depends on a number of political factors. What is beyond doubt is that his decision on this matter is critical.
Many spoke out.
“The time has come to express our Biblical right to the land…We are telling the world that it doesn’t matter what the nations of the world say. We must recognize this sovereignty.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairs the Bayit Yehudi party, which calls for sovereignty over Area C. He had been eager to see Likud members vote for this and was delighted at the news that they had. Bayit Yehudi is a member of the Likud coalition.
At the very same time that this is taking place, MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), chair of the Eretz Yisrael Lobby in the Knesset, is promoting a new initiative that would mandate that every bill that has passed the preliminary vote and is on its way to second and third readings and a final approval by the Knesset, would also undergo a step to determine how it would be implemented in Judea and Samaria.
At present, application of Israeli law to Israeli citizens living in Judaea and Samaria is not automatic, but is handled via the Civil Administration, which is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Defense.
If passed, this, too, would represent a step forward.
I confess that I was a bit astonished when I read this in Arutz Sheva yesterday:
“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit instructed the legal advisors of the government ministries on Sunday that any new government legislation would have to relate to Judea and Samaria as well, according to Israeli public television.”
More often than not, our attorney general is the nay-sayer, claiming that he cannot support this or that legislation that has a nationalist bent. It is my understanding that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had a hand in this.
Then, on the other hand, we have this:
The EU runs a program called Cooperation Across Borders in the Mediterranean (ENI CBCMED), which partners with 14 non-member countries. It promises to make major investments in approved projects in both the public and private spheres in each country.
Israel was one of the countries eligible for participation in this program, and on Sunday the Cabinet approved this.
“the project includes a territorial clause explicitly stating that it may not be applied in Israeli-held areas beyond the 1967 borders. It means that groups in Judea and Samaria settlements, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights will not be allowed to participate and receive the funding.”
Arabs living in Judaea and Samaria will be allowed to apply for participation in the program, but Jews will not.
The EU has behaved abominably towards Israel. Do we really need their money so badly that we are willing to lower ourselves in this way?
That is a rhetorical question. Our future is not with the nations of Western Europe.
The serious question is why presumably right-wing members of the Cabinet were willing to support this. The motion would have passed the Cabinet with no discussion, except for the objection of Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), which made it necessary for the motion to include discussion. But in the end it passed anyway, and it seems she was a lone voice.
As I said: progress in the right direction, but imperfect. We are often not as strong for ourselves as we should be.
A brief note regarding the much publicized comment by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, which I praised in my last posting: He had told the State Department not to call Judea and Samaria “occupied.”
Responses followed his remarks – including from a couple of my readers – regarding his use of language.
After criticizing use of the term “occupation,” he said that Israel was only “occupying” two percent of the “West Bank.”
And he spoke about the fact that it was understood that Israel would “return” what was not needed of the “West Bank” for security or peace.
I myself quickly corrected the two-percent figure, explaining that this is how much of Judaea and Samaria the Jewish communities were situated on, but that we controlled all of Area C.
In point of fact, of course, even putting aside our rights to the land (which I choose never to put aside), there is very great deal more than two-percent we would need to retain, as Friedman himself said, for security (area for strategic depth, the heights of Samaria, the Jordan Valley, etc.).
And it is certainly the case that we can never “return” any part of the land because it never belonged to the Palestinian Arabs.
This said, I wish to explain why I did not critique Friedman’s language more assiduously. It would have been, if I may use the phrase, like looking a gift horse in the mouth (absolutely no insult to Ambassador Friedman intended, but the contrary!). His position is such a reversal of what we’ve heard from other ambassadors to Israel for such a long time that I would suggest it behooves us to be appreciative of his forthrightness.
And, I might say, courage: We must always be mindful of how much he can manage on the tightrope he is walking. Nominally, he answers to the State Department, which is certainly, not pro-Israel, and to Secretary of State Tillerson, who is no great friend. So, he said, “West Bank” and not “Judaea and Samaria.”
And he used the term “occupying” in a sense that may not have been a political statement at all (meaning only the part we are utilizing or building upon). So. I feel confident of where his heart lies.
I will put this out, and follow with other news soon.
I hold my breath, afraid to hope yet for anything in the way of a positive resolution with the growing demonstrations in Iran. Yet, admitting that my heart fervently longs for such a resolution.
A major difference from last time is that Obama sided with the oppressive regime, and Trump is with the people. What this means, beyond statements of support, we have yet to see.