The Trump Plan is the most realistic route for progress towards the goal of “two states for two peoples.” Therefore, the Israeli national unity government should embrace the Trump plan in its entirety, including negotiations towards establishment of a Palestinian state, and at the same time act (in the first stage) to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and strategically significant areas in the Jerusalem envelope, such as Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. An Israeli consensus exists regarding these areas.
• A first stage extension of Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria should focus on the Jordan Valley and areas in the Jerusalem envelope that are important for security reasons, such as Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. Applying Israeli law to these territories, which is a step beyond Israel’s current military control, is crucial. This move will launch implementation of the Trump plan and will convey – both domestically and abroad – Israel’s determination to retain territories that are important to its security, with the support of the US. The application of Israeli law in these areas would also remove from the agenda proposals for security arrangements in the territories that are of very questionable effectiveness, and halt Palestinian encroachment in sensitive security areas of the West Bank (Area C).
• Because the application of Israeli law is part of President Trump’s peace plan, Israel’s national unity government should accept the plan in its entirety, including the requirement to enter negotiations regarding establishment of a Palestinian state in the future. The Trump plan is the most realistic route for progress towards the goal of “two states for two peoples,” in contradiction to earlier peace paradigms that fed unrealistic Palestinian expectations, and which therefore led to dead ends.
• Israeli policy ought to be grounded in a broad national consensus. Such a consensus exists regarding the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern security border and regarding the defense of Jerusalem. A significant portion of the Israeli public is supportive of applying Israeli law to these areas, while making territorial compromises elsewhere. These were the positions held by Yigal Alon and Yitzhak Rabin of the Israel Labor Party in their prime.
• On this basis, Israel should assiduously make diplomatic efforts to diminish anticipated opposition to this Israeli move – first and foremost among US Jews and Democrats, as well as in the international and even the Arab arena. The latter will help mitigate aggressive Palestinian responses.
Required Action by the Government
• Legislation should be passed that applies Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the areas of Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion in the Jerusalem envelope.
• The Israeli government should declare that in the current circumstances it considers the Trump plan in its entirety as the only way to reach an agreement over “two states for two peoples.”
• Certain measures, such as investment in infrastructure, should be taken to demonstrate to the Palestinians that there is a “diplomatic horizon” and concrete benefits in the Trump plan for them, should they be willing to move beyond their current refusal to engage in peacemaking.
• Israel should act assiduously and soon to explain the security rationale behind the plan to apply its law to parts of Judea and Samaria; and seek understanding and support from American Jewry and from friends of Israel within the Democratic Party.
• Israel should initiate discreet dialogue with Egypt and Jordan regarding the application of Israeli law and the advancement of the Trump plan. The ground must be prepared for a tough campaign in the European arena, including the enlisting of support from Israel’s strategic partners in the eastern Mediterranean and friends in central and eastern Europe. These diplomatic efforts should be accompanied by dialogue with the top political leadership of Europe as well as that of China, India, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Gulf states.
• Israel must prepare for the possibility of a Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council, this time on the basis of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter on “Threats to Peace” (which enables sanctions against an “aggressor”), and act in time to neutralize this by seeking a veto from not only by the US but also support from the UK and some of the non-permanent member states.
• From a security perspective, Israel also must prepare for the possibility of military confrontation in the West Bank, especially if the Palestinian Authority incites to violence.
Phased Territorial Implementation of the Trump Peace Plan
By Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman and Prof. Efraim Inbar
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan following its official announcement in January 2020. This is the best plan ever to have been proposed by the US, from Israel’s perspective. It asserts the primacy of Israeli security control over all relevant borders. It endorses the application of Israeli law to territories in Judea and Samaria and reaffirms Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem.
It also requires Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians on the establishment of a Palestinian state and to freeze Israeli home building in those areas designated to become part of this new state, for a period of four years. A team of US and Israeli officials is working on a map of territories to which Israel can apply its laws in the framework of the peace plan.
This policy paper recommends 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. A first stage in extension of Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria should concentrate on the Jordan Valley and areas in the Jerusalem envelope that are important to national defense and security, such as Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion.
This paper highlights the benefits of applying Israeli law to the above-mentioned territories; suggests ways of minimizing risk in management of the conflict with the Palestinians and ways of limiting fallout in the international arena; and emphasizes the importance of maintaining Israeli national cohesion. Working within a broad national consensus is vital in the struggle to preserve the territory to which Israel will apply its laws, as well as for other challenges facing Israel.
1. Principal Recommendation
As a first phase in implementation of the Trump plan, Israeli law should be applied to parts of Judea and Samaria that are essential to Israeli security and that are grounded in broad Israeli consensus. Specifically, this pertains to the Jordan Valley and the areas of Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion adjacent to Jerusalem. There is a national consensus in Israel regarding permanent Israeli sovereignty in these areas.
The move to include these areas in the territory of the State of Israel accords with the Allon Plan and with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s remarks in his last address to the Knesset in October 1995.
The Jordan Valley acts as a barrier against infiltrations to Israel from the east. Applying Israeli law to this area, a move that goes beyond Israel’s current military control, is important because it would convey, both domestically and internationally, Israel’s determination to maintain a permanent presence in the territory most important to its security. It would anchor this position in a move coordinated with the US.
The extension of Israeli law to this and other areas of strategic importance would also put an end to proposals for ineffectual security arrangements, such as land leases or the mere maintaining of a military presence (including international forces) for a number of years. Indeed, permanent Israeli control of the Jordan Valley is necessary to ensure the effective demilitarization of a Palestinian state that might be agreed upon in future negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.
Application of Israeli law also is necessary to stop Palestinian encroachment in sensitive security areas of the Jordan Valley and around Jerusalem; areas defined as Area C in the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority is continuously attempting to erode Israeli control in these areas. Halting such encroachment will improve Israel’s bargaining position in future negotiations.
Despite Jordan’s opposition to the Israeli move, in the long term, the application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley will end up improving relations between the two countries. A permanent Israeli presence along the Jordan River is in Jordan’s interest, both because it will protect Jordan should the Palestinian Authority fall into the hands of Islamist extremists, and because it will detract from the motivation of sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, to gain hold of Jordan as a launching ground for attacks in Judea and Samaria.
The Trump plan may succeed in breaking the long-standing impasse in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. This impasse is the result of unrealistic Palestinian expectations that a solution to conflict which meets their maximal demands will be imposed upon Israel. Despite the angry Palestinian reactions to the Trump Plan and their expected aggressive reactions to Israeli application of its law to the Jordan Valley and areas adjacent to Jerusalem, the latter move may actually help to achieve a political settlement – if handled properly, as this paper prescribes. 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.
If the extension of Israeli law is limited to the areas of the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion and Maaleh Adumim, Israel will be able to demonstrate that this is not a whim of the extreme Israeli right wing, but rather the realization of a strategic plan conceived by the Israeli Labor Party (known as the Allon Plan); a plan that is now being implemented by the current Likud/Blue & White national unity government.
Such a move can be explained based on security needs (and not just historical and national rights). This ought to find a more receptive ear among Israel’s friends in the international community.
It is important to assert this would not be a unilateral “land grab,” but rather a move coordinated with and backed by the US in the framework of President Trump’s peace plan. The support of the US, the world’s most powerful country, is obviously important in the international arena, and in the UN in particular. At the same time, however, there is no way to prevent the Palestinians from presenting Israel’s move as being unilateral, and Israel should be prepared to pay a political price, especially if a Democratic president who is not committed to Trump’s peace paradigm is elected in November.
Prior to the implementation of the first phase of the application of Israeli law, Israel should state clearly and unequivocally that it is committed in principle to the Trump plan in its entirety; that it sees in the plan a realistic path towards a two-state solution in the spirit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2009 diplomatic address at Bar-Ilan University. Again, this is especially true given the failure of previous peace plans that only indulged inflated Palestinian demands.
2. Principles for Government Action
2.1 The preservation of national cohesion requires, at this stage, the demarcation of a well-defined territorial goal based on security considerations and broad domestic support. This territory includes the Jordan Valley and the settlement areas grounded in the national consensus, first and foremost Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion. These areas are adjacent to Jerusalem and are critical for its protection. There is also broad national consensus regarding preservation of Jerusalem as the unified capital of Israel. Applying Israeli law in the Jordan Valley, Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion will leave a door open for the continuation of the process in the framework of the Trump plan.
2.2 Within Israel, it is also important to calm concerns among Israeli Arabs that have arisen because of the Trump plan, which mentions the transfer of territories under Israeli sovereignty (where mainly Israeli Arabs live) to the Palestinian state.
2.3 The Israeli government should declare that it considers the Trump plan the one practical way to reach an agreement under the current circumstances (“the only game in town”). The move to apply Israeli law to these territories does not preclude the possibility of reaching a broader compromise agreement with the Palestinians. On the contrary, it allows for a way out of the impasse created by inflated Palestinian (and European) expectations.
2.4 Certain measures, such as investment in infrastructure in the West Bank, should be taken to demonstrate to the Palestinians that there is a “diplomatic horizon” for them. They too stand to benefit from the breaking of the current political deadlock. Inter alia, this may be an opportunity to change the status of the neighborhoods beyond the security barrier that lie within the Jerusalem municipal boundary (notably the Shuafat refugee camp and Kafr Aqab).
2.5 On this basis, Israel should act assiduously to garner diplomatic understanding of its move, especially in the US. It must work not only with the Trump Administration (some members of which have reservations about the move), but also with the American Jewish public and its leadership. This dialogue ought to begin immediately. To this end, as well as due to considerations of Israeli national unity, it is important to choose territorial goals that Diaspora Jews can identify with and even endorse in public and in the media. It is equally important to reach out to friends in the Democratic Party in an attempt to change the party’s position regarding the Trump plan (although this is unlikely).
2.6 Israel should enter into discreet dialogue with Egypt and Jordan. Cooperation with Arab countries ought to be enhanced in the face of challenges in the region (specifically, Iran and Turkey). A set of bilateral gestures should be formulated on issues of importance to Jordan, such as the Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance Project and maintenance of the Temple Mount status quo in Jerusalem – in in which Jordan plays a special role.
2.7 The ground must be prepared for a tough campaign in the European arena to counteract the punitive measures expected to be taken by the hostile EU establishment in Brussels. It should be emphasized that the Trump parameters, according to which Israel would be operating, do not contradict “international legitimacy” – which is a code word for a two-state solution, a framework that is seen by Europe as a sacred value. Israel should enlist the support of its strategic partners in the eastern Mediterranean and friends in central and eastern Europe.
2.8 Israel must prepare for the possibility of a Palestinian appeal to the UN Security Council (UNSC), this time based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter relating to “Threats to Peace” – which enables sanctions against an “aggressor.” This would come in the wake of UNSC Resolution 2334, adopted at the end of the Obama presidency. Even if it does not hesitate to veto such a resolution, the US would surely prefer not to be again in a minority of one vote against 14 others. Alongside the UK, under its current leadership, there are at least four other council members whose positions it is important (and possible) to influence.
2.9 Efforts vis-à-vis the EU and the UN should be accompanied by dialogue with the top political leadership of the major European countries as well as that of China, India, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria and the Gulf states.
2.10 From a security perspective, Israel also must prepare for the possibility of violent or “popular” uprisings sparked by the Palestinian Authority (among whose leadership there is a growing trend of radicalization in light of the current succession struggle). This will require the establishment of senior-level channels of communication with the security forces, which still have an interest in preventing the collapse of the government (and the rise of Hamas). Regarding Gaza, alongside the arrangements that have been made “in the shadow of corona,” messages must be conveyed and forceful measures taken in order to strengthen Israeli deterrence, as needed.
3. Detailed Operational Plan
3.1 Preservation of National Cohesion and Securing Broad Support
As part of the phased implementation of aspects of the Trump plan in coordination with the US administration, a prime consideration should be the selection of the territorial goals and political stances that have the potential to create the broadest possible support in Israel. Naturally, there will be opponents on both the right and the left to whatever demarcation line is chosen. The national unity government should also strive to garner solid backing from the Knesset and the public. To this end, it is important to take the following elements into consideration when planning the extension of Israeli law to certain territories:
- The Israeli move should be based on well-defined security needs on which there is a broad consensus: the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern security border, securing the northern, eastern and southern entrances to Jerusalem, and control of the broader Jerusalem envelope. On top of its political, symbolic, and demographic significance, Jerusalem is also the strategic key to protecting central Israel, and through Jerusalem the IDF maintains access to the Jordan Valley. Jerusalem and everything related to sovereignty in the city is a matter that enjoys broad consensus in Israel.
- The Israeli move should encompass settlement blocs around Jerusalem that also are within the consensus, chiefly Maaleh Adumim and other settlements along the eastern routes into Jerusalem, as well as the Etzion bloc of settlements (Gush Etzion) to the south of the city.
- The Israeli move should leave open the possibility for future extension of Israeli law to additional blocs and settlements as part of a more complete (and, if possible, negotiated) implementation of the Trump plan. For example, there is no doubt (even amongst the Palestinians) about the future of Israeli communities just over the Green Line; they will always remain part of Israel. Second and third phases of the application of Israeli law to additional zones can be considered, in exchange for areas that will later be conceded to the Palestinians after the necessary infrastructure has been built. (Costly but important “transportation contiguity” arrangements will neutralize the everyday implications of the presence of Israeli communities within Palestinian territory).
- It is important for Israel to defuse concerns among Israeli Arabs about the Trump Plan. Specifically, Israel should specify that its provisions for land swaps involving Israeli Arab communities might only be realized with the full agreement of all parties (including the residents themselves).
Amid the expected turbulence of political pressures coming from all directions, it is important at this stage that Israel adhere to the Jewish tenet of cautiously being content with less, and to keep in mind the Talmudic teaching that “tafasta merube, lo tafasta” (literally, “If you grab too much, you end-up holding nothing.”) At this stage, avoiding over-ambitious territorial measures (which are not widely supported by the Israeli public) will strengthen Israel’s ability to implement its decisions in the areas that are crucial to its security, while enjoying broad domestic support.
3.2 Keep an Open Door for Negotiations
Spokespeople for the US government have made it unequivocally clear that US support for the application of Israeli law in Judea and Samaria (and other Israeli moves implementing aspects of the Trump plan) is contingent on the plan being officially accepted by Israel in its entirety. There is no hope of enlisting the administration’s support for selective measures that Israel might take on the basis of the plan if Israel precludes progress toward a two-state solution.
Therefore, the government’s key message needs to be that partial implementation of the Trump Plan is the only way of extracting Israeli-Palestinian relations from the deadlock they have been in for so many years. It is precisely the “conventional wisdom” – that would have Israel withdraw to the June 1967 lines with minimal land swaps, divide Jerusalem, and grant the so-called “right of return” to Palestinian refugees – that has fueled unrealistic Palestinian expectations, and blocked any realistic prospect of diplomatic progress. This might be referred to as the EKP – the “Everybody Knows Paradigm,” as in “everybody knows that Israel must withdraw to the 1967 lines,” etc.
This paradigm, espoused by the Israeli left and many Europeans, does not have any significant political or public support in Israel – beyond the Joint Arab List, which automatically endorses Palestinian demands. The results of the last three general elections testify to that. In contrast, the parameters of the Trump Plan offer a real chance, perhaps the only chance, of eventually progressing toward a two-state solution. It should be noted that most of the Israeli public is not opposed to reasonable territorial concessions to achieve a peace agreement.
As it prepares the ground for its next steps in a systematic and orderly fashion, the Israeli government should clearly state its commitment to the Trump Plan in its entirety, including negotiations with the Palestinians towards a permanent settlement, a readiness to consider the establishment of a Palestinian state, and willingness to freeze construction in parts of Area C for the expansion of settlements outside of the main blocs.
Israel may decide to make clear that the door will remain open – and not just in theory – to negotiations over territories that now will be coming under Israeli law, or even areas that have been under its sovereignty since 1967 or 1948. The concept of land swaps, contained within the Trump plan as well as its predecessor plans, suggests the possibility of Israel transferring areas under its sovereignty to the Palestinians in the future, including territories within the “Green Line” (in the southern Hebron Hills and in the Negev along the Egyptian border), in the framework of an eventual peace agreement.
3.3 Messages and Gestures to the Palestinians
Mahmoud Abbas’ staunch and uncouth personal assault on Trump (“he can go to hell”) and against the president’s plan is unlikely to change. This was expressed, inter alia, in his sweeping condemnation of the discussions on the economic portion of the plan that took place in Manama in June 2019. (The PA called it the “workshop of shame,” and the “betrayal conference”.) At the same time, the Palestinian public’s willingness to mobilize for a defiant, perhaps violent struggle which would exact a heavy price from Palestinians, is largely dependent on Israel’s ability to place other considerations on the table, that would make opposition to the Trump Plan less worthwhile.
Meticulous planning and significant steps on Israel’s part could help defuse the current clash and allow for patterns of conflict management to continue. As stated above, a key element of this strategy should be the conveying of a message regarding the diplomatic horizon. It must be remembered, however, that if such messages are not accompanied by concrete action, they will be of limited impact. Therefore, Israel needs to consider a series of gestures to the Palestinians:
- The possibility of transferring, as a gesture indicating steps that might be taken in the future, territories currently in Area B and even Area C to full or partial Palestinian control. Options of this sort (including Palestinian annexation of zones in Area C along the border of Area A) were previously explored in various attempts to return to the negotiating table (as part of the so-called “Blair package”). Their implementation at this point in time would necessitate detailed planning by foreign, defense and legal authorities.
- Re-examining the option of transferring to the Palestinian Authority neighborhoods that are located beyond the security barrier in Jerusalem. (Due to the coronavirus crisis, some of these neighborhoods, like Kafr Aqab, are already being run by locals who are members of the Fatah movement’s Tanzim.) Such a move would require Israel to make legislative changes, since they are part of the unified city of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. Concerns about setting a potential precedent of “dividing the city” are unfounded, given the current state of these neighborhoods, which is fundamentally different from those within the barrier.
- Locating financial sources (a challenge in the post-corona economic era) and formulating plans to build quality transportation infrastructure to connect Palestinian-controlled territories. This “transportation contiguity” will bypass the problem of territorial contiguity. Specifically, alongside the application of Israeli law to Maaleh Adumim and its surroundings, it is important to provide a good response to the need for free movement between Ramallah and Palestinian-controlled territories in Samaria and between Bethlehem and zones in Area A in Judea. This would be proof that the measures Israel is taking do not rule out future diplomatic options.
- Additional economic gestures and investment in the manufacturing sector, based on elements from the “book” of economic initiatives that accompanied the Trump Plan. (This was presented in Manama, but the PA chose to ignore it.)
- Continuing cooperation (both with the PA and with the Hamas regime in Gaza) in fighting the spread of the coronavirus.
- Focused efforts to maintain open channels of communication with the Palestinian security forces, backed by the system of US support for these forces. Even in an atmosphere of extremism, in which people such as Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh choose to disseminate virulent anti-Israel propaganda to improve their chances in the struggle for succession after Mahmoud Abbas, some of the heads of Palestinian security forces and their supporters may actually play a restraining role.
3.4 Focus on the US Arena
If Israel finds a way to implement the above set of recommendations, it will likely have an easier time in the US in defending the move to apply its laws to the areas discussed. If President Trump is in office, Israel will have the support of the White House. In public discourse in the US (and elsewhere), it should be emphasized that for now, Israel is seeking to apply its laws to only some of the territory prescribed by the Trump Plan to be included within the State of Israel.
Beyond direct talks with the administration, the circle of support can and should also be extended to those in the US who are not sympathetic to the current president. Of particular importance, as a foundation upon which all subsequent moves must be built, is a broad and intensive dialogue with American Jewry. This includes dialogue with the top political echelons, briefings by government officials (and/or research institutes) for the leaders of the Conference of Presidents and other key Jewish organizations, and commissioning Israeli consulates to initiate talks with policymakers and influencers of public opinion in the areas in which they operate.
Left-wing organizations, and even Zionist groups who remain adamant about withdrawals based on the June 1967 lines, undoubtedly will continue to resist and even express hostility towards the Trump Plan. But if Israel adopts a policy of applying its laws to certain territories that is based on broad public support and clear security considerations, it has a good chance of successfully “marketing” the move. Israel may be able to increase understanding for its moves, and even enlist active support for them.
Based on such support, it will be possible to generate an informed discussion in the public sphere and in the media about the most effective way of progressing towards a two-state solution. For Israel, the purpose of this debate is first and foremost to gain support from senior representatives of both parties, and in particular from the moderate forces within the Democratic Party, in which there is currently an atmosphere of animosity towards the Trump Plan and expected Israeli move.
There is no hope of gaining the sympathy of the likes of the Bernie Sanders or Rashida Tlaib, but there is a chance of engaging avowed friends of Israel such as Nita Lowey and Elliot Engel – who one year ago warned of a rift between Israel and the Democrats if “unilateral steps” were to be taken.. If the Israeli position is based on a broad consensus at home and on explicit security considerations, there is a good possibility of recruiting support for the move. Even President Obama accepted the principle that Israel has a right to defend itself by itself. It can be persuasively argued that without a permanent presence in the Jordan Valley such defense is not possible. This may become especially crucial after the November 2020 elections.
It is important to keep in mind that American public support for Israel has not waned. Polls generally have found that two-thirds of those surveyed remain sympathetic to Israel. While there has been a significant drop in support for Israel among liberals/Democrats and among the younger generation, there is still a large portion of the American public that feels a strong affinity for the State of Israel and admires its courage and steadfastness in a violent neighborhood. These sentiments also have been expressed by members of Congress from both parties.
3.5 Minimizing Risk in the Arab Arena
Opponents of the move to extend Israeli law cite as one of their main concerns the potential, perhaps fatal, damage to Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. These agreements are a pillar of Israel’s national security and its standing in the international community. However, significant segments of society across the Arab world still harbor deep hostility towards Israel (especially amongst the intelligentsia), something that Arab regimes cannot ignore. Although attitudes towards Israel have improved in recent years, loud protests against Israeli sovereignty moves could undermine the stability of some Arab regimes.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the priorities of Arab regimes differ from those of the Arab “street,” and focus on the strategic threats posed by Iran (to the Gulf states, and to a large extent to Jordan), the Islamist-oriented Turkey (whose intervention in the Libyan war challenges Egypt in the struggle for control in the eastern Mediterranean), and Ethiopia (whose “Grand Renaissance Dam” project on the Blue Nile River threatens Egypt’s water supply).
The coronavirus crisis is also reshaping reality, and, among other things, has raised the status of Jordanian regime due to its effective response to the pandemic. In some Arab countries, especially in the Gulf, there are growing signs of impatience with the Palestinians and their expectations, and of interest in the possibility of strengthening ties with Israel. The influence of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, especially on Egypt, may help to quell hostility towards Israel.
In any case, even if some of the concerns are overstated, Israel must prepare carefully, utilize all of its channels of communication, and strive towards achieving understandings with the top Arab political echelons, based on the message of an open diplomatic horizon regarding the Palestinians, as well as upon common regional interests.
With regards to Egypt, a shared interest that should be emphasized involves the hegemonic aspirations of Turkey and “Sultan Erdogan” in the eastern Mediterranean. The Israel-Egypt partnership against Hamas – an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood – is also a factor that serves to strengthen bilateral relations.
The relationship with Jordan must be handled with special care at the most senior level and necessitates concrete moves on issues that have become a cornerstone of Jordanian-Israel relations. First and foremost, there should be a renewal of the understandings regarding Jordan’s status on the Temple Mount, as well as that of the Waqf authorities. This is a particularly sensitive issue for the Jordanian street (and within certain circles of the royal family). Another issue that ought to be revived is the Red Sea-Dead Sea Conveyance project. From the Jordanian perspective, Israel has been dragging its feet on this matter for many years.
The Israeli-Jordanian relationship is a complex one. The two countries enjoy deep and substantial security cooperation. Jordanian trade runs through the Haifa port. Jordan is dependent on Israel with regards to water, and to some extent with regards to gas (though dependence on the latter has weakened given the trends in the global energy market). All these factors may temper a Jordanian response to an Israeli sovereignty move. The Jordanians also know that Israel holds influence in Washington, and that without Israel’s help it would be difficult for Jordan to receive aid from the US. A demonstration of the seriousness of Israel’s intensions to reach a two-state solution could also help the Jordanian king surmount “popular” reaction.
Israel should deepen its ties with the Gulf States based on a common firm stance against Iran. Actions Israel has taken against the Iranian presence in Syria have great symbolic and practical value in this regard. As fears of US withdrawal from the Middle East grow, Israel’s role as an impediment to Iranian and Turkish aspirations is becoming increasingly important.
It is worth noting that Arab countries have become accustomed to the fact that Israel long ago declared sovereignty in Jerusalem, which is more important to Muslims than any other area in the Land of Israel. It should also be recalled that the dire warnings of violence and disaster which preceded the US Embassy move to Jerusalem in 2018 proved unfounded. Such warnings were heard from many of the same analysts who now are warning against the move to extend Israeli law to Judea and Samaria. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency. Careful and intensive diplomatic preparation is vital ahead of the move.
3.6 The European Arena
For some of the key European countries – and, even more so, for the foreign policy establishment at the EU’s headquarters in Brussels – the application of Israeli law to settlements is considered a violation of the principles of international law and UNSC Resolution 2334, and some will demand substantial sanctions against Israel in response. Given the economic, diplomatic, and other implications that this could have, Israel must regard this threat as a critical diplomatic challenge.
With regards to two key figures in today’s Europe – Merkel and Macron – personal connections of Israeli leaders will prove very important. Any attempt to enlist their help in curbing action against Israel will require a clear diplomatic message regarding Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution. This should be paired with the option of integrating Germany, France, and the EU in the implementation of a “package” of gestures to the Palestinians, to be finalized during the preparatory discussions ahead of the move. It will also be important to emphasize Israel’s commitment to resuming negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as the argument that it is precisely the implementation of the Trump Plan that will rescue the peace process from the deadlock it has reached.
In parallel, Israel should be able to protect itself from major decisions being taken against it in Brussels, because these must be adopted by a pan-European consensus (with each country thus having veto power). This can be achieved through diplomatic work with Israel’s friends in eastern and central Europe, and with Israel’s European partners in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (Greece, Cyprus, and, under the appropriate political circumstances, Italy). Israel’s unique ability to enlist diplomatic and defense assistance from the US – enabling it to help Greece, Cyprus and Egypt in the face of the challenge Turkey poses in the Eastern Mediterranean (and Libya) – gives it a distinct place in the deliberations of the countries of the region. Israel’s policy in the Mediterranean basin therefore has an (indirect) effect on its “toolbox” in the European sphere regarding to the Palestinian issue.
A separate issue concerns Israel’s policy vis-à-vis Britain, which has already left the EU. The UK’s importance to Israel stems both from trade ties as well as Britain’s status as a permanent member of the UNSC, and British “soft power” in world affairs. In contrast to the adverse line of the British Foreign Office, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s personal sympathy toward Israel may be helpful in keeping the UK from joining European sanctions and in curtailing radical UN initiatives.
3.7 Debate in the Security Council
The Palestinians and their supporters are expected to try to bring the matter for debate before the UNSC and may even claim that a decision should be taken under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter (unprecedented with regards to Israel). This chapter deals with acts of aggression and breaches of the peace, the response to which can involve sanctions or even the use of force. Although one cannot be certain, it is reasonable to assume that even a Democratic administration would veto such a resolution (let alone the Trump administration). Nonetheless, it is in the Israeli interest that the US will not have to be the only country in the Security Council to stand in Israel’s defense.
By the end of 2020, the UNSC’s non-permanent member states will include Germany, Belgium and Estonia from Europe; Indonesia and Vietnam from Asia; South Africa, Niger and Tunisia from Africa, and two Caribbean island countries –the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines – from Latin America. (Some of these states will be replaced by others in January 2021, as is customary.) The Palestinians can assume that Russia, China and France, as well as Belgium, Indonesia, and Vietnam (despite the latter’s warm bilateral relationship with Israel), and certainly South Africa and Tunisia, will be supportive of their position, however extreme.
The two Caribbean countries, Niger (whose relationship with Israel has witnessed a breakthrough in recent years), and possibly Estonia are all states that could be convinced to abstain on a resolution condemning Israel (if the US exerts its influence on them as well). Despite their deep friendship with Israel, Germany and the United Kingdom are likely to be stubbornly opposed to the application of Israeli law to the areas under discussion. Their stances may lead to a decision to condemn Israel, but without prescribing punitive action and without employing Chapter 7. In this case, a Democratic US government may also abstain, as Obama did in December 2016. Assuming that a debate in the UNSC cannot be avoided completely, Israel’s goal should be a very softened decision or a veto. Therefore, it is in Israel’s interest for the debate to take place while the current US administration is still in office.
Unlike a General Assembly resolution against Israel, which is expected to pass (as usual) with a very large majority and brazen language, the decisions of the UNSC do have operative implications. Therefore, in preparing for the move, Israel should make full use of its diplomatic, economic and security levers in attempting to influence all countries whose position may be swayed.
3.8 Security Preparations for Violent Confrontation
As mentioned, among the ranks of the PA there are some who have been pushing towards radicalization – due both to the perceived severity of the Israeli move and to the internal Palestinian political succession dynamic. This may be manifested in the suspension of security cooperation, the instigation of “popular” action that could easily spill over into local violence – including the use of firearms – and perhaps even reactivation of the “armed struggle.” Nevertheless, such violence may be avoided, because many in Ramallah have a stake in preserving stability and they remember the tough Israeli crackdown that followed the so-called Second Palestinian Intifada.
In any case, given the internal state of affairs in the PA and the potential for aggressive incitement from external sources (Iran and Turkey), the IDF must prepare for grave scenarios, convey clear messages of deterrence, and increase its presence (and certainly its field-level intelligence monitoring) in advance of potential flare-ups.
At the same time, the IDF and security officials must plan their moves with the understanding that numerous Palestinian casualties would serve Ramallah’s goal of thwarting the entire plan. The Palestinian security forces’ interest in preventing escalation must be nurtured. The “stick and carrot” methods used by the IDF to date may not be enough. It may be that a strong but well-thought-out initial Israeli military response – that would halt the wave of protests while minimizing casualties – is what will be needed to restore calm.
Given the circumstances, Israel has an increased interest in reaching a practical arrangement with the Hamas regime in Gaza, which would include a solution to the problem of missing and detained Israelis. Their return will enable Israel and Hamas to eventually make progress on economic and infrastructure issues that have been put off until now due to this issue – in exchange for a long-term truce. In parallel, diplomatic efforts should be continued to isolate the Hamas regime regionally and internationally.
In the critical stage that lies ahead, Israel must maintain its overall strategy of managing the conflict while leaving horizons open for future diplomatic options. This involves deepening the separation between Ramallah and Gaza, disabusing Palestinians of their jihadist myths, and, to the extent possible, urging Hamas to rein in Iran-sanctioned provocations by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The first stage in the extension of Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria should focus on the Jordan Valley and areas in the Jerusalem envelope that are important for security reasons, such as Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion.
Applying Israeli law to these territories, which is a step beyond Israel’s current military control, is crucial is conveying Israel’s determination to retain territories that are important to its security and identity. It would also remove from the agenda proposals for security arrangements in the territories that are of questionable effectiveness and would halt Palestinian efforts to erode Israeli control of sensitive security areas.
The application of Israeli law to areas vital to its security in Judea and Samaria is part of President Trump’s peace plan, and Israel’s national unity government should accept the plan in its entirety, including the requirement to enter into negotiations regarding the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Trump plan is the most realistic route for progress towards the goal of “two states for two peoples.” The Israeli government should take steps to demonstrate to the Palestinians that the plan provides them with a “diplomatic horizon.”
Above all, Israeli policy must be grounded in a broad national consensus. Such a consensus exists with regards to the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern security border and regarding the defense of Jerusalem. A significant portion of the Israeli public is supportive of applying Israeli law to these areas, while making territorial compromises elsewhere. These were the positions held by Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin of the Israel Labor Party.
On this basis, the potential exists to shift the debate in the US and in the international and even Arab arena regarding Judea and Samaria, and to mitigate Palestinian reactions to a partial Israeli sovereignty declaration.
Col. (res.) Dr. Eran Lerman is Vice President, and Prof. Efraim Inbar is President, of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
The authors thank Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror , Maj. Gen. (res.) Eitan Dangot, Dr. Yagil Henkin, Mr. Bob Silverman, and Mr. David M. Weinberg for their helpful comments on this paper, and thank other fellows at JISS for their participation in brainstorming sessions related to this paper.
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.
Photo: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead