Response to Criticism of Israeli Sovereignty in Judea and Samaria

I found Ilan Goldenberg’s Washington Post op-ed (7/2/20) posted on Facebook by J Street, an organization representing itself as pro-Israel (it isn’t). The article’s publication by the Washington Post and dissemination by J Street tells me that Goldenberg’s opinions will almost certainly contradict what I and many others profess regarding Israel’s extension of sovereignty in its heartland, Judea and Samaria (J&S).

Because both the Washington Post and Facebook are influential opinion-makers for many American Jews, I must point out where I think Goldenberg goes wrong. How much, if any, sovereignty Israel will apply is not yet known. But I believe that replacing Israeli military law with civil law in J&S (tantamount to sovereignty), in whole or in part, is absolutely crucial at this time. Below are excerpts from Goldenberg’s article, with my retort following. 

Ilan Goldenberg is the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security; he served on the State Department negotiating team on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his impressive credentials.

“Recognizing the state of Palestine is the only appropriate response to Israeli annexation”

G: The Israeli government may begin taking steps toward unilaterally annexing portions of the West Bank soon. 

K: Israel is not annexing portions of the West Bank (J&S). Annexation refers to taking territory from another country. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WWI created a vacuum with no country sovereign in J&S. Jordan briefly and illegally ruled the area from 1948 to 1967, when Israel pushed the Jordanian Legion back across the Jordan River. 

According to international law (which is always and at all times equivocal and not precise), Israel’s authority in J&S coincides with the boundaries of the British Mandate for Palestine. That paradigm was the model for establishing the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, all of which were also League of Nations’ Mandates. Therefore, Israel has the legal right to extend sovereignty throughout the former Mandate, if it wishes to do so.  

G: This move [what Goldenberg terms annexation] would present a grave threat to any possibility of a future two-state outcome that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live in freedom and security, each in a state of their own. It would also shatter the paradigm that has governed resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. Annexation would be an unmistakable sign that Israelis are moving away from two states.

K: On the contrary, extending Israeli civil law – replacing Israel military law for its citizens in J&S – is not a threat to the two-state outcome; it’s the only way such an outcome could come about. It sets a more realistic paradigm for “peace” than exists now. The Palestinian Authority (PA) would recognize that the more it remains intransigent, the worse off its position becomes. The maximalist demand of the Palestinian Arabs that Israel cease to exist has preempted PA-Israel negotiations for the last decade. 

G: Israeli annexation would herald a new era of unilateralism, the consequences of which would be a policy shift on the Palestinian side of the equation as well.

K: Unilateral acts by Israel is not new. In 1949, Prime Minister Ben-Gurion proclaimed Jerusalem to be Israel’s eternal capital, which was finally validated by the Trump administration. In 1981, Prime Minister Begin extended Israeli sovereignty to the Golan Heights. Today, no one would want it to be under Syrian sovereignty. In 2005, Israel unilaterally pulled all Israeli soldiers and civilians from the Gaza Strip, naively thinking that the PA would allow a government there to benefit its people. That didn’t happen. Instead, the Hamas movement ousted the PA and begin it terroristic rule over Gaza.

G: Unilateral Israeli annexation, designed to demonstrate to Palestinians that Israel will not be held hostage to a Palestinian veto over its borders and territory, would have a far more expansive effect. It would hasten the process of deterioration of Palestinian institutions toward further dysfunction and authoritarianism, as they would be increasingly be seen by Palestinians as tools for Israeli occupation, not preparation for statehood. Eventually, this lack of legitimacy would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse.

K: Not all PA residents favor the government’s policies, making questionable how much legitimacy the PA has to begin with. The PA has never seriously tried to prepare to be an independent nation. It falls back on its ultimate goal of eliminating Israel, taking over its territory, and proclaiming all of Palestine “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

G: Recognition of a Palestinian state [by the US after Israeli “annexation”] would be a huge political boost to Palestinian supporters of two states by providing symbolic achievement of a long-desired national aspiration. U.S. recognition should make clear that while the final borders of Israel and Palestine must be negotiated between the parties, they should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed on land swaps, grounding U.S. policy in 50 years of precedent.

K: The West’s dream of an Israel contained within the 1967 ceasefire lines (NEVER borders) is a fantasy that will not occur. Israelis now account for more than 20% of the population of J&S and will not be ethnically cleansed from their heartland. (Arab Israelis are more than 20% of Israel’s population.)

G: U.S. recognition [of a State of Palestine] would almost certainly cause most partners in Europe, who have thus far refrained from recognizing a Palestinian state, to follow. But even if a U.S. administration chose not to recognize Palestine, simply signaling to European countries that the United States would not oppose them taking this action could trigger a wave of international recognition that would boost Palestinians at a moment of despondency.

K: Many European states have already recognized the State of Palestine, despite the fact that it possesses none of the most important attributes of statehood. It is also recognized as tantamount to a state by global organizations such as the UN, ICC, and others.

Ilan Goldenberg possesses all of the requisites to be a Middle East pundit. But he lacks common sense. The Palestinian Arabs were not even in the running to have a state when the British Mandate for Palestine was established in 1922. In 1948, when Israel declared its independence, the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Syrians coveted its territory. Not until 1964, with the emergence of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), did a call for a statehood begin to emerge. 

The Palestinian Arabs have refused every opportunity to build a real state for themselves, even turning down overly generous offers by two Israeli prime ministers after the Oslo Accords of 1993, which envisaged some kind of status for the Palestinian Arabs within five years. 

Will the PA acknowledge that it’s no longer a central factor in Arab politics, especially for Egypt and the Gulf Arabs? Even Jordan’s King Abdullah favors (and requires) Israel to be sovereign on the western side of the Jordan River, though he is unable to say it. Abdullah’s tenuous hold on power over Jordan’s mostly Palestinian Arab population depends on Israel’s backing, as does the viability of the PA. Without Israel’s backing, both would be overthrown.

The Washington Post is an influential paper which today has a leftist agenda which it disguises as “objective.” It shares that direction with The New York Times. Don’t be fooled by barely hidden attempts to emasculate Israel and elevate another Palestinian terror entity, such as Gaza, alongside of Israel.

About the Author
Steve Kramer grew up in Atlantic City, graduated from Johns Hopkins in 1967, adopted the hippie lifestyle until 1973, then joined the family business for 15 years. Steve moved to Israel from Margate, NJ in 1991 with his family. He has written more than 1100 articles about Israel and Jews since making Aliyah. Steve and his wife Michal live in Kfar Saba.
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