Op-Ed: Mideast: Historical Reality or Political Correctness?
It didn’t take long after his reelection for Barack Obama and his proxies to announce their intention to restart the Mideast peace process. As usual, the statement was aimed more at Israel than the Palestinians, despite their refusal to negotiate, recognize Israel’s right to exist, or renounce incitement and terrorism. Nor did State Department mouthpiece Victoria Nuland wait to start hawking a two-state solution based on the indefensible 1949 Armistice Line and a division of Jerusalem.
The President was hostile to Israel during his first term and looks to be more overbearing now that he never again has to worry about reelection. Based on his record of bullying Israel and coddling Islamists, it seems likely that he will attempt to enforce a plan that could threaten her survival. Therefore, Israel must decide whether she will assert her historical rights or bow to political correctness in the search for resolution.
Binyamin Netanyahu was criticized for stating he would seek to renew negotiations with the Palestinians. Yair Shamir, for example, publicly chastised him, proclaiming that “the two-state solution is not in the Likud platform.” In their criticism of Netanyahu, Shamir and others hearkened back to his 2009 Bar Ilan University speech in which he said he would accept a Palestinian state if the Palestinians would recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation, renounce terrorism, and cease their anti-Semitic incitement. That is, they would have to change their entire outlook regarding the Jews and Israel.
In addressing Mr. Obama after his State Department speech in which the president said Israel should retreat to the 1949 Armistice Line, Mr. Netanyahu declared that Israel would never accept the “Auschwitz borders” or relinquish control of Jerusalem.
Regardless of the original intent of the Oslo Accords, they became a mechanism for demanding more of Israel despite her compliance, while ignoring the Palestinians’ continual breaches.
Netanyahu’s public statements suggest he will resist the continued use of Oslo to enervate Israel. But he is also faced with the reality of a hostile administration in Washington led by a president who has shown by his cabinet nominations how he intends to undermine Israel during his second term. In nominating John Kerry for Secretary of State, Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and John Brennan for Director of the CIA, the President has selected people with proven disregard for America’s only true ally in the Mideast.
The views, statements and attitudes of this triumvirate regarding Israel and the Islamist threat range from uninformed to incompetent, and their contempt for Israel – particularly Hagel’s – is palpable.
Though the Oslo process is moribund, Netanyahu may feel that Israel cannot be seen as the party that hastened its death. Practically speaking, the PA’s push for upgraded UN status may have done that already, considering that Article 31 specifically states: “Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” The PA’s UN initiative violates this provision and arguably gives Israel the right to consider the accords abrogated.
Those who fear the demise of Oslo should consider that it has been used to promote an agenda – land for peace – that the Arabs have rejected for more than forty years.
The land-for-peace formula presumes the conflict is about geography and that all the Arabs want is yet another independent state of their own. But it cannot work when one side rejects the other’s right to exist and adheres to a religious doctrine that bars permanent peace with subjugated peoples and mandates dissimulation in dealing with “infidels.” The two-state paradigm misstates the intrinsic nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is not a struggle for Palestinian national rights, but rather a war of extermination against Israel and her people. It also fails to recognize that an Arab state – Jordan – was already created on eighty percent of the Jewish national homeland in 1921.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu may feel the need to tread lightly given an international climate that has grown ever more hostile and anti-Semitic. His statements regarding negotiations may be motivated as much by the desire to deflect international criticism and build a coalition as anything else.
On the other hand, if reports concerning his discussions with Yossi Beilin are accurate, he may agree to an interim Palestinian state with tentative borders, excluding the settlement blocs and Jerusalem – whatever that really means. Moreover, it is unknown what effect a new coalition will have on the process going forward, whether it includes Naftali Bennett and Bayit Yehudi (who favor annexation), Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid (who reportedly reject a construction freeze in existing settlements and a division of Jerusalem but do not support the establishment of new towns in Judea and Samaria), or both.
Thus, Israel is at a crossroad concerning what direction she should take going forward. She can continue playing the Oslo hand, maintain an uneasy status quo, or search for alternatives that make legal, historical and demographic sense even if they generate international ire. That is, she may be forced to choose between historical entitlement and political expedience. The first approach may vindicate Israel’s ancestral rights but further erode her international standing, while the second might please her critics but threaten her survival. Still, Israel must consider the pros and cons of all reasonable options.
Annexation of Judea and Samaria
A growing number of Israelis favor some form of annexation in Judea and Samaria, which could be justified historically, legally and demographically. Indeed, the incorporation of lands that were part of the ancient Jewish homeland would be consistent with the vision articulated by the San Remo Conference of 1920 and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine of 1922.
Israel has legitimate claims to Judea and Samaria because they were part of the Second Jewish Commonwealth and never constituted sovereign Arab or Muslim territory thereafter. Jews lived there from ancient times through the British Mandatory period; and their habitation was interrupted only when they were attacked and expelled by Arab-Muslim forces from east of the Jordan River in 1948. Transjordan (now Jordan) occupied these lands and renamed them the “West Bank” just as the Romans had renamed the Kingdom of Judea “Philistia” (Palestine) after the ancient Philistines in an effort to break the Jews’ connection to their ancestral homeland. Jordan’s annexation violated international law and was recognized only by Great Britain and Pakistan. Thus, when Israel acquired these lands during the Six-Day War, she actually liberated them from foreign occupation.
As noted in the Levy Report, Jewish habitation in these territories does not constitute “occupation.” Moreover, it is not inconsistent with the Fourth Geneva Convention because the establishment, reestablishment and growth of Israeli communities there never involved forced population transfers. Perhaps even more significantly, the Levy Report notes the continuing vitality of the legal framework of San Remo and the League of Nations Mandate, which recognized the Jewish right of “close settlement” east and west of the Jordan. In their day, San Remo and the Mandate echoed the prevailing international consensus recognizing the Jews’ connection to their ancient homeland. Because the provisions of both were preserved by Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, this consensus in turn became UN policy.
Though Oslo has not played out to Israel’s advantage, it did establish three administrative divisions (Areas A, B and C) that may yet have some demographic functionality. Area C comprises approximately sixty percent of Judea and Samaria and has a Jewish population exceeding 350,000, compared to an Arab population calculated only in the tens of thousands. It is under Israeli control and borders the greater Jerusalem neighborhoods that have 250,000 or more Jewish residents. Thus, Israel’s key to regional stability begins with Judea and Samaria.
Asserting Israeli Sovereignty in the Territories
Many believe that Israel should assert sovereignty in the territories, but disagree regarding method and extent. This was the subject of the recent “Conference on the Application of Sovereignty over Judea & Samaria,” at which a panel consisting of MK Aryeh Eldad, journalist Elyakim Haetzni, Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israeli Institute for Strategic Studies, and Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post discussed alternative approaches.
In the scenario advocated by former MK Aryeh Eldad, Israel would assert sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria while permitting Arabs to stay as legal residents but have voting rights in Jordan. This approach would incorporate traditionally Jewish lands into Israel while facilitating Arab enfranchisement in a country that already has a Palestinian majority. It is also consistent with the Levy Report. Because Jordan comprises most of the lands formerly under the Mandate, and because residency thereunder was not intended to be restricted by national boundaries, this approach conforms to the Mandate’s original vision.
However, critics worry about the toll of maintaining a noncitizen population in Israel, and that political enfranchisement in Jordan will require displacement of the Hashemites or a drastic change in how they regard their Palestinian subjects. The feasibility of this approach is tied to the political fortunes of the Palestinian majority in Jordan.
Elyakim Haetzni advocates phased annexation in which Israel would assert sovereignty over the territories while granting limited autonomy or self-rule in areas with Arab majorities. The idea is to avoid governing Palestinians directly or extending them Israeli citizenship. Although this approach would eliminate Israeli responsibility for Palestinian governance, it would also set the stage for conflict when Palestinian autonomy conflicts with Israeli sovereignty, such as when Palestinian public-works projects intrude on neighboring Jewish infrastructure.
A third approach calls for Israel to immediately exercise full sovereignty and evacuate the Arab population with financial compensation. This approach is favored by Martin Sherman, who believes many Arabs would welcome the financial incentive. In light of the expulsion without compensation of eight-hundred thousand Jews from Arab countries in 1948, the history of forced population transfers during wartime (such as that between Pakistan and India in 1947), and Jordanian laws prohibiting Jews from residency or citizenship, one could argue historical and legal precedent for such an approach. But it would also create a public relations nightmare from which Israel might never recover.
A fourth approach advocated by Caroline Glick calls for exercising immediate sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria and providing their Arab residents with the opportunity for citizenship. This approach might be seen as more palatable internationally, but it would produce an Arab electorate that could influence Israeli elections and threaten the Jews’ hegemony in their own country. While Jews in Israel and the territories combined outnumber Arabs by two thirds, and though Jews now may have significantly higher birth rates, the resulting Arab voting bloc, especially when combined with the secular left, could succeed in diminishing Israel as a Jewish state – politically if not demographically.
Then there are those who favor partial annexation by the extension of Israeli sovereignty over Area C only – that is, by incorporating the “settlement blocs.” and all the Israeli communities. The benefit of partial annexation is that it would bring into Israel areas with undisputed Jewish majorities, including the greater Jerusalem neighborhoods disingenuously labeled “settlements” by the EU and the Obama Administration.
Proponents say this approach would merely formalize Israel’s present control of territories that are essential for her survival, including lands needed to maintain a geographic buffer at her narrowest point and protect her water rights in the Jordan Valley.
Advocates of partial annexation differ over what to do with lands excluded. Some endorse Arab autonomy and limited self-rule, while others envision federation or confederation with Jordan. However, any areas granted self-rule are likely to become breeding grounds for terrorist activity, as is suggested by the incitement, violence and terrorism that already occur in areas under PA control in the territories and Hamas rule in Gaza. Moreover, the possibility of linkage with Jordan will depend on the fate of the Hashemites and whether they are supplanted by Islamists.
Promoting Jordan as Palestine
Given the reality that most Palestinians have no desire for permanent peace, and that many consider negotiated settlement only the first phase of Israel’s destruction, many Israelis have come to regard the two-state model as Islamist dissimulation. Some Israelis believe that a two-state solution can be realized only by recognizing Jordan as the Palestinian homeland; and some Palestinians believe likewise, including Mudar Zahran, who has written extensively on the subject. Mr. Zahran believes that Hamas and the PA have no interest in improving the lives of Palestinians outside of the territories and Gaza or in negotiating peace with a Jewish nation. He also acknowledges the demographic and historical factors that recommend a homeland in Jordan; specifically, that it has a Palestinian majority and encompasses most of the territory from the original Mandate.
Zahran envisions a secular democracy that would protect the rights of minorities, enact a western-style constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and worship, and build a regional economic partnership with Israel. Most significantly, Zahran’s state would offer full citizenship
to all Palestinians regardless of national origin, a right currently denied them in all Arab countries, including Jordan, in accordance with longstanding Arab League policy. This solution makes demographic sense and takes the onus off Israel to absorb people who have been kept stateless for more than sixty years by their fellow Arabs and Muslims, and whose ancestors came primarily from elsewhere.
The drawback of this approach is that it would require regime change during a period of great instability. Similar to other Arab countries that have experienced political turmoil these last two years, Jordan has become a hotbed for Islamists eager to seize power, including the Muslim Brotherhood. The rise of an Islamist regime would preclude peace with Israel.
Maintaining the Status Quo
Finally, there are those who advocate maintaining the status quo until the Palestinians grow to accept Israel’s right to exist. However, the status quo currently includes a Hamas government in Gaza whose continual rocket attacks have provoked two wars since 2006 and a Palestinian Administration in Judea and Samaria that continues to engage in incitement and terrorism.
Those who favor the status quo until the Palestinians are ready for peace assume they will someday come to accept Israel’s right to exist. As shown by reliable polls and the PLO and Hamas Charters, however, the Palestinian majority rejects the concept of permanent peace. The Arab-Muslim world has never abandoned its aim of destroying Israel; and barring a theological reformation within Islam it is unlikely ever to accept the legitimacy of a dhimmi nation, least of all a Jewish one. Those who believe the world of Islam will someday accept a Jewish country within its midst do not understand the doctrinal nature of its antisemitic rejectionism.
Maintaining a Quasi-Status Quo
Instead of sticking with an inert course, some advocate maintaining a quasi-status quo in which Israel refrains from any formal declarations while continuing to build facts on the ground without fanfare. Proponents of this approach believe Israel can continue to consolidate her presence in the territories such that the incorporation of at least Area C would become a fait accompli. And if the U.S. really intends to continue pushing Oslo, Israel could perhaps capitalize on it by shutting down all PA ministries, agencies and activities that currently operate illegally in Jerusalem in violation of Article XVII (1a) of the Accords.
Israel could also adopt the Levy Report, which persuasively states the legal basis for maintaining control over Judea and Samaria. Even if she ultimately decides to retain less than all of the territories, she could strengthen her bargaining position by affirming her legal and historical right to be there without apology.
Will Israel be Guided by Historical Entitlement or Political Correctness?
Regardless of whether Israel continues with the peace process, she will likely suffer international censure if she offers anything less than a Palestinian state based on the 1949 Armistice Line and a divided Jerusalem. Such a state would compromise her sovereignty and leave her without secure borders. However, if Israel wants a solution that guarantees her continuing viability, she must build into it a strategy for dealing with the international fallout. She could insulate herself somewhat by reducing her dependence on the United States, working towards energy self-sufficiency, and expanding her economic, strategic and military relationships with nations, such as India, that are interested in her high-tech industry.
The task may seem herculean, but taking such steps may enable Israel to minimize her reliance on nations that use their strategic or economic superiority as leverage against her national interests. If Israel chooses to act independently in crafting a solution that insures her security and national integrity, she must also find ways to survive independently if she is left out in the cold as a result.
Also appeared in watchdog.com, sent to Arutz Sheva by the author.