Make the Case for Judea and Samaria Already!

It is the ambiguity of Israel’s own arguments regarding the building of houses in Judea and Samaria that has led to questions concerning the Jewish people’s claim to those areas.

Kevin Zdiara, Germany,

OpEds Kevin Zdiara
Kevin Zdiara

The recent report by a government committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Edmond Levy made it clear: Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria is legal. To anyone familiar with the Arab-Israeli conflict this doesn’t come as news.

But the more important implication of that report is that Israel should adapt its public policy accordingly.

This will be the most important challenge for the present and the coming Israeli governments and ultimately it will decide the fate of the Jewish state. Against accepted knowledge, it is not the legal gray area of Israeli presence in the "territories" that has turned world opinion against Israel; it is the ambiguity of Israel’s own arguments regarding the building of houses in Judea and Samaria that has led to questions concerning the Jewish people’s claim to those areas.

One can take any of the current 200 and odds territorial disputes around the world and one won’t find as much hostility towards the presence of any of the occupying forces as there is towards Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.

And this is particularly interesting, because countries like China in Tibet or Morroco in the West Sahara have, in contrast to the Jewish state, neither a legal right nor an historical connection to those lands.

So how is this possible? Mainly, I would argue, this has to do with the way those countries conduct and present themselves. They are not wavering in their intention to keep those areas. In Israel, on the other hand, there have always been voices who have criticized Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria and at times, like in the mid-1990s, they even had the upper hand in the public discourse in Israel.

To be sure, this is a result of Israel’s democratic and liberal constitution. Diversity of opinion is not a defect and, when compared to its Arab neighbors, the core of Israel’s moral superiority. But it is one thing for the public to discuss those topics and it is something completely different when the state'd officials doubt the decisions and opinions of its own legal experts, and forego Israel’s right to areas of strategic, political and cultural importance.

In Europe, political leaders sense Israel’s ambiguity towards Judea and Samaria and therefore it has become an obsession to focus solely on Israeli “settlements” as the “key and most serious concern” - as EU foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton put it last month.

Ever since United States President Obama’s Cairo speech in 2009, the Arab-Israeli conflict seems to have become a one-issue conflict. Arab incitement, hate and violence against Israel, PA corruption and internecine fighting, never top priorities for foreign policy makers in Europe, have completely disappeared from their agendas.

This is particularly striking because Prime Minister Netanyahu has gone to great lengths to satisfy American demands. But no Israeli gesture was enough for Europe, Obama and Abbas. The 10-month settlement freeze imposed in 2009 was completely ignored, the removal of dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints was met with silence, cooperation with and support of the PA by Israel was taken for granted.

It is time to realize all of this will not satisfy European demands.

On the one hand, this has to do with a deep-seated European hate for the Jewish state and traditional anti-Semitism. On the other hand, however, there seems to be an inability on the side of Israeli officials to make a strong case for its presence in Judea and Samaria.

Almost no one in Europe remembers what was decided in 1920 at San Remo, mainly by European nations, or understands the meaning of the Balfour declaration from 1917.
For too long, Israel has relied on portraying the Jewish state as a haven of liberalism and tolerance and a place of natural beauty. While those are important issues, they won’t convince policy makers in understanding Israel’s position regarding Judea and Samaria.

Instead, Israel should learn from Palestinian efforts to delegitimize Jewish claims to Jerusalem, Hevron and other holy places. Only, in contrast to Arab lies and demagoguery, Israel should strongly present truths and facts at every international and bilateral forum, use any means necessary to obstruct the institutionalization of anti-Zionism in international bodies and invest much more in social media campaigns to expose the lies as well as to name and shame the liars.

Hostility towards Israel is prevalent in Europe, but what is an even bigger problem is the historical ignorance among Europeans. Almost no one in Europe remembers what was decided in 1920 at San Remo, mainly by European nations, or understands the meaning of the Balfour declaration from 1917.

For many, the Jewish presence in Hevron is an “occupation” despite the fact that it was only as a result of  pre-1948 Arab violence and post-1948 Arab occupation of Judea and Samaria that those areas became “judenrein”. It is of vital importance for Israel to repudiate this historical relativism and revisionism which is based on a postmodern ideology where every historical fact can be spun as the narrator wishes.

There are recent examples of excellent Israeli PR campaigns in this direction. Deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon is at the forefront of those operations. His effort to make the case for Jewish refugees from the Middle East is one, although not yet successful, effort. His tireless work to raise the issue of nearly a million dispossessed Jewish men, women and children is one step in the right direction.

The call for a minute of silence for the murdered Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich ’72 at the coming Olympic Games in London is another example; and last year Ayalon launched a series of You Tube videos explaining the legal situation in Judea and Samaria which has already been watched by more than 560.000 viewers.

Danny Ayalon obviously understands the importance of making a strong and public case for historical truths and justice. One can only hope that the rest of Israeli policy makers follow his lead and speak out clearly.

If they do, there might be still a chance to move Europe away from its current uncritical support for Palestine; if they don’t, Europe is definitely lost for Israel.