Jerold S. Auerbach
Jerold S. Auerbach

The future of Judea and Samaria

It is more than half a century since the Six-Day War returned Israel to Judea and Samaria, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people. Until 1967 it had been the “West Bank” of the Kingdom of Jordan, won in 1948 during the Arab war to annihilate the fledgling Jewish state. By now more than 460,000 Israelis live in settlements there among two million Palestinians. Described by critics as malevolent “settler-colonial” intruders occupying Palestinian land, they see themselves as Zionist pioneers in the Land of Israel.

Now that the Trump administration has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, only the status of settlements in Judea and Samaria remains to define the boundaries of the Jewish state. President Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan, announced in January, promises to extend Israeli sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley, Israel’s eastern-most defensible border.

It was followed by Secretary of State Pompeo’s assurance that it is Israel’s “right and obligation” to decide on annexation of that territory. The path is now clear for Israel to restore sovereignty over most of its ancient homeland and secure its border with Jordan.

The plan offers a range of enticements to Palestinians. Among them: the right of self-government; “necessary conditions for investment to start flowing into the region”; “a just, fair and realistic solution” for Palestinian refugees; “significant territorial expansion”; and “integration of the State of Palestine into the regional and global economy.” Predictably, Palestinian leaders – who for decades have shown no interest in any plan for peace with Israel – refused to consider the Trump administration proposal. They were not alone.

A loud chorus of American criticism erupted. Former President Jimmy Carter warned that the Trump plan “will doom the only viable solution to this long-running conflict, the two-state solution.” The plan, former American Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer claimed, “is snake-oil diplomacy – packaging useless ideas and trying to market them as innovative.” For David Makovsky, a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East negotiating team, “It reaffirms the worst fears that this is more an annexation plan than a peace plan.””

True to form The New York Times, reflexively critical of every Trump decision about anything, chimed in. Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner lamented that the plan “deprives the Palestinians of nearly everything they have been fighting for” – but, revealingly, never willing to compromise with Israel for peace. Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, mournfully anticipated: “annexation of the West Bank would probably damage Israel’s relations with the Trump administration, the Democrats, Europeans and Arab leaders, as well as destabilize the region, radicalize the Israeli Left, and harm the Zionist goal of a Jewish state.”

Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, a disillusioned leftist ever since the second Palestinian intifada and now a strong critic of Benjamin Netanyahu, questioned whether the Prime Minister wants “his legacy determined by a decision to revive full Israeli rule in parts of the biblically resonant Judea and Samaria” (why not?). Horovitz anticipated “allegations of racism” against Israel, with “two sets of laws – one for Jews and another for Palestinians” and “the demise of the two-state solution.”

None of this is persuasive. American relations with Israel will surely be strengthened by the Trump administration plan. Democratic party opposition is irrelevant; the dormant Israeli Left has all but vanished. With the Biblical Land of Israel part of the State of Israel, the Trump plan is cause for celebration, not lamentation, by Israel and its American supporters.

There can be little doubt that the Trump plan, if implemented, would mark the most generous gift to Israel from an American president in seven decades. Not since Harry Truman recognized the birth of Israel, minutes after its Proclamation of Independence, has an American president responded so favorably to the Jewish state.

With a trifecta of blessings – recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; relocating the American Embassy to Jerusalem; and now the proposal to extend Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley – the Trump administration, to the evident dismay of its Jewish critics in the United States and Israel, has left an indelible imprint on Jewish history.

With Prime Minister Netanyahu in power for another year and a half (and an agreement with his opposition partner Benny Gantz to apply Israeli sovereignty to settlements and the Jordan Valley), and President Trump in power at least long enough to guarantee and protect the gifts his administration has bestowed on Israel, this may yet be recorded by historians as the golden age of Israel-American relations.

For doubters on the left it might be worth recalling that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, shortly before his assassination, asserted: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley,” also including the Gush Etzion and Efrat settlements along with “other communities” east of Israel’s constricted pre-Six Day War boundaries.

So the ticking clock of history will mark the restoration of the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people to its rightful inheritor: the State of Israel.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016, chosen for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.

About the Author
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Hebron Jews: Memory and Conflict in the Land of Israel (2009). His new book, Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, will be published in February by Academic Studies Press.
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