As the promised date for annexation of Judea and Samaria draws closer, the debate in Israel is heating up. But surprisingly, even those who have advocated extending the sovereignty of Israel to Judea and Samaria for years are conflicted as to whether to take this bold step now. What is the core of the debate? Why would the much-heralded Trump Plan cause so much debate today? And lastly, will Netanyahu ultimately implement the plan?
Unlike with past proposed peace processes, plans, roadmaps, and solutions, Trump’s Peace to Prosperity plan has created a unique political and ideological situation in Israel where the debate is no longer between Left and Right, but this time it is between Right and Right. This, on its own, is not a good or promising sign. It positions Israel between a rock and a hard place.
The first manifestation of the debate between the Right and the Right occurred when Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to exclude the right wing party, Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennett, when he formed his latest government shortly after The Deal of the Century was revealed. It was a bizarre and disloyal move on Netanyahu’s part, but it can perhaps be seen as one of the reasons why Netanyahu will not implement the annexation plan.
While Trump’s plan and policy changes relative to the Middle East have shown to be bold and did away with old and failed attempts to solve the conflict, the plan, on the other hand, has caused tremendous controversy and disappointment inside Israel. The annexation of 30 percent of lands won by Israel in a defensive war more than 50 years ago should be a welcome step in solidifying Israel’s long-term control over these areas. So why is it so controversial?
First and foremost, the first step under the Trump plan, which allows for Israel to annex territory, should not have been labeled “annexation.” This term has a negative connotation throughout the world, and reminds of apartheid. It has drawn instant and sharp criticism from Israel’s enemies and even from allies such as members of the US Congress and the European Union. Instead, the move, I believe, should have been called the “application of Israeli law” over settlement blocks that even the Palestinians recognize will never be uprooted. The mere finesse of the term would have caused much less attention and controversy, but for that it seems to be too late now.
At its core, the difficulty to accept the Trump plan is that it contains several aspects that are difficult to digest, especially in the context of what the overall expectation of the plan was. In light of the previously failed road maps to peace under former administrations, the right wing in Israel did not expect that the notion of a two-state solution would remain on the agenda and be given additional mileage. Surprisingly, the Trump plan calls for a Palestinian state, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority has shunned the Trump administration since 2017 and has refused to abandon its “slay for pay” policy, among other violations of the previously signed Oslo accords and general international law conventions.
The first reason for the debate is that the Trump plan calls for a freeze on settlement expansion. Secondly, the Trump map leaves some 19 settlements inside territories purposed for a future Palestinian state. The fact that the Trump plan calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state is mind-boggling and exhibits a tremendous lack of understanding of the dynamics in the Middle East, especially when one looks at recent history.
Let us analyze the first aspect of the new drawing board that leaves some 19 Jewish communities outside of the new sovereign map. These communities and towns are essentially left to their own destiny and will face an impossible future. Staying in place will cause them to not only remain outside of Israel proper, but they will become wholly isolated and engulfed in a hostile geographical environment with no possible geographical or economic growth. Which bank in Israel will be willing to lend money on a mortgage for a house in one of these settlements, for example? Essentially, the current annexation plan would draw out the final contours of how far Israel could expand; where the settlements end, Palestine would begin. This is viewed by many as surrender.
As a result, these settlements will either cease to exist on their own, or they may lead Israel to unilaterally dismantle them in the not too distant future, as was the case in 2005 when Israel withdrew from Gaza and uprooted all the communities of Gush Katif. The unilateral move out of Gaza in 2005 by Ariel Sharon was initiated specifically because the Palestinians failed to come to the table. That failure has continued under the Trump administration, but yet Israel may now again be forced to unilaterally withdraw from strategic territory under the Trump plan. So, who will be winning here?
As both the Left and the Right in Israel know today, Gush Katif – and therefore the entire Gaza strip – was transformed into a terror state run by Hamas, and a launch basis of underground tunnels, rockets, and incendiary balloons against Israel. Israel’s response to the terror emanating from Gaza has been very weak and indecisive, thereby failing to bring long-term quiet and tranquility to the residents in the South of Israel.
Why should Israel agree to duplicate this in Judea and Samaria, in the heartland of Israel, and directly threaten its major population centers and international airport?
But the dilemma has an additional dimension. All honest historians know that the countries in the Middle East that we know today as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are artificial countries drawn up after World War I by Europe, and none of these countries are nation states that can boast of any sense of stability. There is no Iraqi nation, nor a Lebanese nation, nor a Jordanian nation. There certainly never was a Palestinian nation. So why would the US support the creation of another artificial state inside its most reliable ally in the Middle East?
And why should Israel agree to the creation of such a state, merely because of its demographic challenge?
Israel is asked to accept a Palestinian state, as per the former US Middle East Envoy. If a Palestinian state does come into being, “but they end up abrogating the agreements,” Israel will have the ability to “go back in and do what they need to do to protect [themselves] without fear of…sanctions and condemnations on the part of [international bodies].” Really? Is life so simple?
The above statement is so ridiculous and cements the lack of understanding on the part of the Trump negotiating team of how the world views Israel versus the Palestinians. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip under the posturing that it can carpet-bomb the territory if only one missile were to be fired from it. Three wars later – and with several of its casualties still held hostage (by Hamas) – rockets are still being fired, and Hamas, who pushed the Palestinian Authority out of the Strip though a coup, is still fully in charge. Is it prudent to assume that Israel will be able to re-conquer a sovereign state?
In summary, the territory slated for annexation could include most Israeli settlements spread out throughout the West Bank with the exception of the 19, or just the Jordan Valley, a band along the eastern edge bordering Jordan in which no Palestinians live. Netanyahu might also decide to trim down the target areas to smaller swaths limited around Jerusalem, or just to a few strategically located Jewish settlements. The details are not yet known, and prognosticating them is difficult because Mr. Netanyahu is by definition a “status quo” man. In his almost 14 years of premiership, he has never acted boldly. And more importantly, he currently finds himself the prime minister after three elections, so why would he need to “rock the boat” now?
Personally, and from a practical, military, and faithful view, Israel may be better off if it continues to advance the de facto annexation of Judea and Samaria as it has steadily done for decades. In the long run, no deal is better than a divisive, irreversible deal.
This column is dedicated to the memory of my revered teacher, Rav Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitch zt”l, who recently passed away and who headed the Yeshivat Hesder in Maaleh Adumim, where I studied. His outspoken love and loyalty to the Land of Israel and its people were contagious and uniquely inspiring. I will never forget his resoluteness during the period of the signing of the Oslo accords and the several resulting wars. May his soul be bound in eternal life.