The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Dr. Lerman and Prof. Inbar of JISS: Extend Israeli law to areas that Israel deems to be of strategic importance, like the Jordan Valley and Jerusalem envelope. extending Israeli law to areas that Israel deems to be of strategic importance, like the Jordan Valley

03.06.2020, The Jerusalem Post

By Herb Keinon

In weighing whether to extended Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers would be wise in keeping in mind the Talmudic dictum, tafasta meruba, lo tafasta, which means that if you grab too much, you’ll end up with nothing.

Or, as former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) director-general Yoram Cohen said in an Kan Bet interview on Tuesday, just because you can do something, and just because you are able to do it, does not necessarily mean that you should.

US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” has essentially given an American green light on extending Israeli law to the settlements and the Jordan Valley – some 30% of the West Bank – and Israel has the physical ability to implement it. But the question now is one of cost-benefit.

Do the benefits of the move outweigh the costs? And while the benefits are known, the costs are not.

And what are the benefits? As Eran Lerman and Efraim Inbar wrote this week in a Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security policy paper advocating the gradual implementation of the Trump plan, extending Israeli law to areas that Israel deems to be of strategic importance, like the Jordan Valley, would “put an end to proposals for ineffectual security arrangements there” and also ensure the “effective demilitarization of a Palestinian state” that might be agreed upon in the future.

How? Because the best guarantee of being able to demilitarize a Palestinian state will be to keep it from having a border with neighboring Arab states, from which arms could be smuggled, such as what happened for years in the tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Another benefit, as Lerman and Inbar pointed out, is that extending Israeli law will burst Palestinian hopes that if they just wait long enough and press hard enough, the world will impose a solution on Israel. “The application of Israeli law also may aid in the difficult task of encouraging the Palestinians to adopt more realistic positions and help them understand that time is not on their side,” they wrote.

Another benefit, as Netanyahu has often stated in recent days, is that Israel will be able – 53 years after the Six Day War – to determine its eastern border along lines it deems vital for its security and identity.

AND WHAT about the costs? That is the problem, no one can say for certain what those will be.

The Palestinians are threatening violence, the EU is threatening sanctions, the UN is threatening censure, the Arab world is threatening to roll back its cooperation with Jerusalem. But there is no way of knowing what threats are real, and which are just attempts to intimidate Israel.

There might be violence, but no one really knows how much or to what degree. The EU might take sanctions, but then Israel’s friends inside Europe might be able to water them down. The US can be counted on to veto a UN Security Council resolution, and the Persian Gulf’s interests in cooperating with Israel to thwart Iranian and even Turkish ambitions in the region may trump their concern about the Palestinian cause. Or not. That is the problem; it’s all unknown.

To a certain extent, Netanyahu – with his pre-election promises of annexation and his comments that Israel now has a historic opportunity to set its own borders – has boxed the country in.

If, after all the threats and bluster from the Palestinians, Jordanians and Europeans over the last few months, Israel does not move forward with any type of annexation, it will appear as if it is caving into pressure – something that could have negative far-reaching ramifications. This could embolden the Palestinians to scream, shout and threaten whenever they don’t like something Israel plans to do, flush in the belief that this alone will move Israel to change its policy.

Both Cohen, as well as Lerman and Inbar, advocated a partial annexation at this time. Cohen advocates extending Israeli law to Gush Etzion and the post-1967 Jerusalem neighborhoods – such as Ramot and Pisgat Ze’ev – while not moving on it elsewhere. In his view, Israel has no real need to extend sovereignty in the Jordan Valley, since it already has full security control there, and to do so would only infuriate Jordanian King Abdullah II and other Arab states, to no tangible benefit.

According to Cohen, Israel needs to define what its goals are, or, more precisely, what it wants to prevent. In his view, Israel should make clear that it is not interested for the foreseeable future in a two-state solution – because of the security risks involved – and that it is also not interested in a one-state solution. In his view, the best solution for now is to grant the Palestinians what some would call “autonomy plus,” and others would call a “state minus.” A very limited annexation now, he said, would preserve that option.

Unlike Cohen, Lerman and Inbar advocate extending the law to the Jordan Valley and to Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as Gush Etzion, and holding back on extending it to other settlements for the time being. While recommending that the government embrace the Trump plan in its entirety, including negotiation toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, they called for “a phased implementation of territorial aspects of the peace plan, to allow for an assessment of the results of each stage and to properly prepare for the next one.”

One benefit to extending sovereignty to some of the territory, but not all, is that by doing so it would be possible to retain a broad national consensus. There is broad Israeli support for formally incorporating Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and even the Jordan Valley into Israel, but less support for annexing the full 30% of the territory envisioned under the Trump plan. And in facing the possibility of Palestinian violence and wide censure overseas for the application of Israeli law anywhere beyond the Green Line, having a broad national consensus for such a move may be critical in being able to deal with the fallout.