Israel’s Sovereignty Claim in Judea and Samaria

The window of opportunity might close in November, 2020.

July 1, 2020 will not be the day Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces Israel’s extension of sovereignty and Israeli law to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, or the annexation of the Jordan Valley into Israel. For Defense Minister, and Prime Minister-to-be Benny Gantz, the whole deal is not crucial at this time, and he believes addressing the issue of annexation should await the end of the coronavirus crisis. Every day, however, is bringing new pressures on Israel to refrain from any unilateral action regarding the territories the EU calls the West Bank. The United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the moderate Arab states, including Egypt and Jordan, who have a formal peace agreement with Israel, have delivered warnings of consequences should Israel go ahead with annexation. For the moderate Arab states, it is essentially “lip service” to the Palestinians.

Both the UN and the EU call all the territories in the West Bank “occupied Palestinian territories,” Israel calls them “disputed territories,” and the Trump administration sides with Israel’s interpretation of the territory’s status. The Europeans, especially the French and the Germans, despise U.S. President Donald Trump and seek to undermine his “Deal of the Century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Israel, for its part, would have preferred to have a negotiating partner, as would the Trump administration, but Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have rejected the Trump peace plan, and dismissed the prodding of Arab Gulf state leaders, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), to partake in the negotiations.

For “Bibi” Netanyahu, the idea of officially annexing the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, is not only fulfilling long awaited promises made by politicians of both the political Right and Center, it is a promise he made during the last three election campaigns in seeking to galvanize right-wing voters support for the Likud party. The idea of Israel annexing strategic territories in Judea and Samaria goes back to the 1967 Allon Plan, named after its conceiver, Igal Allon, then deputy prime minister. His plan proposed annexing the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria as a strategic defense against an invasion from the east, and also to provide Israel’s most populated areas and the Ben Gurion Airport with measurable depth against canon fire.  Prior to the Six Day War, the Green Line border was a narrow waistline of less than 9 miles between Qalqilya, and Netanya on Israel’s Mediterranean Coast.

Some areas in Judea and Samaria, such as the Gush Etzion (Etzion Bloc) communities existed before Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The Arab Legion of King Abdullah I of Jordan, brutally attacked and destroyed these communities, and illegally annexed them to Jordan. The same was done with the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Large towns such as Ariel and Maal’e Edumim, that abut the Green Line, are clearly designated to be part of Israel under any peace negotiations deal. The Trump administration agreed with Israel that Israel’s annexation should encompass about 30% of the West Bank, but it may not be more than that size, and perhaps smaller. The Israeli cabinet did not decide yet on the percentage, and the decision has not therefore been presented to the Knesset. The coalition (Likud and Blue and White) that makes up the current government agreed in April to carry out the annexation.

The German weekly magazine, Der Spiegel, (June 30, 2020) carried a piece by Alexandra Rojkov and Raniah Salloum, titled The West Bank Faces New Reckoning. The authors claim that, “Benjamin Netanyahu, could begin the process of annexing parts of the West Bank, despite this being a violation of international law.”  They pointed out moreover that, “An annexation, no matter how large, would be considered a violation of international law, which forbids nation states from seizing foreign territory.” 

In a New York Times opinion piece (September 19, 1983), the late Eugene Rostow’s headline stated: “Israel’s Settlement Rights is Unassailable.” Rostow, a former dean of the Yale University School of Law, and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, wrote: “Israel has unassailable legal right to establish settlements in the West Bank. The West Bank is part of the British Mandate in Palestine which included Israel and Jordan as well as certain other territories not yet generally recognized as belonging to either country. While Jewish settlements east of the Jordan River was suspended in 1922, such settlements remain legal in the West Bank.” Rostow argued that, “Israel is not in the West Bank as an occupying power, because the West Bank has never been widely recognized as Jordanian. Israel's claims to the territory are at least as good as those of Jordan, since Jordan held the territory for 19 years after a war of aggression, whereas Israel took the area in the course of a war of self-defense.” 

The Arab-Palestinians were not a party to UN Security Council Resolution 242 (enacted in 1967 following the Six Day War), and there was never a state of Palestine, therefore, the notion used by Der Spiegel, the UN, and the EU of “occupied Palestinian territories” is invalid. UNSC Resolution 242, remains a key to Middle East peacemaking. The Resolution does not require Israel to withdraw from all territories it captured in June, 1967. Resolution 242 recommends that the parties negotiate in good faith in order to reach an agreement based on such principles as, “Israeli withdrawal to recognized and secure borders,” and the concept of “Land for Peace.” So, when Egypt made peace with Israel, Israel followed the principle of land for peace by returning to Egypt the entire Sinai Peninsula, to the last inch of land. Similarly, when Jordan established peace with Israel, the Jewish state fulfilled all the demands of Jordan and Resolution 242. The Arab-Palestinians, however, refuse to negotiate, and engaged in terror immediately following the Oslo Accords in 1993.

Rostow, in a piece he wrote titled “The Future of Palestine,” asserted that “The Declaration of Principles signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), does not end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The occupation can end, in the words of Resolution 242, only when the parties have established “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” 

Mahmoud Abbas won’t even negotiate with Israel, let alone commit to “a just and lasting peace.” Hamas, the jihadist Palestinian entity occupying Gaza, is committed to the destruction of Israel, and it will not, under any circumstances, make peace with Israel. The UN and the EU have not pressured the Palestinians to enter peace negotiations, nor has the EU threatened to withhold funding to the Palestinian Authority for refusing negotiations with Israel.

In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish communities are split between those who reject the Trump peace plan because they argue that it will end with a Palestinian state, which they consider a mortal threat to Israel, and a larger group of community leaders who understand the opportunity the Trump Plan affords Israel, and recognize that Israel has a short window of opportunity in July and August, 2020, to activate the annexation plans. They figure, moreover, that should President Trump be defeated in November, the window of opportunity would close.

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Photo credit: The Kremlin

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