Thursday, May 21, 2020

Vic Rosenthal's weekly column

Annexation. The word is spat out with such vitriol that one would think that what is contemplated is mass murder. From Mahmoud Abbas to Jordan’s King Abdullah, to the European Union, to Justin Trudeau, the condemnations, warnings, and threats continue to flow. And of course, Joe Biden had his say.

A few words about the reality behind the so-called “annexation.” To start with, nothing is being annexed. It is the reasonable position of the Israeli government that it is sovereign in Judea and Samaria according to international law; and you can’t annex something that already belongs to you. But wait, you say, virtually the entire world disagrees, as is pointed out ad nauseum by sources like the BBC and the NY Times. Unhappily for them and the Palestinians they empathize with, international law is neither a popularity contest nor subject to a majority vote in the UN General Assembly. It is quite possible that the Government of Israel is right and “virtually the entire world” is wrong. This isn’t an article about that, but if you are interested, here is a good one.

The government calls it “extension of Israeli civil law,” and that is because presently those parts of Judea and Samaria that are not under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are subject to a military government (this is the case whether residents are Israelis or Palestinians).
Those who are so up in arms about the proposal also like to say that “Israel plans to annex the West Bank.” The correct formulation is that Israel proposes to extend its civil law to certain parts of Judea and Samaria where Jewish communities exist, and to most of the Jordan Valley, with the exception of Jericho, with its large Arab population. It’s important to note that almost no Arabs live in the areas in question. Those that do will be offered full Israeli citizenship, just like the Arabs of Jerusalem – or Haifa, or Yafo.

The Jordan Valley has always been considered an area that must be under Israeli control in any permanent establishment of borders, because it is essential to Israel’s defense. No “two-state solution” that did not recognize this would ever be accepted by Israel. And neither would one which included the ethnic cleansing of Jews and the destruction of their communities in Judea and Samaria.

The furor over “annexation” is an excuse to attack Israel and the Trump plan, which is the first real breakthrough in diplomatic efforts to end the conflict since the unfortunate Oslo Accords institutionalized it.

The Palestinians have adopted a paradigm of the conflict in which Israel is entirely at fault. Justice, they say, requires that we vacate “their” land – in fact, if you asked them, they would say that this includes everything from the river to the sea; they believe they are being generous by just asking for Judea and Samaria (at least, for now). But this paradigm is wrong. In fact, we are the ones who have been excessively generous in repeatedly offering them large parts of the land, offers that were rejected because they did not provide a clear enough path to an Arab state in all of the land.

Mahmoud Abbas says that he wants a “two-state solution,” and “annexation” would make that impossible. But Abbas has always understood “two-state solution” to mean a virtually complete withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, including the expulsion of all Israelis from those areas. He also envisions the realization of a right of return (a made-up concept that doesn’t appear in international law) for the millions of descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948. He does not accept that even the portion of Israel that would remain in Jewish hands after such a “solution” would be a “Jewish state” or “the state of the Jewish people;” indeed, he has said several times that there is no Jewish people. Therefore, it isn’t inaccurate to describe Abbas’ two states as one exclusively Arab state and one multiethnic state that would soon have an Arab majority.
There is little likelihood that the Palestinians will abandon their paradigm and their concomitant demands, and none at all as long as they are led by the PLO and Hamas.

The Trump plan, which is the framework under which Israel is acting today, recognizes that the traditional two-state idea is a non-starter, which is why countless rounds of negotiation have failed. Therefore it does not require Palestinian agreement before starting the process that is intended to lead to permanent, recognized borders for Israel, and autonomy (although not full sovereign statehood) for the Palestinians. This is unacceptable to the Palestinians just because it makes it impossible for them to realize their actual goals, spoken only in Arabic, of replacing Israel with an Arab state.

The European Union and Obama Administration officials accepted the Palestinian paradigm, although – at least for public consumption – they also said that they supported Israel’s security and right to exist. Thus they constantly reiterate as a mantra “two-state solution.” This position is self-contradictory.

Joe Biden, who wants to be President of the US, also favors a “two-state solution” and opposes “annexation.” He must: to do otherwise would lose the left wing of the Democratic base, as well as put him on the same side as his opponent. I don’t know how he feels personally about there being a Jewish state, if he has ever asked himself this question, or indeed if he has any actual ideas beyond wanting to be President. But I do know that he lent himself to the Obama Administration’s attempts to pressure Israel.

Back in May of 2010, while Biden was visiting Israel – Obama himself chose to avoid Israel until his second term, traveling to some 33 countries before then – the EU-funded Peace Now organization in Israel reported to the Americans that a regional committee had taken a preliminary step to add 200 more housing units to an existing plan to build apartments for religious Jews in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in Jerusalem that was outside of the Green Line. A total of about 1600 apartments were included in the plan.

Biden harshly condemned the announcement, but insisted that “There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.” However, after he returned to the US, the administration ramped up attacks on Israel, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Netanyahu in angry 43-minute phone call in which she accused Israel of “insulting” the US and Biden personally, blamed Israel for preventing negotiations with the Palestinians, and demanded additional concessions to the Palestinians, including the release of terrorist prisoners, to “build confidence.”

Like today’s row over “annexation,” there was a manufactured outrage, an international pileup on Israel for its stubborn intransigence. The difference is that today the American President supports us, rather than leading the charge against us. Today it’s easy to forget 2010, when it seemed that the pressure from Washington for dangerous, even suicidal, concessions would never let up.

For what it’s worth, no new housing was built in Ramat Shlomo until 2018, when some 500 apartments were built. The promise of 1600 new units that so angered Biden and Obama in 2010 is only now being kept.


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