The Joint US-Israel team charged with the task to define the post 1967 new Israeli borders in the West Bank began working this week. The Israeli top members of the team are Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, the acting director of the Prime Minister’s Office Ronen Peretz and the Likud Minister Yariv Levin (Times of Israel, February 23, 2020).
It will be worthwhile for Prime Minister Netanyahu to invite the leader of Blue & White, Benny Gantz, to participate in this effort by appointing a suitable representative of Blue & White to the Joint US-Israel team, so that the resulting map with the final borders will represent a clear consensus of the majority of the Israeli public.
Time is of the essence here. Israel should not miss this unique opportunity that the initiative put forward by the present US administration presents. The work of the Joint Team has to be finalized in a timely manner and approved by both Israel and the US well before the November 2020 elections in the US. Israel might even be headed to a 4th round of elections, hence the necessity to let the Joint US-Israel team proceed and finalize its work independently of the vagaries of the Israeli coalition forming and election cycles.
Missing from this Joint team will be Palestinian representatives, but as pointed out by David Horovitz, “[for the foreseeable future] the Palestinians will continue with their intransigence and will not want a deal on any terms Israel could accept” (Times of Israel, January 29, 2020). The path with the full Palestinian participation has been tried many times in the past twenty five years, both by Left and Right led Israeli governments and by Republican and Democratic led US administrations, and it did not work. Even the Ehud Barak – Bill Clinton combination (Israel’s Labor party and a US Democratic administration) with Yasser Arafat on the Palestinian side, and in the propitious and relatively peaceful international and Middle East environment of year 2000, did not succeed. Israel cannot continue waiting forever for the Palestinians. More than 50 years after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war it is time to put an end to this chapter and to replace the 1949 armistice border between Israel and Jordan in the West Bank by a permanent border recognized by the US that will satisfy the security needs of Israel and the desire of the large majority of the Israelis to secure a contiguous “Jewish and Democratic State”, where everyone has the right to vote and elect its representatives in the Knesset.
Hopefully, a wise mapping of the border will include a viable independent political future for the Arab population in the West Bank. Leaving the Jordan Valley as the “security border” of Israel (instead of the “national border”) will go a long way towards fulfilling this objective. It will leave open the possibility of a future merger of the West Bank with Jordan. The idea of a demilitarized additional Arab mini-state in the West Bank living in peace with its neighbors, Israel and Jordan, is a chimera in the reality of the Middle East. It will need constant Israeli intervention in the lives of its inhabitants and policing, to say the least, and it will generate a long-term dynamic working against the vision of a “Jewish and Democratic” state: one people oppressing another people, no matter how benign the oppression might look. However, a demilitarized West Bank as part of Jordan is attainable and sustainable as a future and long term solution, with the sparsely populated Jordan Valley remaining as the “security border” of Israel.
The present border between Gaza and Israel is clearly defined and does not need any new redrawing. The development of industrial zones in Egypt’s Sinai, a 9 billion dollar investment detailed in the economic vision of Trump’s plan, will reduce the influence of Jihadist groups in the Sinai Peninsula and will also provide much needed jobs to the people of Gaza, reducing the grip of Hamas on Gaza’s civilian population. The political future of Gaza is for the Palestinians to decide. Israel should not do the dirty work and intervene in Gaza on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The lives of the Israeli soldiers are more precious and Israel should not occupy Gaza again, even temporarily. However, it should be clear to everyone that if there is no quiet in the Israeli border communities, the people in Gaza will continue living in stagnation and poverty. Limited wars with Gaza will be needed from time to time as long as Gaza will be ruled by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, whose declared objective is the destruction of Israel and as long as the barrage of rockets and explosive balloons will continue raining on Israel’s border communities.
President Trump’s initiative is not a panacea, but it constitutes a significant movement in the right direction if implemented wisely and without overreaching national border changes.