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Bibi and Benny agree: the Jordan Valley is just a matter of time

The only real deterrent to extending Israeli law to the Jordan Valley is public opinion, and the right and center are on board
The Jordan Valley. (CC BY Trocaire, Flickr)
The Jordan Valley. (CC BY Trocaire, Flickr)

Two Jews, three opinions — goes the beloved Jewish adage. However, in the Jewish state, for the past few years, there are only two opinions — yes Bibi, no Bibi. This is the prism through which any political or policy matter is judged. This “dilemma” has managed to obliterate the traditional borderlines between right and left, uniting political foes and has even cost us a third election. No issue was substantial enough to bridge the seemingly abyssal divide separating the two camps.

Which is why this week’s Twitter spat between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz over the extension of Israeli law into the Jordan Valley was so refreshing. Both parties realized that the Valley will not fall victim to the divide. The vast majority of Israelis understand the security significance of the Jordan Valley for Israel, the strong biblical and historic ties, and the unique opportunity of having an American president who will not only not oppose the move, but may even support it. Bibi and Gantz recognize this, of course. They did not quarrel on whether Israel should annex the Valley, but rather who will set the move in motion sooner.

A groundbreaking consensus, but for the usual naysayers, who put forth two main arguments  — foreign policy and questions of legal authority. The foreign policy arguments begin, as is often the case, with the threat that all hell will break loose in the Middle East if the Jordan Valley is annexed. If this argument sounds familiar, it’s because we have heard it before: when President Trump signaled his intent to recognize Jerusalem, and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Thankfully President Trump is not easily deterred. Both moves were accomplished and the world is still standing. Our neighbors in the region have long realized that they have much greater issues to deal with. They discovered that their attachment to the “Palestinian cause” is a source of internal volatility, while Israel is a stabilizing force in the region. Their choice is clear through their silence.

Some European countries may not be happy with the move. But then again, when was the last time they were? It is of course prudent to maintain relationships. But let’s face it, Europe’s role hasn’t been helpful these past few years anyway.  Instead of building trust, Europe has focused on judging Israel by different standards than other countries and pushing Israel into a corner. This was manifested only recently with the European Court of Justice ruling on labeling Israeli products made in Judea and Samaria. Passing up on an opportunity to secure Israeli borders with American approval will not be a show of diplomatic good will, but rather succumbing to foreign bullying.

And then there is the threat of the International Criminal Court (ICC). This past month, the ICC prosecutor informed the court of its intention to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions in the Gaza Strip as well as Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Annexing the Jordan Valley, so the argument goes, will feed into the ICC’s intent to prosecute Israelis and may even expedite the process. But thinking by this logic is to miss the point completely. The ICC is a rogue body. It has failed in its mission to prosecute real war criminals. The legal basis for the prosecution of Israelis it a hoax at best. Israel is not party to the Rome Statute. The Palestinian Authority, which is not even a state, cannot in good faith be party to it either. After a long history of failure to implement its mission the ICC is vested in showing that it can bring results in prosecuting Israel, facts notwithstanding.  To give up a vital and timely Israeli interest for fear of the court, is to hand the ICC an undeserved, all-too-easy and wrong, win.

Finally, opponents of the application of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley annexation contend that given the political situation, the move would be illegal. Cloaking opposition in legal arguments is the Israeli left’s modus operandi to blocking unwanted moves that enjoy public support. The left’s argument is that election season is not the time to make such grave and substantial decisions, as the government no longer enjoys the trust of the Knesset. However, the Basic Law: The government (of constitutional status) clearly states that an outgoing government continues with all its duties until the next government is formed. In fact, even the Israeli Supreme Court, which at times has decided that outgoing governments’ decisions should be limited in scope, has ruled that if the decision at hand is timely and dependent on an opportunity that may no longer be available in the future (such as the support of an American president), the government is authorized to make the decision.

Moreover, the legal vehicle for the government to extend Israeli law to the Jordan Valley was already put in place by the Knesset in 1967. Following the Six Days War, the Knesset amended the 1948 Act on the Order of Governance and Law, to include section 11B, empowering the Government of Israel to extend its law to any part of Eretz Yisrael (i.e., land that was under the British Mandate) via an order. The next day, the government acted on that authority and extended Israel’s law over Jerusalem. It was legal then. It is legal now.

No doubt that a designated naysayer will be found to petition the court against the move. But judging by the wide range of support on both right and center, the court will be wise not to overstep its authority or breach the trust of the people.

About the Author
Meir Buchnick is Deputy Director, Kohelet Policy Forum and CEO of the Coalition for the Israeli Golan.
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