Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Sovereignty is a dead issue in Israel for now, but maybe it always was. The issue of applying Israeli civil law over the Jordan Valley and Judea and Samaria comes up as regularly as Israeli elections, but never actually comes to fruition. On September 10, 2019, however, it seemed the stars had at last aligned to make sovereignty possible. That was when Prime Minister Netanyahu announced, with only one week to go before elections, his intention to apply Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements, beginning with the Jordan Valley and then moving on to settlements in Judea and Samaria.

“One place that can have sovereignty immediately applied to it after the elections is the Jordan Valley. The next government will apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley.

“We haven’t had such an opportunity since the Six Day War, and I doubt we’ll have another opportunity in the next 50 years. Give me the power to guarantee Israel’s security. Give me the power to determine Israel’s borders,” said Netanyahu, who added that there was an “unprecedented opportunity to apply sovereignty to our settlements in the West Bank.”

We were to understand by this announcement that with Netanyahu secure in office in Israel, and the Israel-friendly President Trump in the White House, we would finally be free to do what we should have done in 1967: exercise Israeli sovereignty over all territory under Israeli control. After all, this territory is Jewish indigenous territory and has been for thousands of years. But the Jews had been dispossessed by one invading occupier after another and the land had slipped out of Jewish hands, the Jews, dispersed.

Back in 1967, however, when Israel was once again attacked by invading Arab armies, it looked like the end of the Jewish State. Instead, Israel ended up liberating much of its ancient territory, but left the disposition and administration of Judea and Samaria vague, in hopes that later, they might barter the land for peace, something that was never to happen. This has been a frustrating situation for many Israelis, in particular, those of us who actually live in Judea and Samaria.

Those of us who live in Judea and Samaria, never felt this part of Israel to be a commodity: something that could be traded away for something else. To the contrary, we felt it an imperative to settle and build on every part of our land: Jewish land. We never felt we had a partner for peace, moreover, but instead a murderous rabble, looking for opportunities to murder us, to murder Jews. Not that we thought it possible to give away our inheritance, but even if we had, we understood that giving them land would only encourage them in their bloodthirsty violence resulting in yet more dead Jews for us to bury and to mourn, God forbid.

So the horizon seemed a bit more exciting when it seemed as if, yes: this could finally happen: this thing called sovereignty. Netanyahu and Trump would make it happen. Israel would finally exercise sovereignty over this important part of our land and inheritance as Jews

But it never did happen. First, the idea that we were going to exercise sovereignty over all our territory was walked back. As I wrote in August 2019, (Peace for Peace or Sovereignty for Peace? Was Sovereignty Ever Really on the Table?) it turned out that the goal was only “to create a Palestinian state on 70 percent of Judea and Samaria through the application of Israeli sovereignty to just 30 percent of that land, effectively giving up another huge chunk of Jewish land to the Arabs for good.”

And even that partial plan got suspended, thanks to the Abraham Accords, when the United States promised the UAE not to support Israeli sovereignty until 2024. The signatories to the accords assumed that by then, Trump would be long gone from the White House. Anyone other than Trump in the Oval Office was bound to be against the idea of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, effectively making the issue disappear off the table for good—though some still hold out hope Trump will be in the running for the 2024 presidential election.)

Still, it’s not fair and a little too facile, for Israel to pin its hopes and aspirations on an American president. It’s not right because the will to exercise Israeli sovereignty must come from the top: from strong Israeli leaders. But our current Israeli leadership doesn’t care about this issue and now and in the past, has had no will to discuss sovereignty except as a bargaining chip for the enemy, or for the sake of pushing an Israeli election toward this direction or that.

With this new Israeli election season upon us, some may be wondering if the tried and true false promise of sovereignty might once again be dangled before our eyes. But no, there are the Abraham Accords to tout, and the—disastrous for Israel–results of the American election which means that the White House will no longer be in Israel’s corner, plus the insistent need to prove stellar handling of the pandemic. All of these red letter events: the accords, the election, the pandemic, have shoved the issue of sovereignty into a faraway corner, and have rendered it obscure and practically irrelevant.

Sovereignty will not soon again be an issue to lure Israeli voters to the polls.

“I really doubt Bibi will push sovereignty. He didn't push it in the last elections except as a little teaser; but essentially, when he had the opportunity, he was not interested. And to the extent he dangled the idea in front of his supporters, it was only because Trump was in favor,” said Eugene Kontorovich who heads the International Law Department of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a Jerusalem think-tank.

But what of the changing of the guard? Why should it matter? Why doesn’t Netanyahu just do the right thing and exercise Jewish sovereignty over all of Israel’s rightful, legal, and holy land? “With Biden as president, I can't imagine Bibi opposing him on this,” said Kontorovich "He doesn't care much about sovereignty himself, and cares a lot about avoiding fights with POTUS. He likes things quiet, and does not fundamentally understand the need for sovereignty.

“I think the moment has been lost for at least four years.”

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