The opposition in Israel, especially “Blue & White”, managed to focus the Israeli public during the last two elections in Israel on a vote about the merits and demerits of the personal traits of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There is little known about the actual policy differences that “Blue & White” has with respect to the “Likud” and how they intend to form a stable majority coalition to implement these alternative policies.
Political parties in Israel, from Left and Right, liked to say that any peace initiative that involved the future of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) should be brought to a referendum before being accepted as policy by any government of Israel. Well, their wishes came true: the Trump’s peace initiative came at the right moment, one month before the March 2nd elections. Hopefully, a public discussion around this initiative will generate a chance to avoid a repeat of another deadlock (“55 against 54”) and produce instead a working coalition of the majority of the Israeli electorate, based on policy and not on personalities.
A public discussion of the US Peace Plan before the March 2nd elections could also allow for differences and nuances in the positions of the political parties regarding the various pieces of the proposal and give voters real choices to vote for. There are several critical points in this plan that must receive a full consideration by the Israeli voters. I will only point at three of them:
“Jewish and Democratic State” or “Oppressor State”
Israelis should not take literally the “Conceptual Map” included in Appendix 1 of the US proposal as an actual division between the areas under Palestinian sovereignty and under Israeli sovereignty. The main value of this map lies in its underlying principle: the Jewish people have the right to live and prosper in their historic part of their land comprising Samaria and Judea (aka West Bank). How will the actual final map look like will depend on direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, if they will take place at all. I said in a previous article that a mini-state in the West Bank would lead to instability and continuous friction. Well, an implementation of a much smaller state, a micro-state in the West Bank, as taken literally looking at the “Conceptual Map”, with its many holes, contortions and discontinuities, would lead to even more instability and friction, conflicts and unrest, including intifadas. This will go against the basic interests of Israel: Israelis want a solid solution that can survive for many years and not a patch good only for one election cycle, but that will leave Israel in a worse and more difficult position a few years down the road.
The Jordan Valley – security border or national border?
Take for instance the Jordan Valley. There is a strong and long-held consensus in the Israeli public for the notion of the Jordan Valley being “the security border” for Israel. The Peace proposal presented by the US administration went much further by stating that the Jordan Valley will be under Israeli sovereignty. However, there is no need to rush and declare annexation of the Jordan Valley before the March 2nd elections. The Israeli voters could choose between a position siding with immediate annexation of the Jordan Valley (Netanyahu) or leave this as a subject that Israel will decide only at a later time (Gantz?).
Notice that neither option would change significantly the actual facts on the ground in the coming years. However, the latter option has a better chance to conduce in the end to a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians. It also has a much greater chance to enjoy from a unified bipartisan support of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which is vital for Israel in order to have continuous support across different US administrations.
Furthermore, by keeping the Jordan Valley just as Israel’s security border, it leaves open the possibility of a future reunification of the Palestinian territory in the West Bank with Jordan. This reunification will eliminate barriers and will facilitate the strong economic development of both the West Bank and Jordan, which is critical to the success of the US initiative and to bring an end to the existence of the refugee camps and the refugee problem on both sides of the Jordan River. One should not underestimate the role of positive emotions in the shaping of a solution to a difficult problem: Palestinians living in the West Bank will also know that their sons and daughters could serve and be proud to be in their army and air force, as any young generation in any other country can, the only limitation being that this army and air force will be stationed on the other side of the Jordan River. In other words, the joint Palestinian West Bank – Jordan state will enjoy all the characteristics and attributes of a nation-state, as understood by the international community. The Jordan River will still remain the “security border” for Israel (and actual means to ensure this could be added, like a series of monitoring stations manned by the US, if needed, or by joint Israeli-Jordanian units on both sides of the Jordan River) and demilitarization west to the Jordan River will remain strictly enforced. This demilitarization of the West Bank could be similar to the demilitarization of the Sinai, which holds already for forty years without problems.
The 200 year war – will Israelis be ready?
What if “the Palestinians will continue with their intransigence and will not want a deal on any terms Israel could accept” as suggested by David Horovitz in a recent op-ed in the “Times of Israel”? Will the Israelis be ready to confront a multi-generational conflict without losing their moral strength? Any government that will result from the coming March 2nd elections, specially a government based on a razor thin 61 Knesset members coalition, should be very careful before blindly literally implementing in a wholesale manner the generous proposal of the Trump administration. In a protracted conflict with no end in sight, Israel can move on and wisely apply Israeli sovereignty only in selected parts of Judea and Samaria that are clearly consistent with the principles of a Jewish and Democratic State and that will be supported by a clear and large majority of the Israeli public. This will also provide a pointed indication to the Palestinians that time is not on their side. There are a lot of productive things that Israelis can continue doing forever in a Jewish and Democratic State in the areas of science, technology and the arts, while maintaining a resilient, strong and moral society.
Hopefully, an election based on a thorough discussion by the public and a clear decision by the voters about Trump’s peace initiative will provide that stable coalition, the majority government and the unity of purpose that Israel needs.