A new take on the Peace Now slogan "Territory for Peace" posits asserting Israeli sovereignty on the disputed territory of Judea and Samaria in order to bring peace and quiet to the region, as opposed to establishing a Palestinian state that is sure to become another Hamastan. This is the idea behind the first "Regaining the Initiative" Conference, held in Hevron on Thursday evening.
It is a fact, said the organizers, that the Arab world has made the idea of a 'Palestinian' state, a land for a people that didn’t exist until they were created at the end of the 20th century, into an axiomatic must-do for most of the world. The Arab narrative includes taking this proposed land from the Jews, branding them as usurpers and occupiers while negating millennia of Biblical and historical Jewish rights to the land, this despite the Arabs losing the many wars they initiated, and despite the Balfour Declaration, League of Nations mandates and United Nations recognition for a Jewish state. All that somehow seems perfectly fine to a good many liberal well wishers, and even finer to a good many not-so-well wishers.
How did they do it? Putting aside the subconsciously anti-Semitic readiness of the world to believe anything of the Jews, they did it by turning the issue into a subject of common discourse. Conferences, meetings, interviews, resolutions, clever use of visual imagery made the idea of “Palestinian rights” as ubiquitous as humous is in the Arab souk.
Recent polls, however, show that most mainstream Israelis feel that a Palestinian state is a disaster for the Jewish one. Even those in the government who have agreed to its establishment hedge their offers out of fear of rockets falling on Ben Gurion airport the morning after.
Yet they find themselves on the defensive as the other side says “What’s your alternative?”
On Thursday, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover , indefatigable leaders of the “Women in Green” decided to “Regain the Initiative”, as they called their packed conference in Hevron, and began to turn the plan to assert Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria into a real alternative with the help of sponsors Arutz Sheva, Professors for a Strong Israel and the Machpela Visitor's Center,
A list of prominent speakers addressed the various ramifications of Israeli sovereignty, Jewish, Zionist, political,,economic, legal and diplomatic, discussing options for annexation, the status of Arab residents, demographics and world reactions.
This is just the beginning of public discourse, they said, and the hundreds who came to help kickstart the initiative, agreed.
Carolyn Glick, senior contributing editor of JPost, often interviewed on Arutz Sheva's Hebrew site, said that any Palestinian state will be a terror state, Israeli Arabs will demand independence and an invasion from Iraq will follow. Once Israel gives in to a Palestinian state, she said, we admit to being outside conquerors, and the rest is downhill.
Glick suggested asserting sovereignty now, giving today’s PA Arabs the franchise, but setting rules: no votes for members of terror organizations, for example. She recalled that nothing happened when Israel united Jerusalem and annexed the Golan Heights without fanfare. There is no standing still, she maintained, and if we don’t want to pay the price for victory, we will lose.
MK Hotovely (Likud) said that we must ignore the left and proceed to annex for the good of the country.
Professor Raphy Yisraeli said that a Palestinian state in Yesha would not solve anything, as only a third of those claiming to be “refugees” live in Yesha and the other two thirds would soon demand the rest of Israel. He suggested population switches, including of Israeli Arabs, modeled on the post WWII period when 20 m. refugees were resettled successfully in a matter of years. Israel’s pre-1922 borders could be the starting point of negotiations, leaving room for an Palestinian entity. Arabs left in Israel should be Palestinian citizens of that entity.
An original forecast that could be used to promote the idea was laid out by economic correspondent Eran Bar Tal, who outlined the significant economic gain for Israelis and Arabs if sovereignty is asserted, a positive outcome for which he said the left has no alternative. He predicted a rise in property values of Arab homes in Yesha, which are worth little now, subsequent capital gain to Israeli banks from mortgages, a solution to the housing shortage for Israelis (as Yesha is not the Negev or Galilee, but attractively close to employment centers), elimination of the need for foreign workers while raising living conditions for Arabs in manual trades – all told, an economic win-win situation, to which people can relate easily.
Former UN Ambassador Yoram Ettinger laid the demographic issue to rest, with statistics that showed that time is actually on the Israeli side. He listed demographic predictions of doom in the past that turned out to be inaccurate, explaining that a double-counting error led to census results that have 1 m. more Arabs in Yesha than are really there on the books. He juxtaposed the rising birthrate in Israel –from 80,000 in 1995 to 125,000 in 2010 with the lowering Arab one.
As far as world opinion goes, he said that the US Congress, which represents mainstream America, is 80% pro Israel (eliciting a laugh when he said that this is a higher percentage than polls of Israelis attain).
Dr. Yitschak Klein of the Israel Policy Center claimed that Israeli policy us based on how we wish Arabs would act, but not on how they really behave. Now is the time act, he said, as public opinion has changed radically. Negotiations have failed, Oslo has collapsed, and a majority of Israelis polled do not want to give up any more land. They do, however, want to be separated from PA Arabs and therefore he suggested giving over Arab concentrated areas in return for gaining other areas.
Dr. Gabi Avital, former Chief Scientist of Israel's Education Ministry, summed up the initiative by saying that details can be worked out, but that from this point on, the 'Territories for Peace' slogan must be turned on its head. Israel can assert sovereignty all at once or in stages over the territory of Yesha, work out the status of PA residents now or later, but Yesha must become Israeli sovereign territory for Israel to survive.