In February 1972, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Egyptian government, “either you can change the facts, and consequently our perceptions will naturally change with regard to a solution, or you can’t change the facts, in which case solutions other than the ones you are offering will have to be found.” Kissinger’s words ring as true today as they did then. And their application to the ongoing matter of Palestinian statehood and peace with Israel is sage advice.
Because the reality of the facts on the ground have changed dramatically in the years since Kissinger shuttled about the region, prodding and probing Israel’s many neighboring enemies to shift their thinking, engage in conversation, and accept what was then, the new reality confronting the Middle East. And although our enemies remain the same, it is the neighboring Arab states – weakened by revolution, civil war, terrorism, failed economies, and exposed corruption – whom now face an Israel stronger, smarter, more secure, more economically sound, and more internationally engaged than ever before. Thus, a solution to the matter of Palestinian statehood must be re-examined, reimagined and repositioned for a Middle East which has been refashioned by the tremendous accomplishments and achievements of a modern-day Israel.
Indeed, it is only those who cling to the failures of the past, who choose to believe we still live in a world as innocent and naïve as that which existed during the formation of the Oslo Accords, who think otherwise. Rising anti-Semitism has left many Jews, including those in the United States, feeling as if Aliyah – or at the very least obtaining Israeli citizenship – is one of the few, if not their last, remaining option to ensure their own security or that of their families. As such, Israel must be prepared for this influx of Olim, many of whom will look to our historic homeland in the rolling hills of Judea and the valleys of Samaria in which to settle. Further, an increasing number of young, secular Israelis are turning to the east, seeking a less expensive life or to start a family outside the increasingly densifying cities and bustling metropolises, in the “suburbs of Jerusalem,” not dissimilar from the Jews of Manhattan who head north to Westchester.
But Judea and Samaria is not at all like Gaza, and any thought paid to a full or even partial evacuation of Jews from the region, as was undertaken down south in the summer of 2005, is now incomprehensible if not impossible. Almost half a million Israelis, and growing every day, live behind the ‘Green Line.’ But the majority of these so-called ‘settlements’ are a far cry from the hilltop communes oft-reported on by the international media or pointed to by anti-Israel activists as being blockades to furthering peace and establishing a Palestinian state. Rather, most of these communities are indistinguishable from any other Israeli city or large town – with some containing residents in the many thousands – replete with all the amenities, institutions and infrastructure one expects from modern life in an industrialized nation.
Perhaps most importantly, Israel’s long term security is entirely dependent upon the application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. Foregoing control over the region known under the Oslo Accords as Area C – which amounts to approximately 60 percent of the area and in which a Jewish majority exists – would ensure a topographical advantage to any invading army or well-armed and funded terrorist group, allowing Israel’s enemies the capacity to literally choke the Jewish state at its narrowest point of just seven square miles. This would potentially cut off Israel’s more sparsely populated south from the critical northern industrial centers, bringing the economy to a halt or worse, collapse, while simultaneously ensuring a mass-causality civilian conflict in and around the very heart of Israel’s major population centers.
But annexation will not only meet the critical social, cultural, religious, demographic and security needs of the Jewish people, but also benefit the Palestinian Arabs too. The media outrage over the shift in American policy towards the Israeli communities of Judea and Samaria, and the announcement of the Trump Administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’, has painted a portrait of the region far removed from the facts on the ground. By adopting a narrative that the recognition of our legal status by the United States encroaches on Palestinian land and way of life solely to the detriment of our Arab neighbors, fails to adequately recognize all Israel does to the benefit of our shared lives in our shared land.
I know. Because I work with the Judean community of Efrat in Gush Etzion – alongside the Efrat Development Foundation and its Mayor Oded Revivi – each and every day to ensure these benefits are shared, not only in our community but in the surrounding communities, both Jewish and Arab alike. And what is reliably ignored by Israel’s detractors across the spectrum, is that the dream of peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is being actualized and realized by these very settlement communities, the impact of which can be measured by any number of tangible metrics. There is no denying that the aftermath of the Six Day War brought with it the widespread growth of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. But there has been an equivalent growth in the welfare of the surrounding Arabs communities. Since 1967, Palestinians in the region have seen life expectancy, literacy and graduation rates rise, while infant mortality has steeply declined. Access to clean drinking water, sewage management systems, medical care and emergency services – necessities not provided to them in the region prior to 1967 – have accompanied Jewish expansion. And by improving the lives and lots of our Arab neighbors, we are building a stronger foundation for a future in which we will thrive together, not merely struggle to survive separately.
Each day, tens of thousands of Palestinians employed by towns and cities across Judea and Samaria – 1,200 of whom are employed in Efrat alone – work alongside Israelis to develop our shared economy. Many of these Palestinians walk unencumbered through the very municipality building where the Efrat Foundation’s offices are located, stopping to share news of their families or personal accomplishments with their Jewish friends, and even the Mayor himself, whose door is never closed to any man, woman or child – regardless of who they are or from what village they came. These Palestinians are among the very few who find dignity in work, and wages twice the amount paid by the Palestinian Authority for the same labor.
This manner of collaboration and cooperation, particularly when free of external boycott, only serves to advance Arab and Jew alike, laying a stronger foundation for peace and stability in the region. This has proven true time and again. Where Jewish communities thrive, so too do the Palestinians – both directly through increased employment opportunities and indirectly through the resulting externalities of successful economic development and entrepreneurship, including improvements in infrastructure and human services. And this is to say nothing of the increased interactions between Jews and Arabs in the region, which occur on a daily basis and at higher rate than in any other part of Israel. A life lived in such close proximity to one another allows for, albeit small, but monumentally important exchanges to naturally transpire, interactions which serve to shift the perceptions of each group unto the other, changing the very nature of the complex relationship which exists between the Jewish cities and Arab villages of the region. Working in Efrat over the past year, I have seen these changes occur first hand and in a deeply personal way.
During his decade-long tenure, Mayor Revivi has remained staunchly committed to a policy of building bridges, not fences, with our Arab neighbors. This policy has been advanced in order to ensure our growth accounts for, not occurs at, the expense of those with whom we share this land. And that is why every year on Sukkot, a celebration commemorating the miracles accompanying our return from exile in Egypt and the reaping of a bountiful harvest only the land of milk and honey could produce, Mayor Revivi opens his own home and his family’s Sukkah to our Palestinian neighbors, who share in the bounty we are creating together. As I sat and gazed at the gathered guests during this year’s celebration, it is impossible not to believe peace is possible. I watched as an endlessly tall and dignified Palestinian village elder, dressed in a long white traditional Arab robe, talk to a member of the Israel Defense Forces, dressed in his traditional khaki green and gold uniform, a beret fashioned to a shoulder strap designating his rank. I took note of a young Palestinian man in blue jeans and a Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt – indistinguishable from any other teenager anywhere in the world – as he noshed happily on hamentashen while sharing a smile with the Mayor’s daughter. I observed an elderly man who leads tours for Christian groups through our community pour a glass of water for an equally aged Imam, who five times daily leads his own community in prayer at a nearby mosque. It was exactly as it should be, because it was exactly how it really is.
This scene should not be surprising to those who know the reality of our life ‘Behind the Green Line.’ Indeed, polls conducted by media outlets, universities, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and the like, consistently illustrate that Palestinians are less averse to the facts on the ground then the fallacies imposed upon them, or the falsehoods perpetuated by their elected leaders. Palestinians steadily express a sincere preference for living and working in Israel, a state who treats them as human beings, rather than deploys them as human shields. The rapid growth of the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem, following the reestablishment of Israeli sovereignty over its eternal capital, is case in point. Local Arabs did not rush the Jerusalem neighborhood because they were plotting its takeover by advancing Israel’s demographic demise. They rushed to the city because despite the divides that exist, they knew the Jews would care for all the city’s inhabitants, not just in the name of the state of Israel, or for the three great faiths who worship there, but because our sincere belief that all life matters demands of us that we do.
As U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman noted at the Kohelet Policy Forum conference in Jerusalem, “Judea and Samaria – the name Judea says it all – is territory that historically had an important Jewish presence… it is the biblical heartland of Israel. It includes Hebron, where Abraham purchased a burial cave for his wife Sarah; Shiloh, where the tabernacle rested for 369 years before the Temple was built by King Solomon in Jerusalem; Beth El, where Jacob had his dream of the ladder ascending to heaven; Kasr al-Yahud, where Joshua led the Israelite nation into the Promised Land and John the Baptist baptized Jesus.”
A Jewish presence has consistently existed in Judea and Samaria for thousands of years. It will exist for thousands more. This is the reality of the facts on the ground. And the U.S. recognition of these communities right to exist here is simply that – a recognition of reality, not a radical act, as many portend. So those whom desire peace should not be afraid to utter the words, Judea and Samaria, as Mayor Revivi has been quoted as saying. For it is here that peace is being truly realized through our daily actions, big and small.
Israel has changed the facts on the ground. And consequently, the perception has naturally changed in regards to the solution for Palestinian statehood and a lasting peace with Israel. The application of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is a critical part of this solution.
For as Kissinger reminds us, “whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately.”
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