Israeli Sovereignty over Judea & Samaria: Several Approaches to a Singular Aim

Recently, at the third annual “Conference on the Application of Sovereignty over Judea & Samaria” held in Jerusalem on New Year’s Day, four distinct and informed perspectives were presented on the critical issue of how to exercise Israeli sovereignty over those regions otherwise known as the West Bank. All four proponents on the distinguished panel—MK Prof. Aryeh Eldad, attorney and former MK Elyakim Haetzni, Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israeli Institute for Strategic Studies, and Jerusalem Post senior editor Caroline Glick—offered respective views on the key issue of what to do about the approximately 2 million Palestinian Arabs now residing in these provinces.

Aryeh Eldad is keen to act upon the recent findings of the Levy report of July 2012, whose committee concluded that Israel is not in fact an occupying power in the disputed territories and that settlements are legal under international law. Eldad argues in favor of swiftly applying Israeli rule over all of Judea & Samaria (as opposed to only slicing off pieces like the predominantly Jewish “Area C”, a plan currently promoted by Naftali Bennett of The Jewish Home party) and posits, following UNSCOP (1947), that Palestinian Arabs be permitted to remain in place as residents of the State of Israel and be allowed to vote in Amman, Jordan as citizens of that de facto Palestinian state just as they currently vote in Ramallah for their parliamentary representatives. Eldad expects the feasibility of his premise to be further bolstered by the timely downfall in the near future of Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy. The benefits to his approach include: officially incorporating the regions into Israel proper; enfranchising the Palestinian Arab population, though not at Israel’s expense; and dispensing with the need for population transfer. The drawbacks are that Palestinian Arabs will have little say in their daily lives as Israeli residents, and the Hashemite ouster is not guaranteed and might even be undesirable, given the alternatives seen elsewhere in the Middle East.

Elyakim Haetzni largely agrees with Eldad, but favors annexation in stages and points out that during the summer of 1967 the Knesset legislated in a governmental amendment that Israeli sovereignty over Judea & Samaria could be implemented by any sitting Israeli government (without further Knesset involvement), and argued that once this injunction is duly enacted the Palestinian Arabs should be granted “autonomy”, whose particular definition in this context amounts to limited home rule or self-determination in predominantly Arab areas of the regions, yet within the framework of Israeli sovereignty (Haetzni cites the south Tyrol region of Italy and the Basque Country of Spain as examples where similar schemes are in effect). This would ostensibly strike a balance between neither having to directly rule over the Arabs nor having to incorporate them as Israeli citizens. The problem with Haetzni’s approach, as Martin Sherman points out, is that Palestinian autonomy inevitably affects Israeli sovereignty. For example, if the Palestinian Arabs decide to build industrial complexes whose pollution enters Israel, they could plead “autonomy”; Palestinian water and sewage practices could adversely affect neighboring Jewish areas; self-determined Palestinian vehicular safety standards would affect Israelis’ safety on shared roads; permitting an autonomous Palestinian education system would not address the crucial problem of anti-Israel incitement; and so forth.

Martin Sherman calls for evacuation with compensation, a policy which would provide definitive results to both parties and which, he argues, might actually be acceptable to a large number of Palestinian Arabs who would look favorably upon the financial and quotidian benefits of this policy. He asserts that autonomy applies effectively only to those who accept the sovereignty of the broader entity, and that Leftists have no ethical problem calling for the eviction of Jewish settlers (with government compensation) so similar treatment of Palestinian Arabs should not evoke their ire. The problem with Sherman’s approach is that this policy might well be good for the State of Israel (although it seems the worst possible scenario from an international public relations perspective), but it could well be a liability for the Jewish People. Also, the reasoning behind part of his approach falls prey to the common logical fallacy of Two Wrongs Make a Right: just as it is repugnant to coerce Jews from established, officially-recognized settlements in Judea & Samaria, so too will it be repugnant to expel large numbers of Palestinian Arabs from the only home they have ever known—even if paying them generously. Such an act of compulsion would fall outside the domain of historical justice and as such is fundamentally not the Jewish way. It is a decisive but polarizing solution and, unless his estimate of Palestinian compliance is accurate, would prove unpopular within much of Israeli society on an ethical basis.

Caroline Glick advocates exercising sovereignty over the whole of the regions and granting Palestinian Arabs full Israeli citizenship. Granted, this approach best satisfies the international marketing issue and undermines those critics who charge Israel with creating second-class citizens or practicing apartheid. The main problem with this approach is that the number of Palestinian Arabs in Judea & Samaria is substantial and full enfranchisement of them would seriously alter the Jewish-Arab balance in the State of Israel. Moreover, extending full citizenship to Palestinian Arabs would necessitate future citizenship not only for their children but also for other immediate family members such as parents and siblings, as per international standards. Furthermore, Glick’s premise is that the Jewish natality is in fact exceeding that of the Palestinian Arabs, and that Jewish immigration rates may also rise. But even if the birthrate race does in fact favor Jewry, this may not always be the case, and the reality is that many Jews in Europe and North America will remain content and complacent right where they are, living the easy life. For all of the above reasons, therefore, Glick’s approach represents the other extreme along the sovereignty spectrum, one that is far better for contemporary optics but simply too high risk for the long-term wellbeing of the State of Israel.

Perhaps a fifth option should be considered, a moderate, centrist course including those aspects of the existing approaches that are assets while eschewing their liabilities. That is, immediately implementing Israeli sovereignty over the entirety of Judea & Samaria while offering Palestinian Arabs the dignified options of permanent residency status or emigration with compensation. In addition, permanent residents should be afforded the right to vote for and serve in municipal and regional governments, and will in turn be expected to uphold attendant responsibilities, including paying taxes for basic services, to the State of Israel. Admittedly, this two-pronged approach is neither wholly original nor ideal, nor would it create a utopia for either side of the equation, but it is a solution that is demonstrably superior to the status quo and possesses a number of seminal benefits: Israeli retention of the most important regions of the Land of Israel; the preservation of the Jewish character of the State of Israel, demographically speaking; the ensuring by Israel of Palestinian demilitarization throughout Judea & Samaria; the obviating of Palestinian Arab expulsion; enfranchisement of Palestinian Arabs at the governmental levels most affecting their daily lives (with the possibility of also coordinating federal voting rights in the existing Palestinian states of Jordan and/or Gaza); and a decisive political and legal stabilization of what is an ongoing but unsustainable 45-year limbo for both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

To be clear, those politicians or advocates extolling sovereignty merely over “Area C” are not being especially bold—and are not dealing with the most difficult aspects of the problem—because these are the Jewish areas that would doubtless remain within the borders of Israel under any future political arrangements. The real question is what to do about “Areas A and B” that include the Palestinian Arab populace and jointly-controlled tracts of fallow land, and according to which timetable. It is thus crucial and commendable that these very matters are the subject of thoughtful discussion and serious debate at such conferences and fora.

It is also important for all concerned to fully understand and appreciate that extending Israeli sovereignty over Judea & Samaria (even if sometimes referred to colloquially as “annexation”) would not be an instance of irredentism, for these regions are disputed territories to which the Jewish People have irrefutable historical claims, and they do not presently form part of any existing, recognizable state. This point bears emphasis: exercising Israeli sovereignty in Judea & Samaria does not mean to append, appropriate, or expropriate foreign territory, since the land in question is a central part of, and not an adjunct to, the Jewish ancestral and historical Land of Israel.

Ultimately, whichever approach seems most persuasive, and whether Israeli sovereignty in Judea & Samaria arrives wholesale or piecemeal, immediately or gradually, all can join in the hope of witnessing a sensible and responsible resolution to this prolonged dilemma speedily in our days.

About the Author
Brandon Marlon is a Canadian-Israeli author whose writing has appeared in 300+ publications in 31 countries. His script The Bleeding Season won the 2007 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition. His poetry was awarded the Harry Hoyt Lacey Prize in Poetry (Fall 2015), and he is the author of two poetry volumes, Inspirations of Israel: Poetry for a Land and People, and Judean Dreams. His most recent publication is the historical reference Essentials of Jewish History: Jewish Leadership Across 4,000 Years.