On July 24, I posted a piece — “Why Republicans Must Take the Lead on Israel” — on FrontPage.
Its thesis, in brief: In January, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed the Levy Committee – headed by Edmund Levy, retired Supreme Court Justice, and including another retired judge and a lawyer who is an expert on international law – and charged them with considering the legal status of “unauthorized settlements” in Judea and Samaria.
The findings of that committee, which labored long and hard in its research, have now been released. It found that (emphasis added):
- According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least the lands that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority [area C under the Oslo Accords].
- “[F]rom an international law perspective, the laws of ‘occupation’ do not apply to the unique historic and legal circumstances surrounding Israel’s decades-long presence in Judea and Samaria.”
- “Likewise, the Fourth Geneva Convention [relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War] on the transfer of populations does not apply, and wasn’t intended to apply to communities such as those established by Israel in Judea and Samaria.”
The committee made several recommendations, but neither its findings nor those recommendations are binding on the government of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has submitted the Report to his Ministerial Committee on Settlements, but at present there has been no policy established with regard to the Committee findings.
Now, the prime minister may in due course accept those findings. Or, feeling international political constraints, he may decide to simply table the issue.
My suggestion was that – in light of the clear evidence that the Palestinians do not really intend to negotiate a “two state solution” and the growing nationalist movement inside of Israel – it might be time for the Republicans to accept the major finding of the Levy Committee and acknowledge the right of Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria.
While recognizing that this would not be a politically correct move, I suggested that an election year, when new policies and platforms are drafted, might be the appropriate time to act on this.
Not surprisingly, I have received a good deal of private communication regarding my proposal. Most was supportive. But I also received communication that expressed an enormous unease with what I was suggesting. What was interesting was that these apprehensive messages did not come from persons opposed to the notion of Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria.
Rather, they were written by people who are on board with a nationalist agenda, but who fear that what I was suggesting would backfire: It would be understood, they maintained, as a bid to encourage the Republican Party to pressure the Israeli prime minister with regard to Israeli policy.
I am thoroughly convinced that this reading is incorrect and that the reverse is actually true. And so I have returned to my computer to draft this postscript to my original piece:
I begin by noting that the prime minister himself had appointed and charged the Levy Committee. In no way was I coming out of left field; I had simply suggested that the Republicans embrace the findings of Netanyahu’s own committee. In point of fact, the two members of the Knesset whom I mentioned by name as leaders of efforts to promote the findings of the Levy Report—Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely—are themselves members of Netanyahu’s party, Likud.
But there is something even more basic than this. I had not proposed that Republicans endorse the annexation by Israel of all of Judea and Samaria or even Area C. I had not suggested that the Republicans reject all possibility of negotiations with the PA, or declare the “two state solution” dead.
What had I proposed? That the Republicans recognize that the Jews of Israel have rights.
Now I know that this is a novel proposition, as the world is fond of talking about Israeli obligations and Israeli malfeasance. What I didn’t know is how much anxiety this generates in some quarters and how radical a divergence from normative political thinking this is perceived as being.
If we are going to speak about pressure on Israel, we must look at the messages President Obama has been delivering for almost four years now. Always and ever, the onus has been on Israel. And it is precisely this pressure that generates the constraints with which Netanyahu must contend.
Israel was supposed to freeze settlement construction in order to bring Abbas to the table. This had not been a PA demand until Obama advanced it as a condition for starting negotiations. And Israel was told by the president that negotiations would have to start with the premise that the border of a Palestinian state would be the ’67 line, with adjustments. Never mind that there is a Security Council resolution that determined that this would not provide Israel with a secure border. Israel has been pressured, as well, to make “confidence building” gestures to the PA, via such acts as releasing prisoners.
The absolute given in all circumstances has been the assumption that a Palestinian state would ultimately be founded in most or all of Judea and Samaria. Never mind that the PA still utilizes school books that praise jihad and leave Israel off its maps; or that it honors terrorists on a regular basis; or that it is in “unity” negotiations with the terrorist Hamas. Israel is supposed to keep trying.
Now let’s look at the message that would be delivered by Republicans prepared to say that Israel has the right to settle in Judea and Samaria:
It would tell the prime minister that, instead of feeling coerced—boxed into one politically correct scenario—he is finally being provided with options:
Republican recognition of Israeli rights would not obligate Israel to adopt any particular policy. Simply because you have the right to do something does not mean you must do it. Decisions regarding the Levy Report would remain in the hands of the Israeli government, and Binyamin Netanyahu might still table it.
However, should he wish to officially accept the findings of the report, or, even more, advance settlement in Judea and Samaria in accordance with Israel’s rights, he would know that some political elements in the US—possibly the predominant political elements—would be supportive. Obama is fond of saying that, “We have Israel’s back.” But here it would truly be the case.
This assurance would remove some of the constraints the prime minister now feels as he makes his decisions. He would have greater freedom to make choices based on what is truly best for Israel.
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