Uri Pilichowski
Author, Educator and Father - Brother to All

Confused about Sovereignty? Here’s an FAQ for You

I’ve spent the last three weeks living Israel’s plan to extend sovereignty to the Jewish areas of Judea and Samaria (what the world calls “Annexing the West Bank”) and have given media interviews, participated in debates, and spoken to some of the key people involved on all sides. I’m not the world’s expert on this issue, but I’d say I’ve reached expert level. Although I’m a strong advocate for Israel extending sovereignty as soon as they can, in this FAQ I’m going to wear my educator’s hat (it’s how I make my living and the call I answer to) and commit to present each side fairly and stick to the facts. I’ll only inject my opinion when I think the facts present themselves incorrectly. Important to note, I am only addressing Israel’s plans for this summer, I am not addressing the entire Trump plan.

1) What is Israel planning to do on July 1st?
The plan – as it is currently understood – is for Israel to extend sovereignty or annex 30% of Judea and Samaria (The West Bank). This area covers mostly areas where Jews live or the areas geographically closest to their towns (settlements). This part of the plan is supposed to be just one stage of multiple stages of the “Trump Peace Plan.” It is uncertain if Israel will initiate the plan on July 1st. There are rumors that Israel might only extend sovereignty to smaller, more limited territories of Judea and Samaria, or extend sovereignty in stages. As these are rumors, it isn’t worth examining each media report. For the rest of the document I will simply use the term, “Israel’s planned actions.”

2) How did Israel’s plan come about?
While there’s a lot of history that led to this point, in April and then again in September 2019 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. In January 2020 President Trump released his Peace Plan which said that America would support Israel extending its sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria as long as it agreed to meet certain conditions. Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to the conditions immediately and after forming a government in April 2020, announced that he planned on implementing the plan on July 1st, 2020.

3) Is Israel extending sovereignty to Judea and Samaria or annexing the West Bank?
There are two terms used to describe what Israel is planning on doing this summer. There are those who consider Israel’s move to have its civil laws apply to the West Bank an annexation of Palestinian land or land that is designated by many to become a Palestinian State. Others claim that the term “annexation” can only be used when one country takes another country’s land. These people claim that Judea and Samaria is Israel’s historic land, and/or doesn’t belong to anyone else, and therefore Israel isn’t annexing it. According to this opinion, the proper term is extending sovereignty to this new area.

4) What will happen to the Palestinians in the area in Israel’s plan?
According to Lahav Harkov, a leading journalist at the Jerusalem Post who has covered Israel for years, “Israel will not apply its sovereignty to Palestinian towns within areas that it plans to annex in the West Bank, and as such, Palestinians – including those living in the Jordan Valley – will not be granted Israeli citizenship.” Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Palestinian Arabs in these areas “will remain a Palestinian enclave, you’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will remain Palestinian subjects if you will. But security control also applies to these places.” Harkov wrote, “97% of Palestinians in the West Bank will live in contiguous Palestinian territory. The other 3% would live in “enclaves that remain inside contiguous Israeli territory” but that are still designated to be part of a Palestinian state, and when that state is established, those residents would become Palestinian citizens.”

5) Will Palestinians be granted Israeli citizenship?
An unnamed Trump administration official stated, “I don’t anticipate Palestinians becoming Israeli, based on the principles laid out in the plan.” Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that they they will remain Palestinian subjects.

6) Will Israels plans create apartheid?
Many critics claim that this plan will lead to apartheid, with Israelis living in the area enjoying Israeli citizenship and Palestinian Arabs not having the same citizenship. They claim that this will lead to a situation of apartheid. The supporters of Israel’s plans say that since Palestinians will remain under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, they can enjoy self-determination by voting in Palestinian elections and therefore enjoy the same self-determination as Israelis. This is a very short and simple approach to a complex debate and a comprehensive discussion of this topic is beyond this limited FAQ.

7) What practical changes can be expected if Israel goes ahead with their plans?
The biggest change that can be expected is the extension of Israeli civil law to 30% of Judea and Samaria. Currently, Israeli military administrative laws govern the land. Extending sovereignty will affect everything from obtaining building permits, to labor laws to the price of plastic bags at the supermarket. There are potentially many other changes that might occur, but those would require new legislation.

8) Does Israel’s planned action create a Palestinian State?
While the Trump plan calls for a Palestinian State, Israel’s planned action this summer does not create it. The Trump plan states that the Palestinians have four years to negotiate a state with Israel if they want American support for a Palestinian state. Israel’s actions have no effect on the creation of the state. To date, the Palestinians have rejected negotiating with Israel under the Trump parameters.

9) Does Israel’s planned actions violate international law?
According to the overwhelming majority of countries, experts and lawyers, Israel’s governing of the West Bank over the last 53 years is considered an illegal occupation according to international law. This group would consider Israel’s planned actions this summer a more grievous violation of international law. There are other experts, lawyers, and countries, primarily the United States and Israel, that do not consider the planned action inconsistent with international law.

10) Will going ahead with the plan end hope for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians?
Many experts feel that because the Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan and refuse to negotiate Israel’s planned action will end chances for peace. Adam Ragson, a NY Times reporter covering the region, reported that “Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned that Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley would spell the death of the two-state solution and terminate all opportunities to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” On the other hand, the Trump Plan opens by stating, “This Vision is the most realistic solution to a problem that has plagued the region for far too long. It creates a path to prosperity, security, and dignity for all involved. If the parties can agree on this framework as a basis for negotiations, the potential for both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the region is unlimited.”

11) Will going ahead with the planned action end the possibility of a two state solution?
SkyNews reporter Mark Stone wrote, “One thing is clear – the two state solution as we have known it for 30 years is dead with Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century. The plan is one that the Palestinians won’t accept. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made that clear “1000 times over,” moments after it was revealed. Even if the Palestinians are being offered economic sweeteners and Israeli desert land near Egypt as compensation, this won’t fly.” American Ambassador to Israel David Friedman disagreed. He wrote, “the Trump vision provides for a two-state solution. Ours is the first and only administration to have obtained Israel’s commitment to negotiate based upon specific terms, conditions and territorial dimensions that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state with double the geographic footprint they enjoy now.”

12) Will going ahead with the planned action end bipartisan support of Israel in Congress?
Israel has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress for decades. A letter signed by seven Democratic Senators threatened that, “Unilateral annexation would end bipartisan congressional support for Israel.” The second draft of the letter suggested that annexation would “undermine” the close relationship between the two nations. The letter was signed by 19 of 100 Senators. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who did not sign on to the letter, told Jewish Insider: “I don’t think it is helpful for us to sow dissension in the United States as it relates to the support for Israel.”

13) Will The United Nations or European Union sanction Israel if it goes through with its planned action this summer?
Many supporters of Israel are worried that Israel will face sanctions if it goes ahead with its plans this summer. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is reportedly pushing to penalize Jerusalem if it moves ahead with plans to apply Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria. But Borell stated that, “Everything in EU foreign policy requires unanimity, especially sanctions,” and EU member states are divided on how to respond to the possibility of Israel applying sovereignty in the West Bank. Rich Goldberg wrote, “Three-fifths of the 50 U.S. states have already adopted laws prohibiting boycotts of Israel. Most prohibit government contracts with companies that engage in a broad range of boycott-related activities. Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and eight other states mandate the divestment of public pension funds from such firms. New York is considering doing the same.” European companies who boycott Israel would face divestment from these States. That will cause many EU countries to hesitate before imposing sanctions. With America able to veto any proposed sanctions in the United Nations, sanctions in the United Nations is highly unlikely.

14) Will Sunni Arab countries end their relationship with Israel? Will Jordan end their peace treaty with Israel?
A senior Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates warned that if Israel would move on its plans it would destroy any hopes for further rapprochement between the Jewish state and the Arab world. On the other hand, Sunni states are allied with Israel in the fight against Iran and it wouldn’t be in their strategic interests to end that cooperation. A likely middle ground can be found where Arab states condemn Israel but continue cooperating with it.
Jordan has threatened to take action against Israel, but Elie Pieprz, a settler leader, wrote that there’s no middle ground between leaving a peace treaty and returning to a state of war. If Jordan were to end their peace treaty, they would return to a state of war with Israel, something they can not afford to do. With a large Palestinian Arab population, Jordan must act tough against Israel. Jordan will likely continue the tough talk and possibly take symbolic actions to demonstrate its objections.

15) Will the Jewish and Democratic nature of Israel be weakened by Israel’s planned actions?
Many friends of Israel who are critical of Israel’s plans are fearful that it’s planned actions will bring millions of Palestinians into Israel. This fear is based on the mistaken notion that Israel is planning to annex the entire West Bank. The plan for this summer is only to extend sovereignty to Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria. Very few Palestinians are included in this area. Ambassador Friedman argued that, “Under the Trump vision, ­Israel would be claiming sovereignty over a fraction of the West Bank, comprising territories that either are sparsely populated or overwhelmingly populated by Israeli Jews. ­Israel wouldn’t be doing that to territories with significant Palestinian populations. Therefore, the vision wouldn’t alter the Jewish majority within the State of Israel. In fact, it would increase it.”

16) What are the Palestinian objections to Israel’s planned action this summer?
Palestinian leaders have voiced many objections to Israel’s planned action this summer. Chief among them is their position that the entire West Bank is Palestinian land and Israel has no right to be there. Any move by Israel to annex the West Bank is illegitimate and theft of their land.

17) What can be the expected Palestinian reaction to Israel’s planned action this summer?
The Palestinian Authority has threatened to wreck havoc in the West Bank if Israel goes ahead with its planned annexation of parts of the West Bank. They have threatened to end all cooperation with Israel, and as the New York Times reported, “to cut the salaries of tens of thousands of its own clerks and police officers. It will slash vital funding to the impoverished Gaza Strip. And it will try any Israeli citizens or Arab residents of Jerusalem arrested on the West Bank in Palestinian courts instead of handing them over to Israel.” Statements from some within the Palestinian Authority have threatened to increase the amount of terrorism, including suicide bombings. Palestinians have threatened dire actions before, notably, before the moving of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In that case, and others, Palestinian threats turned out to be bluffs.

18) Do Israelis think that the benefits of the planned action outweigh the perceived dangers – as virtually all former security experts predict?
Many Israelis feel they do not and for that reason oppose Israel’s planned actions. Israelis in favor maintain that the benefits outweigh the risks, and extending Israeli sovereignty will increase security in many ways and far outweigh any incremental violent reaction in the immediate response to the new policy.

Some supporters reject the premise of the question which assumes that because former security experts predict there will be danger, Israel needs to make a calculation. They maintain that former security experts have a tendency to mix in their political views once they leave the security industry. They also claim there is always danger in Israel, Palestinians attempt three terror attacks a day.The same security experts incorrectly predicted dangers with the moving of the Embassy and recognition of the Golan Heights. They argue that former security experts have a tendency to predict that Palestinians will respond to every Israeli move with violence. Considering the Palestinian Authority uses financial incentives to motivate their people to commit terror, and Palestinian culture glorifies terror, predicting an uptick in terror is the lazy person’s easy “expert” opinion.

19) What benefits does Israel hope to gain in their planned actions?
Israel sees many benefits to their plans. Israelis maintain that Judea and Samaria is historic Jewish land and is no different than Tel Aviv or Haifa. They are of the belief it should all belong to Israel and these plans correct a 2,000 year old injustice of Jews being kept off their land. There are also practical benefits for Israelis that range from extra security to less bureaucracy and consistency in law.

20) Do all Israelis support Israel’s planned actions this summer?
There are little to no actions that garner unanimous support in Israel and this issue is no different as there are some very vocal critics among Knesset members, the media and the electorate. Israel’s Arab citizens in particular stand against the plan. The latest poll showed that 67% of Israelis support Israel’s plan to extend sovereignty to Judea and Samaria this July. This is an almost unheard of high level of support in Israel. In addition to a strong majority of Knesset members who are in support of the plan. It is important to note that most Israelis support Israel’s plans as long as Israel has America’s support – which President Trump has promised. If former Vice President Biden is elected before Israel implements the planned action, Israelis might change their opinion since Vice President Biden does not support the planned action.

21) What are left wing Israeli objections to Israel’s planned action this summer?
Many left wing Israelis maintain that the West Bank doesn’t belong to Israel and instead of annexing the West Bank, Israel should be withdrawing from the West Bank. Others are strong advocates of the two state solution and maintain that Israel’s planned actions will take Israel further away from the two state solution. A third argument states that Israel’s plans violate international law and Israel should be consistent with international law.

22) Are all settlers in favor of Israel’s planned action this summer?
There is a split among the settler community. The Yesha Council, which claims to represent the settler community, has come out strongly against Israel’s plan. Other settler leaders have come out in favor of the plan. There is also a group that is in favor of the plan if they receive certain assurances and parts of the Trump peace plan change.

23) What are settler concerns about Israel’s planned action this summer?
Settlers concerns center around two issues, security and rights to land. More pragmatic settlers recognize that the chance of a Palestinian State occurring are minuscule. Their concerns are security centered, especially if the plan will close off major highways like the 60 and 443 to Israelis. Other considerations include: building freezes in Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria, whether the Trump plan allows Palestinians to import millions of Arabs into their State, and if there will be enforcement of the freeze in Arab building in what is today considered Area C. While American officials have said that a careful reading of the plan will allay these concerns, settler leaders aren’t convinced.

More ideological settlers are opposed to any Palestinian State. As much as they’ve heard there is a minuscule chance of the Palestinians agreeing to a state, they’re skeptical as they’ve been offered reassurances before and have been let down. They object on the grounds that by agreeing to the Trump plan they are acceding to forfeiting 70% of Judea and Samaria.

24) What are settler arguments in favor of Israel’s planned action this summer?
Settlers in favor of Israel’s plans see the opportunity to finally extend sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, after a 53 year old wait, as too good to pass up. They see the security risks brought on by a Palestinian State as minuscule and unlikely since the Palestinians have rejected the plan and will never be able to meet the conditions they need in order to gain support for a Palestinian state.

25) Why is the Trump administration in favor of Israel’s plans this summer?
President Trump set a goal to establish peace to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by bringing honesty to the negotiations. He thought a new approach would work. In any eventual deal Jews and Palestinians weren’t going to move and recognizing this truth among others, led the President and his staff to create a plan that ensured no one would have to move. Israel’s planned action this summer is one part of that plan. The Trump administration would prefer the Palestinians also participate and meet the conditions necessary for America to recognize a Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank.

26) Isn’t the Trump plan just a Christian plan to bring the Messiah?
Many critics of the Trump plan point to Trump’s popularity among Evangelical Christians and mistakenly assume that Evangelical support of Israel stems from messianism (it doesn’t) and that by Israel taking control of 30% of Judea and Samaria it will hasten this messianic process. In fact in many recent interviews with Evangelicals, it is clear that Evangelicals have little interest in this summer’s plans and many are critical that Israel isn’t taking 100% of the historic homeland.

27) Isn’t Trump just doing this to get reelected?
There are many critics of the Trump plan and Israel’s planned action who think there are tens of millions of voters that ignore the economy, Covid-19, and recent black lives matter protests and vote on what happens to a few miles of land in the Middle East. There are no polls, data or evidence that support this theory. The 2020 Presidential election will not be decided by what happens in Judea and Samaria/The West Bank. It will be decided by events in America.

I have tried my best to make this FAQ as middle ground as possible by presenting all sides. My goal is that people should be educated and discuss facts, not narratives. All too often today’s political debates aren’t sufficiently fact based and on an issue that will affect my day to day life more than probably any other in my lifetime to date, I want to elevate the conversation.

In today’s partisan world, nuance is lost and intellectual analysis is underappreciated. I’ll have known I’ve accomplished my goal if people on opposing sides of the debate agree that I didn’t present their side well.

This FAQ is a work in progress and I’m sure I have made mistakes, omitted information and there are more questions to answer. Please send in more questions or critiques to uriimportant@gmail.com or comment in the section below.

About the Author
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is an educator. As a teacher, author and speaker, he teaches Torah and Politics, where he specifically emphasizes rational thought and conceptual analysis.
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