Taken together, three seemingly separate initiatives may add up to a deliberate strategic objective for the future of the West Bank. Neither the government, the security cabinet, nor the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has decided to adopt this plan. It has never been subjected to national-level staff work by Israel’s National Security Council or by the defense agencies. It has coalesced beneath the radar, far from the public eye.
One of these initiatives was manifest when Treasury Minister Bezalel Somtrich instructed government offices to prepare for settling another half million Israelis on the West Bank. He has requested that detailed staff work be performed to facilitate this doubling of the Jewish residents in Judea and Samaria and ordered the upgrading of infrastructures in settlements and illegal outposts at the cost of billions of shekels.
The second feature is encapsulated in the planned judicial overhaul, which would endow the executive branch with unfettered power, including in executing this plan.
A third element was reflected in Operation Shield and Arrow, Israel’s recent military campaign in Gaza, which was in line with a deliberate government policy of strengthening Hamas and undermining the Palestinian Authority, eviscerating what remains of the latter’s operational capacity.
Taken together these three initiatives lead to a common set of results. They will make a political solution with the Palestinians less likely, while compromising Israel’s security, economy and foreign relations, in the region and beyond. What underpins them all is a messianic belief that somehow, everything will just work out. The politicians backing the plan are forging ahead with this suicidal policy with remarkable arrogance. The plan itself, however, has managed to elude public scrutiny. We act as if it were just another, mundane real estate deal. Iran’s nuclear program has rightly been subject to widespread public discussion and detailed examination by the security establishment. For some reason, however, Israelis have turned a blind eye to the “nuclear” threat of accelerating efforts to reestablish Israeli control – and then to annex – territory on the West Bank.
An extremist messianic vision
These are far from abstract musings, as a perusal of Israel’s Decisive Plan, published by Bezalel Smotrich in 2017, will bear out. In it, Smotrich writes that “This goal… will be realized via a political-legal act of imposing sovereignty on all Judea and Samaria, and with concurrent acts of settlement: the establishment of cities and towns… and the encouragement of tens and hundreds of thousands of residents to come live in Judea and Samaria. In this way, we will be able to create a clear and irreversible reality on the ground.”
According to Smotrich, “West Bank Arabs” can respond in three possible ways: accept their status as Israel’s subjects, emigrate, or resist violently. In the latter case, the IDF will suppress opposition aggressively and achieve decisive military control. Suffice it to say that Smotrich’s analysis completely ignores the views of Israel’s senior military experts regarding the Palestinians.
Smotrich’s Decisive Plan is a practical expression of his worldview and the extremist messianic vision that has embedded itself ever more deeply in recent decades. He and Itamar Ben Gvir were able to secure the cabinet posts they demanded thanks to Netanyahu’s fecklessness and willingness to mortgage Israeli security for his own political survival. Thus, Ben Gvir was handed the Ministry of Internal Security, providing him with a veritable Molotov cocktail he can toss at will, and Smotrich received the Finance Ministry and a portfolio in the Ministry of Defense, powerful positions that enable him to promote his agenda shielded from public scrutiny. It is thus no surprise that Smotrich placed such a high priority on controlling the Civil Administration and the legal advisor in the Defense Ministry that handle the West Bank. In his capacity as Finance Minister, meanwhile, he can allocate the vast resources necessary to put his plan into practice.
The results of all this are already evident. Nine outposts, illegal by Israeli and international law, have quickly received post-facto authorization; plans have been approved to build thousands of housing units across the West Bank; the Disengagement Law that secured withdrawal from Gaza and five West Bank settlements and was based on a commitment to the administration in Washington was repealed in the northern part of the West Bank; despite US protestations, the settlement of Homesh has effectively been reestablished; and vast new budgets have been approved for settlement infrastructure.
Viewed in this light, Smotrich’s outrageous statement about “erasing” the village of Hawara (later “corrected” as having been directed at state institutions, not individual vigilantes) is merely a manifestation of the third option – aggressive crackdown – for handling “West Bank Arabs.” Furthermore, a clear line connects the effort to expand settlement deep inside the West Bank and the policy of eliminating the Palestinian Authority, thereby generating chaos that would require the IDF to reestablish control over the entire area, with all the bloodshed and other long-term consequences that would entail.
The West Bank billboards last week condemning the head of IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox were a clear warning to those who would stand in the way of annexation or attempt to enforce the law in opposition to the messianic settler vision. It is a vision that justifies any price, be it military, social, political or economic. The distance between defaming IDF officers who take a stand against lawlessness and branding them outright as traitors is a short one indeed.
Into the abyss
The Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul is a precondition for implementing Smotrich’s annexation-apartheid program. Smotrich explains it as follows: “Coping with this unprecedented reality justifies unprecedented solutions and arrangements, which may be difficult to defend in other situations but which can certainly be justified in the context of the State of Israel… New democratic and legal constructions might be required to ensure this situation – but there is no need to balk at the thought of their creation. To take a concept from contemporary constitutional discourse in Israel: the purpose is worthy enough to justify a proportional deviation from accepted principles.”
In order to justify the plan, it is necessary to mislead a majority of the Israeli public into believing that annexation will bring military, economic and political benefits; that Western democracies will understand; that countries in our region will accept it; and that the whole thing will only deepen the moral, democratic values upon which Israeli society stands. This is a fraudulent act of deceit. The Jewish People has already paid for similar mistakes in the form of 2000 years of exile. Today’s mistakes threaten Jewish sovereignty yet again.
Annexation-apartheid will spell the end of Israel as a democratic society. In a word, it would be suicide. If the late Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Elazar Shach were still at the helm of the Haredi community, one would have expected them to fiercely resist such a development. Unfortunately, today’s haredi leadership has prioritized sectoral political and economic gains over collective responsibility.
Deliberately and fully cognizant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading Israel into the abyss, all to avoid facing the legal consequences of his actions. He, and he alone, bears overall responsibility for what is about to transpire. This is neither an ideological debate between left and right, nor a question of starry-eyed altruism. At stake is the Zionist vision that has guided us for the past 130 years and which is embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Agents of messianic chaos must not be allowed to bring it to an end.