By Sondra Baras
June 9, 2020
There is an enormous buzz in Israel now surrounding annexation, or as it is often referred to, extending Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria. The dream that we carried with us for so long, the goal of so much of our activities in Judea and Samaria since 1967, is finally reaching a level of fruition that most of us never dreamed would ever happen in our lifetime. And yet, just as we are facing this critical junction, there are voices of argument and dissension within the settlement movement itself.
I have often tried to put myself in the shoes of David Ben-Gurion, charged with making critical decisions in 1947 and again in 1948 that would affect the future of Israel for generations to come. In 1947, the Jewish community of Israel was faced with the Partition Plan of the United Nations, which divided the Land of Israel into two states, an Arab and a Jewish one, leaving very small and isolated strips of land in the hands of the Jews, while handing vast stretches of land, including the strategic high-ground, to the Arabs. The plan excluded all of Judea and Samaria from the Jewish state and designated Jerusalem as an international area governed by the United Nations.
Accepting this plan could have been interpreted as Jewish agreement to the exclusion of Jerusalem and the Biblical Heartland from the areas of land that we claimed as our historical birthright. But David Ben-Gurion made a historic decision and accepted the plan on behalf of the Jewish people, while stating unequivocally that all of the Land of Israel rightfully belonged to the Jews, despite our inability to actualize that right at that time.
A few months later, Ben Gurion made another fateful decision. The British were leaving Palestine on May 15th and Israel had to decide whether to establish the State of Israel in the area they were abandoning. The Arabs had already begun their attack on Jews throughout the land, Jerusalem and Gush Etzion were under siege, and it was clear that the Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, and Lebanese would invade the minute the British left. There was enormous pressure on Ben Gurion to refrain from declaring a state, leaving room for a negotiated settlement that would enable Jews to continue living in Israel but without statehood. The claim was that if they refrained from declaring a state, war could be averted. The fear was that a vastly outnumbered and untrained non-army and air-force that was Israel at the time would be decimated in any military engagement.
But Ben Gurion made the critical decision and the State of Israel was established on May 14th, just hours before the British departed forever. War broke out immediately, casualties were terrible and it was not at all clear that Israel would remain past the first days of its existence. But a miracle happened and Israel survived.
It took time, but Israel grew steadily, stabilized its economy, and became a successful country. And in 1967, as a result of the Six Day War, when Israel was attacked by Syria, Egypt and Jordan, Israel liberated the Biblical Heartland, Judea and Samaria. Indeed, as Ben Gurion stated, we never gave up our claim to this land but we were never going to initiate a war to conquer it.
The Trump Plan as announced in January of this year, is not a perfect plan. It does provide for Israeli annexation of the areas where there are Jewish communities. It also provides a framework for territorial contiguity between most of these areas and pre-67 Israel. However, it does recognize the idea of a Palestinian State, leaves 70% of the area as potential for a Palestinian State and some 15 Jewish communities which will be annexed to Israel have been isolated in conclaves in the heart of Palestinian territory. The plan also redefines Palestinian statehood, however, so that it ensures continued Israeli security control over the entire Land of Israel west of the Jordan River, and conditions the establishment of such a state, with very limited powers, on the Palestinians meeting criteria that they are unlikely ever to meet.
Most of Israel welcomed this plan enthusiastically despite its obvious drawbacks. Today, the leadership of Judea and Samaria is divided: should we apply sovereignty over 30% of the area and achieve US recognition? Will this application of sovereignty necessarily indicate that we agree with all aspects of the plan, including the freezing of construction in the 70% of the area reserved for the Palestinians? But even more significantly, will extending sovereignty mean that we agree to the current conceptual map which cuts off vital community areas such as Shiloh and Hebron from Jerusalem, by transferring sections of Route 60 to the Palestinian Authority? Should we apply sovereignty on the 1st of July, as Netanyahu promised?
My response to this is a resounding yes. Provided that Netanyahu does not accept the conceptual map as reflecting the final status, but leaves it open to negotiation.
We don’t know if Trump will continue in office after the November elections. It is clear that a Democratic US president will try to recognize a Palestinian State. But prior recognition of Israeli annexation is binding on any future American administration. And it will set a vital precedent for European and other national policies.
In any case, this is far from the end of the story. The Trump plan gives the Palestinians 4 years to come to the table. They have already squandered half a year of that timetable. They have cut off all conversation with the US and have threatened violence should Israel annex any part of Judea and Samaria. It is likely that those 4 years will pass and the Palestinians will remain intransigent. And that will pave the way for Israel to continue further unilateral actions to tighten our hold on the area.
For the first time since 1967, a major world power has recognized Israel’s right to Judea and Samaria. We dare not miss this opportunity to assert our rights, rights that should have been asserted more than 50 years ago. Israel squandered a valuable opportunity to annex the area in 1967 when the world was still stunned by its surprise victory. We waited 53 years for another opportunity. If we squander this one, we may never have another one. At least not in our lifetime. Every choice has its risks but we dare not miss this opportunity to declare for all the world to hear, in a legal way — this Land is ours