PEACE IN THE VALLEY
Whoever emerges as the next prime minister of Israel will have a one-time, historic opportunity to permanently improve Israel’s national security.
This can be achieved by taking advantage of understandings in place between Israel and the U.S., and the positive cooperation in place between Israel and Russia; and annexing the Jordan Valley. The annexation maneuver should include the Jordan Valley as a complete sector, rather than just a highway and a border. Doing so will ensure Israel’s ability to effectively defend itself against current and future threats.
Defining the Jordan Valley as a critical eastern border for Israel was established as a basic need during the time of the Rabin government in the 1990s. The late prime minister included the Jordan Valley as one of three non-negotiable principles that Israel had to affix during the Oslo peace accords. The other two principles were keeping Jerusalem undivided, and maintaining possession of the major settlement blocs to allow the IDF full freedom of maneuver in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
Rabin envisaged an autonomous Palestinian political entity in the West Bank that would be less than a full-fledged state, with Israel gaining security arrangements that included control of the Jordan Valley.
Keeping the Jordan Valley has the support of around 100 Knesset Members. The Blue and White party platform emphasizes a commitment never to leave the Jordan Valley. The opportunity to realize this vision will be at the doorstep of the next prime minister. It ought to be their first goal, particularly given that it would not require any new legislation – only a government decision.
The dire predictions of violence and unrest, which preceded the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and the move of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, proved to be unfounded. The same is true regarding predictions of a new intifada if Israel annexes the Jordan Valley.
Palestinian youths in the West Bank are mostly interested in their economic future, and are frustrated by their corrupt government, the Palestinian Authority. Many understand that their future is intertwined with Israel. In the absence of an effective Palestinian leadership today, it is imperative for Israel to annex the Jordan Valley, and then await the next Palestinian leadership, one which might facilitate talks and normalization – both in the West Bank and Gaza.
DRAIN THE SWAMP. DON’T FIGHT THE MOSQUITOS.
Zooming out of the West Bank arena, it is key to view the security challenges developing around Israel as part of a broader Iranian campaign. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has built up significant capabilities, with over 100,000 projectiles. In Gaza, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have built up an arsenal of over 20,000 rockets. Hezbollah and Iran are trying to build up a presence on the Syrian border. All of these threats are linked by a common denominator: Iran.
This fact is very clear to the current Israeli prime minister, who affixed and acted upon a determined policy against Iran. The next prime minister, whether it be Prime Minister Netanyahu or another, must continue this line, ratcheting up an already determined response against the Iranians. This policy should be guided by the understanding that the main objective is to drain the swamp, not fight the mosquitos. That means either forcing the Iranian leadership to abandon its current aggression, or creating the conditions for regime change in Iran.
One way of doing this is through expanding the major sanctions already in place on the Islamic Republic, which are having a real impact. Another avenue would be to ensure that Israel, the U.S., and regional Arab states are militarily prepared for the possibility of conflict with Iran. Israel must be ready to lend a hand to Sunni Arab states and to the U.S. in the event of a future military confrontation, and it must be prepared to engage Iranian capabilities.
This is the only way to prevent the transfer of funds, missiles, and knowledge from Iran to Hezbollah and Hamas. In light of these conditions, it is imperative that the next prime minister avoids being dragged into another military campaign in the Gaza Strip, and to resist populist pressure to do so, even if Israel sustains sporadic Gazan rocket attacks.
A new Gaza war with many casualties is exactly what Iran wants, in order to divert international attention away from the Sunni – Shi’ite conflict. Creating a major conflict in Gaza – or in Lebanon – would be falling into an Iranian trap.
Though avoiding the Iranian trap may be difficult and painful, Israel must not, under any circumstances, fall prey to the Iranian plan. This does not mean Israel should avoid responding firmly through large-scale precision air strikes against Gazan terror organizations if they attack. But retaliation should be shaped by an understanding of the overall picture, according to which the main focus must be on dealing with the Iranians.
Weakening the central Iranian threat will have significant positive effects on other arenas – Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank.
INSIDE OUT FOR A MORE SECURE FUTURE
Additionally, in order for Israel to deal with the emerging external threats, it is vital for Israeli society to heal its rifts and overcome its factures. The strength of our society is an essential part of our resilience. In recent years, deep divisions have opened up over issues such as religion and state, and the Left – Right dispute. The time has come for the next prime minister to focus on what unites Israelis, rather than what divides and separates us. Ultimately, all Israelis share the same fate.
On the economic front, Israel must continue to cultivate a strong free market and growth, or it will end up risking its ability to further develop society, and its military capabilities. This means ensuring that industry and agriculture prosper in a manner similar to what we have witnessed in the hi-tech sector.
At the same time, Israel’s economic structure must support the weaker members of our society, in line with the Jewish value of charity and aiding the poor. Encouraging economic prosperity and creating a welfare network for the poor are both values that Israel should express simultaneously.
OUR BRETHEREN ABROAD
Finally, one issue that does not receive sufficient attention within the discourse of government in Israel is the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and the U.S.
The next Israeli government should prepare to absorb tens of thousands of Jews who feel that their personal security, identity, and freedom are under threat, and who will seek refuge in the Jewish national homeland. The government must be ready to provide them with homes and employment. The trend of exiles returning to Zion seems set to grow in the coming years.
The next government should also invest resources in strengthening the bond with Diaspora Jewry as part of this policy.
Ultimately, in this rapidly changing world and its many challenges, it is vital to remember that alongside the desire to promote peace, a country’s value is directly tied to its power. The more powerful Israel is militarily, economically, technologically, and socially, the more states will want to establish and maintain close relations with it. These are some of the essential steps that can and should be undertaken in service of that goal.