By Victor Rosenthal
Discussions of “annexation” by Israel’s new unity government have triggered shrieks of outrage from the usual suspects, from Mahmoud Abbas to the EU to Joe Biden. The Arab League announced that it would be a “new war crime…against the Palestinian people.” The Israeli Left is up in arms. Even the American Union for Reform Judaism got into the act.
They should calm down.
What is proposed isn’t new, it directly affects virtually no Palestinian Arabs, it is not “illegal under international law,” and it isn’t a “war crime.” As part of the Trump plan, it is perhaps the most practical path to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs that doesn’t involve war.
What is to be annexed is only part of Judea and Samaria: the Jordan Valley, with the exception of the city of Jericho, and Israeli communities in the rest of Judea and Samaria. There are almost no Palestinians living in these places. The map will be complicated, and in order to provide contiguity for Jewish and Palestinian areas, will include bypass roads and tunnels. The Palestinian area will get as much autonomy as possible, consistent with Israel’s security: it will be something less than a completely sovereign state, since it will be demilitarized and its borders will be controlled by Israel.
It’s interesting to note that this is not a new idea, or a uniquely right-wing one. Indeed, its biggest proponents have been left-wingers.
The plan is an implementation of the idea originally expressed in the famous UN Security Council resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from parts of its conquered lands, and to establish “secure and recognized boundaries” for all states in the region. Shortly after the war in 1967, Yigal Allon, a former general and a Labor Party minister in the Israeli government, proposed a map similar to Trump’s which envisioned a “two state solution” with Palestinian control of the Arab areas. Later, he modified it for Jordanian control, but the map was similar. Of course both Jordan and the PLO rejected the idea. But for years, the “Allon plan” was the paradigm accepted by the Israeli Left.
After the signing of the Oslo Accords, and almost exactly a month before he was murdered, another former Palmach commander and left-wing hero, Yitzhak Rabin made a speech to the Knesset in which he described the Interim Agreement that had been signed with the PLO, and his understanding of what the final status would be like. Among other things, he said,
We view the permanent solution in the framework of State of Israel which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines. [My emphasis]
And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution:
- First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.
- The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term. [My emphasis]
- Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the “Green Line” prior to the Six-Day War.
- The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.
This too is very close to the Trump plan. It is ironic that some of the same people that call Netanyahu a hard-liner or even a criminal for his stated intention to annex the Jordan Valley are those that celebrate Rabin as a progressive peacemaker.
Until 2000, this was more or less the Israeli understanding of “two-state solution.” The PLO, naturally, had a different vision. For them, it meant that Israel would remove both the IDF and civilian communities from all areas conquered in 1967 including the Jordan Valley and eastern Jerusalem (perhaps with very minor adjustments), and that Arab refugees would have a right to return to Israel or to receive compensation. They saw Oslo as a very great compromise of principle, since they believe that all of Israel should be in their hands. But as Arafat said shortly after, once this was accomplished, the rest would soon follow (see also here).
Israel, under pressure from the US and Europe, and still in the grip of the Oslo delusion that the PLO could be a partner, ignored the threats from Arafat and other PLO members as well as the murderous terrorism that ramped up during the 1990s, and made concession after concession to the PLO. In 2000, the plan as envisioned by Rabin was almost forgotten as Ehud Barak offered almost all of Judea and Samaria to Arafat – and was still turned down. Arafat’s strategy had always been to alternate diplomacy and terror, and now, after the diplomatic gains he had achieved by pocketing the Clinton-Barak proposals, he unleashed the greatest terror offensive of all, the Second Intifada.
But he went too far. The IDF crushed the revolt and the Israeli people, at long last, gave up on the Oslo process and the political parties that had been telling them that peace was just around the corner if they would just give up a little more. When the evacuation of Gaza was followed by rocket barrages, it only emphasized that a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would be even more disastrous. The last gasp of the “Clinton parameters” was an abortive attempt at surrender in 2008 by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s worst PM ever. Anti-Israel President Barack Obama tried to revive the concession process, but Israel, now with Binyamin Netanyahu as PM, maintained the status quo.
With the advent of Trump, it became possible to restore considerations of Israel’s security and other interests into discussions of the future of Judea and Samaria, which had become focused entirely on Palestinian demands. Israel’s experience with Gaza has shown that we cannot afford to give up military control to a fully sovereign Palestinian state on the high ground opposite our population centers. Geographical considerations make it clear that Israel also has to occupy and fortify the western slope of Jordan Valley, in order to defend the state against conventional attack from the east. Strategic depth is required even in this day of threats from nuclear-armed missiles, because it is needed for early warning and interception systems. The Jordan Valley also must be under our control if we are to maintain the demilitarized status of the Palestinian entity.
Some on the Right argue that the Trump plan is unacceptable because it calls for a Palestinian state of some kind, and that allowing any such entity in Israel’s heartland will ultimately prove destructive. I can sympathize. But today it is not necessary to accept and implement the Trump plan as a whole. It is still absolutely clear that whether or not there will be a Palestinian entity and what its degree of sovereignty will be, the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria are essential to our defense. It is still certain that we can never again allow the expulsion of Jews from their homes as happened in Gaza. And while we have a window of opportunity to move today to establish facts on the ground, we can’t be sure that it will persist beyond the next American election.
Therefore there is only one course of action that makes sense today, and that is to move forward with the annexation. Whatever happens, our security demands it.