Friday, July 10, 2020

What's Wrong with Israel's Annexation Plans?

What's Wrong with Israel's Annexation Plans?

By Alan Stein
Variations of this column have been published in the MetroWest Daily News and the Manchester Journal Inquirer.

The first problem with Israel's "annexation" plans is that they have nothing to do with annexation." Annexation applies to the acquisition of territory belonging to another country, which is not the case here. The territory in question, part of what historically was called Judea (in the south) and Samaria (in the north) but was renamed the "West Bank" when it was occupied by Jordan after invading Israel in 1948 and capturing it. Indeed, a strong argument can and has been made by experts in international law that the disputed territory has been sovereign Israeli territory all along.

So, what is actually being considered?

Rather than immediately applying Israeli law to the territory it regained after being attacked again by Jordan in 1967, the Israeli government viewed it as a bargaining chip, offering to give it to Jordan in exchange for peace. Israel set up a military government there and in Gaza, anticipating this artificial arrangement would be short term.

Unfortunately, the Arabs then, like the Palestinian Arabs of today, weren't interested in peace with Israel. Less than three months after the 1967 war, the Arab League met in Khartoum and infamously issued what became known as the "three no's:" no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no peace with Israel.

Some of the Jewish families which had been kicked out of their homes by Jordan and Egypt rebuilt them and some Jewish communities returned to Judea and Samaria. A new people, the Palestinians, were created and King Hussein of Jordan renounced any claim to Judea and Samaria. More than a quarter century ago, Israel turned over governance of roughly 95 percent of the Arabs in the disputed territories to the Palestinian Authority and in 2000, 2001 and 2008 offered to give the PA virtually all the disputed territory. Instead of establishing the state the Palestinian Arabs claim they want, the PA effectively revived the infamous three no's of the Arab League and has declared it will never again negotiate directly with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israeli communities in the disputed territories continue to exist in limbo, subject to the military rule set up in 1967.

All that Israel is really planning is to belatedly end that artificial, temporary situation by applying Israeli law, so that Israelis living in places they'd been kicked out of by Jordan will finally be subject to the laws passed by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, rather than to military decrees. This is certainly more democratic and cuts down on bureaucracy, since the Israelis living under military rule have double the red tape when dealing with the government.

Concerns have been expressed that if Israel follows through with these changes it will preclude the so-called "two-state solution,"  which has not just been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian Arabs whom it's designed to benefit, but whose very core concept - two states for two peoples - is something to which Mahmoud Abbas has insisted he will never agree. However, the reality is that nothing Israel does would preclude giving away some of that territory - most of which almost every knowledgeable observer recognizes will remain with Israel under any conceivable peace agreement.

Look at the record.

Israel "annexed" the previously Jordanian-occupied portions of Jerusalem, Israel's capital. Yet that didn't stop at least two prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, from offering parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel "annexed" its portion of the Golan Heights. Yet that didn't prevent at least two prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu, from offering all of the Golan Heights to Syria. 

And, of course, Jordan "annexed" the entire West Bank when it captured it from Israel. Yet King Hussein subsequently renounced all claims to it.

The Trump peace plan envisions Israel giving away other territory that has indisputably been part of Israel since 1948. Yet that plan has been embraced both by Israel's current and future prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz.

If the Palestinian Arabs ever seriously negotiate with Israel, having portions of the disputed territory being governed by Israeli civilian law will be a non-issue.

In fact, Judea and Samaria have been sovereign Israeli territory since 1948. This is based on at least two separate provisions of international law.

At the San Remo Conference following World War I, the boundaries for territories captured by allies in the war were determined.  The pledges in Britain's Balfour Declaration, calling for a Jewish state in Palestine, were confirmed and later approved by the League of Nations, turning them into international law. They were also incorporated into the founding documents of the United Nations, as successor to the League of Nations. Israel is that Jewish state and the boundaries confirmed at San Remo include all the currently disputed territories and have never been superseded under international law.

Additionally, there is the sacrosanct principle of international law known as uti possidetis juris. Under this principle, when a new state is formed, it retains the internal borders of its previous administrative region. Before Israel was reestablished in 1948, it had been administered by Britain under its League of Nations mandate, all of the western portion of Palestine, including Judea and Samaria, had been treated as a single administrative region, and thus that entire territory legally belonged to Israel.

Regardless of having international law on its side, Israel doesn't want responsibility for the Arabs in the disputed territories. That's why it offered to give them all to Egypt and Jordan in 1967, turned over governance to the Palestinian Authority in 1994 and has repeatedly offered to give the Palestinian Arabs almost all the disputed territory. Any application of Israeli civilian law will not change that and should be treated by others as a non-issue. We should not give the rejectionist Palestinian Authority a veto power over the normalization of life for Israelis living in the disputed territories. Indeed, catering to that intransigence encourages their continued rejection of peace, whether through the so-called "two-state solution" or some other path.

Another way of putting it: the knee-jerk criticism we keep hearing is an obstacle to peace.

Response by Steve Kramer to Criticism of Israeli Sovereignty in Judea and Samaria

Response to Criticism of Israeli Sovereignty in Judea and Samaria - Steve Kramer

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.