As Israel approaches general elections for the second time this year, many speculations debate the meaning of statements by Prime Minister Netanyahu in favor of annexing Jewish towns in Shomorn and Judea aka West Bank. As a person who has lived in Shomron for nearly 30 years, I see the conversation itself as a big step in the right direction and ultimately this will bring us closer to the application of full Israeli sovereignty in areas that have been under Israel’s control for the past 52 years. Although some might argue that these steps will jeopardize the prospect for peace in the region, in my opinion sovereignty and clear policies regarding the status of these areas are key for local and regional understanding that will provide a foundation for normalization for Israel in the region and prosperity for the people who live here.
In Israel’s war of independence in 1948 the army of Trans-Jordan crossed over the Jordan River and invaded this territory. Jordan annexed it and called it the ‘West Bank’ of Jordan and illegally occupied it until the Six Day War in 1967 when Israel took over. Israel’s official policies regarding the future of these areas have been somewhat ambiguous, one the one hand all governments of Israel have participated in some form of international discussions on ideas of transferring administration of at least parts of this area to Arab entities. But, on the other hand, all governments of Israel have allowed and invested heavily in building Israeli towns and infrastructure in these regions. Actions that are typically seen as stumbling blocks towards implementing the idea of an Arab control of the area.
While some would like this area to become the future Palestinian State, applying full Israeli sovereignty over the Israeli towns that are dotted around through the region would give them permanent legal status, at least in internal Israeli law.
According to information published by Israel’s Ministry of Interior in January 2019 there were about 450,000 Israelis living in Samaria and Judea in addition to about 320,000 Jews living in Jerusalem in areas that were occupied by Jordan before June 1967. Together that adds up to 770,000 Jewish Israelis living in areas east of the ‘Green-line’ or in the ‘West Bank. That equals about 10% of Israel’s population or twelve Knesset seats. In the upcoming elections the majority of these voters are going to vote for parties who they believe will protect the interest and future of their homes and towns and continue to invest in their development and integration in to Israel’s political and physical infrastructure. Or in other words apply Israeli sovereignty here. But, the Jewish Israeli residents are not alone in this vision, most supporters of Likud, Yemina, Shas also see this region as part of Israel. Many would even struggle with applying the term ‘annexation’ to this situation because ‘you can’t annex something that already belongs to you’. Netanyahu needs those votes and he is speaking to those voters when he speaks about applying Israeli sovereignty to the Israeli towns in Samaria and Judea.
Netanyahu realizes that the Israeli public does not believe that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a sincere partner for peace. Even most recent news reports confirm that in spite of huge budget difficulties the PA continues to prioritize paying large salaries and benefits to terrorists convicted of murdering Israelis. Areas A which are under full Palestinian control are off limits to Israelis because the PA police refuse to provide safe passage to Jews. Israelis see that the pullout from Gaza in 2005 enabled the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood affilate, Hamas mini-state that regularly fires rockets into Israeli civilian centers. These facts and many others details send a very clear message to the Israeli public that the Palestinian Authority and its mother ship, the PLO have not really reformed their violent antisemetic agenda and that implementing the Oslo Two State idea would be a great mistake. When Netanyahu suggests annexing the Israeli towns in Samaria and Judea, he is speaking to those voters and begging for their support in the coming elections. Those who know how to read the political map in Israel understand that politicians who take such stands have a chance in getting more votes and winning the elections. For the same reason Netanyahu’s competition, leaders of the Blue and White party, are quoted making almost identical statements regarding plans of applying sovereignty to Israeli towns in Samaria and Judea.
Netanyahu must apply Israeli sovereignty to Samaria and Judea in the same way that Israel already did in Jerusalem and Golan in 1981. In democracies leaders who want to be re-elected and stay in power must not lose touch with their constituency. More Israeli voters believe that Samaria and Judea, the land of the Bible is an inseparable and core part of the Jewish national homeland, they believe that the significance of this region for the security of the state of Israel is irreplaceable, they don’t trust the Palestinian Authority and they believe that implementing the Two State solution would mean placing a terror state in their backyard. Netanyahu who recently broke David Ben Gurion’s record for being the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel, is unquestionably one of the most politically savvy people on the planet since Niccolò Machiavelli himself. His nature is to put all of the pieces of the puzzle in place as needed to stay in power. He knows that the key to winning the next elections is advancing Israel sovereignty in Samaria and Judea. And that is what he will do.