Actually, there are a terrifying number of things broken in this world right now.
But what I have in mind at the moment is my crystal ball. Once upon a time I used to be able to predict how political matters were likely to play out here in Israel with some reasonable degree of confidence that I had a grasp of what was going on. But now it’s really, really tough.
I have delayed writing about the prospects of Israeli law being applied to portions of Judea & Samaria (i.e., application of sovereignty) because there has been so little clarity on the matter, with so many conflicting reports.
But I did promise in my last posting, and so I share the situation as it is presenting right now.
We still have a division in the country: There are those who believe this is an opportunity that cannot be missed because applying sovereignty over even part of Judaea & Samaria, with American blessings, is in Israel’s best interest. Others are adamantly opposed because the Trump plan makes room for a Palestinian state; even if the PLO never complies with all the stipulations for a state (there is close to 100% certainty that this would be the case), a de facto state would be created and Israel would be on record as agreeing to such a state in principle.
In part, the position opposing is clearly ideological: all of the land belongs to Israel – both legally and with regard to our ancient heritage – and no agreement that compromises our rights should ever be contemplated. But in part it is also a security issue.
The fact that there has been little clarity with regard to the map details is a factor in generating opposition. I’ve said it before, and it’s certainly true here:
The devil is in the details.
The map is not completed even now, in good measure because of coronavirus. The Trump plan, released in January, contained a “conceptual” map which did not have nearly enough detail to determine precisely where lines would be drawn but allocated approximately 30% of Judea and Samaria – 50% of Area C – to Israel. To make the concept a working reality, the team must walk the land meter by meter.
Last week, Jacob Magid, writing in Times of Israel, explained some of the complications of that very complex mapping process. He put forth questions that should be asked of Israeli leadership as the map is defined:
“Is the goal to annex (sic) as much territory as possible or as many people as possible? What do you consider to be the Jordan Valley? What do you consider to be the settlement blocs? Is annexing one more important than the other? Do you plan to annex Palestinian towns as well?”
The question about the Jordan Valley is important, but may be moot now. And as far as I understand Israeli intentions, no Palestinian Arabs towns will have Israeli sovereignty applied.
A settler who had spoken with Netanyahu says that the prime minister intends to aim for as much territory as possible in the window of time that will be available for application of sovereignty. But if this is so, it is a switch from the original plan, which was to apply sovereignty to all settlements in Judea & Samaria (see following).
Elazar, a Jewish community in Gush Etzion (which is a bloc)
As it turns out, the whole idea of applying sovereignty to “settlements’ is more complicated than might be imagined.
The plan stipulates that no Israelis or Palestinian Arabs will have to be uprooted from their homes and that Israel will be able to apply sovereignty to all of its settlements. However, Lior Schillat of the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research points out that the mapping committee will have to decide what is meant by” settlements”:
“Is it only the built-up land of the settlement? Does the territory extend to the fence of the settlement? Or perhaps it includes the entire municipal boundaries of the settlement, which can extend well beyond the security fence? Do you include the access roads to those settlements?”
These are serious questions, touching upon the ability of the communities to accommodate natural growth, and upon security. Beyond control of access roads, there is the critical matter of Israel retaining full control of every main artery in Judaea & Samaria.
And there is yet another factor with regard to settlements: Some 25 small communities in Judaea & Samaria are not officially “settlements” – unauthorized, they are referred to as “outposts.” Mostly small farming communities, a handful were established in commemoration of Israelis killed in a terror attacks. There is, for example, Givat Assaf (pictured), named for Assaf Hershkovitz, who was murdered in 2001 by Palestinian Arab gunmen on the road near the site of the community four months after his father, Arieh, had been murdered near the same spot.
I have always found this a beautiful practice. Instead of plotting revenge and promoting violence when someone is killed in a terror attack, we build the land. Are these small communities about to be abandoned?
Some of these outposts (not categorized as settlements) were simply left out of the map advanced by the Trump plan. Others had been authorized via the Settlement Regulation Law, but this law was just shot down by the High Court. (An “override” law is now being promoted in the Knesset to reassert legislation in certain circumstances after the Court has overruled it.)
The worrisome question is what happens to the residents of these small communities, when there had been assurances that not one Jew would have to be evacuated via Trump’s plan.
And there is yet another disconcerting issue to contend with:
According to the conceptual map of Trump’s plan, many Israeli heritage and archaeological sites in Judaea & Samaria would be transferred to the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction.
“Preserving the Eternal,” which is dedicated to the preservation of the archaeological treasures throughout Judaea & Samaria, conducted an emergency survey of 365 major antiquities sites that provide important physical evidence of Israel’s national heritage.
Of these sites, 258 are located in Area C. According to the conceptual map released with the Trump plan, some 30% of these sites, 135 heritage sites currently under Israeli control, would be reassigned to Palestinian jurisdiction. They include the Hasmonean Fortress at Horkania in the northern Judean Desert, the Hasmonean Fortress at Kypros in the Jordan Valley, the Hasmonean palaces near Jericho, the biblical city of Shomron (Samaria-Sebastia), the altar of Joshua on Mount Ebal, Tel Beitar, Tel Maon, and Tel Hebron, among others.
There are two things to remember here: Judea & Samaria, the area that the PLO claims for its state, represents the heartland of the Jewish nation historically. As the Palestinian Arabs are eager to eliminate evidence of Jewish presence in the land, they consistently demonstrate a practice of destroying archaeological sites. They cannot be depended upon to honor and protect our sites.
There are several settlers who want to be involved in finalizing the map and believe they have much to contribute; they complain that Netanyahu has not shared information and is closing them out. The prime minister says he has not received feedback from the US and thus has nothing to share. Some truth to that, perhaps, but he plays it close to the chest: only a handful of people have been provided with the information that does exist. He repeatedly says he is working closely with the Americans, which certainly suggests some level of sharing.
It may well be that the prime minister himself has not yet decided how he will go forward; the Americans have indicated that, within the parameters of their plan, a great deal depends on Israeli decisions.
On June 5, we saw this report:
“With less than a month to go before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he intends to annex (sic) portions of the West Bank — a move with potentially immense security and geopolitical ramifications — the country’s security forces remain overwhelmingly in the dark about what exactly the government plans to do…”
This situation may have improved somewhat in the last 11 days, but now I’m reading comments from Associate Prime Minister/Defense Minister Gantz about the fact that he is not being well informed. On Monday we had this:
“Blue and White officials said that they could not present a position on the plan, as the premier had thus far failed to outline it clearly.”
Likud’s response to this charge was that: “Gantz for his own reasons refused to view the sovereignty maps in today’s meeting.”
And so, where are we headed now?
The unity government agreement stipulates that work on the application of sovereignty can begin on the first of July. According to a report printed in Yisrael Hayom on June 10th, and then picked up by other sources, this effort would continue for three months, through September, and no later. This would be the “window of time” that the prime minister has referred to, and which, I have little doubt, is being requested or stipulated by the US.
The process would involve bringing proposed application of Israel law to the Cabinet for approval, seeking its passage by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and then securing its passage in the Knesset plenum.
One aspect of what is planned does seem clear: Netanyahu intends to bring only the matter of sovereignty to the Cabinet, but not either the full Trump plan or the issue of Palestinian statehood. By separating these issues he greatly enhances the possibility of securing passage of the bill on sovereignty and avoids much dissension.
But at the same time he says that the areas to which Israel would apply sovereignty would conform to the Trump map. This can only be in broad terms, however: Israeli law applied to settlements in roughly 30% of Judaea & Samaria. As the mapping committee has not completed its work, and specific issues – as described above – remain unresolved, it seems that Israel would need to make some unilateral decisions.
It is my understanding that, within certain parameters, the Trump administration is prepared to recognize this unilateral action by Israel.
One major US stipulation is that Blue & White – Defense Minister Gantz and Foreign Minister Ashkenazi – must be on board for sovereignty. But Gantz’s position is very tentative. On Monday he told the AJC:
“It’s a great plan. We have to work on the basis of it and move forward with regional partners, with local partners, of course with consensus within the Israeli society, and with full coordination and backup with the United States.” (Emphasis added)
As to the EU, which is firmly opposed to the Trump plan, he says, EU-Israel relations are “very important…in the international support we should get there.”
Is he for real?
Ambassador David Friedman met with Netanyahu, Gantz and Ashkenazi twice this week to bridge the sides, without success.
Netanyahu says that he will not give up on application of sovereignty in 30% of Judaea and Samaria, but may need to delay the process because Blue & White is not on board.
Elsewhere he says it may be slowed down because the map is not complete – which leads us to ask about that July 1 date, which he touted.
A third possibility being floated by Netanyahu is that he may need to do sovereignty in stages because of the Blue & White resistance. Rumors have it that in the first stage Israeli law would be applied to Gush Etzion, the city of Maleh Adumim, and the city of Ariel or the Ariel bloc (which would include 10 other communities, such as Elkana and Barkan, along with Ariel).
There would be fewer mapping issues in these three areas. And at least in theory, this might provide an advantage as the international furor would be less, and the threat of Palestinian Arab violence would be decreased.
But it is my understanding that the US would prefer it to be done all at once, in conformity with their map. And it is my own opinion that if we hesitate to apply sovereignty because of fear of Arab violence, we are lost and they will control us.
There are those who protest that we are a sovereign nation and do not need the approval of the US to proceed. In principle this is certainly true, and doing it that way might resolve some of those sticky mapping problems. But we badly need the Americans to stand with us and vote on our behalf in venues such as the UN and the ICC.
I hardly need to point out that the Trump administration is battling with other concerns, and there is the possibility that they would be just as happy to shelve this now. What I have heard is that Jared Kushner, who headed this whole venture, is opposed to having Israel move ahead unilaterally as he does not wish Israel to gain an advantage.
At this point I feel compelled to point out that, while we share a last name, we are in no way related.
While I was originally attracted to the idea of moving on application of sovereignty in at least part of Judaea & Samaria, I have come to the conclusion at this point that it would not be a good idea. There are too many weaknesses in the plan, too many potential stumbling blocks in terms of protecting our interests.
We would need to apply sovereignty to all of Area C to protect our interests.
Coupled with this is the weakness within our government that means we would not move with an internal political consensus, not with the strength we would need. This is altogether very worrisome.
I have provided a host of possibilities as to how matters may go moving forward. Take your pick. I do hope I have offered a bit of enlightenment and not just made your heads spin.
One other possibility does exist here: That in the end it will fizzle, excuses will be offered, and nothing will change.
Tensions within our government are extremely high right now. And here is one prediction that I do feel comfortable making: I do not expect this unity government to last long enough for Benny Gantz to become prime minister. But that’s for another day.