There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Trump Peace Plan’, or as it is properly known in the White House Issued paper, the ‘Peace to Prosperity Plan’ – The Trump administration’s vision for a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
In recent weeks, the dialogue across Israeli society and the Jewish world, and in particular, amongst the unstable political echelons that exist within the Israeli Government, have been focussed on following through with the first stages of the Plan, the ‘Annexation’ of parts of the ‘West Bank’. The ‘West Bank’, properly known as Yehuda and Shamron, or Judea and Samaria currently have a mixed Israeli and Arab population.
To use the term ‘Annexation’ in relation to Judea and Samaria is misleading. ‘Annexation’, a term applied to the forcible seizing of land or territory and annexing it into one’s own country or bringing it under its rule. It implies Israel is about to ‘seize control’ of areas that don’t already belong to Israel and that it doesn’t currently govern. This is simply untrue. Let’s look at the history.
The very name ‘West Bank’, when in truth it is on the east side of Israel, is misleading. It comes from the fact that after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, for nearly two decades, Jordan, which is to the east of Israel, grabbed control of the land mass that spanned the majority of the ‘West Bank’. This area became known as the ‘West Bank’ of (Territories occupied by) Jordan. Whilst under Jordanian control, they successfully ethnically cleansed 100% of the area from any Jewish population.
Today, despite ongoing political pressure, nearly half a million Jews, including my own son, live in the ‘West Bank’ of Israel. There are three areas within the West Bank. Areas A and B are Palestinian areas. Area A is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Area B is occupied by Palestinians but controlled by Israel. Area C is an area in which both Palestinians and Israelis live and is controlled by Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel has never been brave enough to fully establish Judea and Samaria as Israel proper, and retained military law as a governance and management model. In fact, in order to build a building or obtain permits of any kind in the region you need to apply to military authorities who rely on some obscure Ottoman laws that were in effect while the area was under Jordanian rule.
Israel seems to be agreeing to some of the early stages of the Trump plan and remove this military management and metaphorically ‘annex’ the area, and place it under Israeli civil law. In a real sense ‘annexing’ doesn’t mean that Israel will be deploying any more tanks or putting up Israeli flags where there haven’t been tanks or flags for many decades. What it does mean is that Israel feels confident enough to treat Area C, which is jointly occupied by Israelis and Arabs, like the rest of Israel, that it is able to protect its inhabitants, like it is able to protect the rest of its citizens, and govern society in those areas similar to the rest of the country.
In fact, the Israeli reporter Zvi Yechezkeli went into areas of Judea and Samaria to see what the Arabs living in Area C really think about the plans for ‘Annexation’ to Israel. Some of the answers he received were quite surprising. Yechezkeli’s conversations revealed a significant chasm that exists between what the Palestinian Authority (PA) and leaderships are saying to the world, and what the Arab residents of the area really want.
A Palestinian spokeswoman expressed that in her village, slated to come under Israeli civil law, about 80% of the Arab population would prefer Israeli citizenship and 20% want it, but wouldn’t dare to say so publicly. Their view is that their quality of life would go up, that Israeli’s are more compassionate than the PA; their economic and aid situation, as well as their social benefits and the benefits of law and order on the streets would be much improved.
Many segments of the Jewish world from the right wing religious camp to the left wing PC police are opposed to the Trump Peace Plan. Some say that by pursuing the plans and annexing parts of Judea Samaria to Israel, Israel will provoke sanctions from the EU or rejection from the Arab States surrounding Israel who have tenuous peaceful agreements with Israel.
What is extraordinary is that these same voices expressed the same objections when the Golan Heights in the North was recognised as part of Israel and when President Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital by moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. Yet, we did not see any of these predictions or threats unfold.
Israel has a long history of acquiescing to political correctness, with no real political gain to ever eventuate. Over the past 53 years, Israel has been sitting in limbo with Judea Samaria. It has not progressed with its civil annexation in the anticipation that perhaps some of the Arab countries and the Palestinian inhabitants will try to pursue a peace plan, which would include areas of Judea Samaria being included in a Palestinian State or territory.
Israel agreed to freeze all building outside already existing areas that are settled within the entire region (including all around Jerusalem) as part of the civil annexation process. The issue is that people are well and truly aware that the PA is not a serious peace player. The PA needs to cease the ‘pay for slay’ policy, which invests more than AUD200M per annum, paying Palestinian terrorists to slay Israeli’s and Jews. The PA needs to cease all forms of terror incitement, to establish financial transparency, and hold free democratic, open parliamentary and presidential elections. The PA needs to disarm the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; this would include disposing of the tens of thousands of rockets that it is currently stockpiling for use against Israel.
The Israeli Government seems ready to proceed with the first stages of legitimising all those who live in Judean Samaria, because after five decades of Palestinian rejectionism, it is difficult to argue that the legal strangulation and regulation of these communities, causing them to remain in a political limbo until a far off peace agreement is signed, is fair.
The current US administration isn’t giving up on the possibility of a diplomatic peace settlement, despite failed past peace efforts. In the past, the peace efforts have been based on the morally repugnant and impractical assumption that the creation of a Palestinian State must be preceded by the expulsion of all Jews from its territories. The acceptance of an ethnic pre-cleansing was one reason that previous US administrations opposed the application of Israeli civil law on the area. By retaining military law, it made life more difficult and challenging, and more uncertain for all the Jewish settlers who lived in the area, thereby encouraging them to leave.
The current Plan rejects this illiberal notion, which has not been the basis of any successful, proposed or realised, peace deals anywhere in the world, nor throughout history. In the end, it is hard to know why the Israeli Government seems to be moving forward with the first stages of the plan, even in the unlikely prospects of peace. Perhaps it wants to once and for all settle the status of the nearly half a million of its residents in Judea Samaria and provide them with the same civil liberties as the rest of its citizens.
But whatever the cause, we need to be wary of those who use any excuse to incite hatred or spew political rhetoric against Israel. This is not one of those opportunities. Israel is legitimately recognising its own sovereignty of its own land that it has ruled for nearly half a century. This can hardly be called ‘annexation’.
As we come towards school holidays, we approach a time period known as ‘the Three Weeks’. It commences on the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, a fast day, which falls in the middle of school holidays, on 10 July, and it concludes three weeks later on the 9th day of Av – Tisha b’Av. This time period is the anniversary of many calamities and terrible events that occurred throughout Jewish history. The most famous of which was the breach of the walls of Jerusalem and the eventual destruction of the Beit Ha’Mikdash, the Temple itself.
Since the time of the destruction there has been continuous Jewish settlement in Israel, although we were subjected to the rule of others. In 1948, miraculously, after nearly 2000 years of exile, Jewish sovereignty and self-governance was restored to the State of Israel. Part of the Trump Peace Plan is to reinforce Israel’s right to self-determination and self-rule, and to be recognised as the national State for the Jewish people. As we enter this time period we once again pray and hope to restore Jerusalem to its glory, for our nation State, Israel, to be fully rebuilt and to enjoy peace and prosperity.
About the Author
Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.