The American peace plan provides a historic opportunity to break the futile paradigm based on the 1967 lines and ensure Israeli national security for the long term. In terms of security – protecting Israel, stabilizing Jordan, and preventing a terrorist takeover of a future Palestinian entity – and given the supreme importance of national cohesion, it is imperative to focus on the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem envelope.
A groundbreaking move to apply Israeli law – as a step toward the future implementation of the Trump plan in its entirety – should be evaluated by two main criteria: its contribution to the security of the State of Israel and its citizens; and the preservation of Israeli national cohesion for the difficult challenges ahead. These challenges include potential conflict with Iran and its satellites, as Israel acts against Tehran’s nuclear program.
In terms of security – protecting Israel, stabilizing Jordan, and preventing a terrorist takeover of a future Palestinian entity, and given the supreme importance of national cohesion, it is imperative to focus on the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem envelope (which dominates the road to the Jordan Valley). There is a broad national consensus regarding the need to retain these regions. Moreover, this paradigm is consistent with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s strategic legacy, as expressed in his last major diplomatic address to the Knesset (when he presented the Oslo II Accord, on October 5, 1995).
An additional strategic consideration in support of extending sovereignty now to the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem envelope – rather than other areas which in future also may fall under Israeli sovereignty according to the Trump Plan – arises from the need to avoid a tangled geographic patchwork of territories in Judea and Samaria, at least until “transportation contiguity” infrastructure for the Palestinians is built in accordance with the American peace plan.
By focusing now on its vital security interests in the Jordan Valley and the broad Jerusalem envelope, Israel will also be best placed to muster an understanding of its position in the American Jewish community, whose support will have paramount importance if US political dynamics change. For similar reasons, Israel should also permit naturalization of the (very limited) Arab population in the areas to which Israeli law is to be applied, to fully maintain the democratic nature of the State of Israel.
Yitzhak Rabin’s Legacy: The Foundation of Trump’s Peace Plan
Israel views the application of its law in parts of Judea and Samaria as a decisive and requisite step toward the implementation of the “Trump Plan” in all its parts. The logic behind the administration’s plan involves extricating Israel (and the Palestinians) from the impasse reached because of false hopes engendered by the current peace paradigm; the “conventional wisdom” about an Israeli-Palestinian deal involving the expectation of Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders (with slight modifications), the uprooting of settlements, and a partition of Jerusalem. Again, this old paradigm is a recipe for continued deadlock.
Instead, the new American plan wisely bases itself on Israel’s security interests and national consensus, in line with Yitzhak Rabin’s strategic thinking. In fact, the administration’s written plan (“Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People”) opens on page three with a prominent reference to the last address given to the Knesset by Rabin (before he was assassinated), as follows:
“Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords and who in 1995 gave his life to the cause of peace, outlined in his last speech to the Israeli Knesset his vision regarding the ultimate resolution of the conflict. He envisioned Jerusalem remaining united under Israeli rule, the portions of the West Bank with large Jewish populations and the Jordan Valley being incorporated into Israel, and the remainder of the West Bank, along with Gaza, becoming subject to Palestinian civil autonomy in what he said would be something ‘less than a state’. Rabin’s vision was the basis upon which the Knesset approved the Oslo Accords, and it was not rejected by the Palestinian leadership at the time.”
Thus, the administration chose to rely upon Rabin’s position as a source of authority for its plan (although, unlike Rabin, the administration is prepared to consider a Palestinian “state” with restrictions on its sovereignty).
In his explanatory comments on the Oslo II Accord, presented to the Knesset for approval on October 5, 1995, Rabin said the following:
“Members of the Knesset, we are striving for a permanent solution to the unending bloody conflict between us and the Palestinians and the Arab states. In the framework of the permanent solution, we aspire to reach, first and foremost, the establishment of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, at least 80 per cent of whose citizens will be, and are, Jews. At the same time, we also aspire and promise that the non-Jewish citizens of Israel – Muslim, Christian, Druze and others – will enjoy full personal, religious and civil rights, like those of any Israeli citizen.
“We view the permanent solution within the framework of State of Israel’s territory [bolding by Lerman and Inbar], which will include most of the territory of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state and which will autonomously administer the lives of the Palestinians who are under its authority.
“The borders of the State of Israel, on attaining the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines that existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the June 4, 1967 borders. The main changes are as follows:
- First and foremost, united Jerusalem – which will include both Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev – as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.
- The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.
- Modifications including the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the ‘Green Line’ prior to the Six-Day War.
- The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.
Rabin’s demarcation of the lands where Israeli sovereignty would apply expressed a broad Israeli national consensus. All polls taken professionally since that time reaffirm this finding. A vast majority of Israel’s Jews agree that greater Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley must be under Israeli sovereignty.
A “Security Border” Outside Israel’s Sovereign Territory?
Rabin’s speech indeed referenced the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “security border.” The customary use of this term denotes the inclusion of land captured by Israel in 1967 to provide a good defensive posture, which will not require Israel to launch a preemptive strike when imminent war is feared; as opposed to the 1967 borders, which are not defensible.
Since the end of the Cold War and the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, dovish circles in Israel have stripped the term “security borders” of its content and have deemed it to mean a consensual border; meaning that any border to which an Arab entity consents is a secure border. Rabin was not a member of those circles. There are even those who erroneously interpret this term, as used in Rabin’s speech, to signify military presence beyond the actual line of sovereignty, so that the IDF (and/or other forces) would be deployed in areas under Arab (in this case, Palestinian) sovereignty.
Yitzhak Rabin did consider territorial concessions on the Golan Heights in negotiations conducted with Syria, but he insisted on security arrangements such as the demilitarization of areas in Syria and a warning station on Mt. Hermon. There was also a proposal to deploy American soldiers in the Golan Heights. He spoke of security arrangements at the border, and never once referred to the proposed new Israel-Syria border as a “security border.”
Rabin was straightforward and honest and did not equivocate. His use of the term “security border” unquestionably referred to the traditional understanding of the term – namely, a territorial change from the situation that existed prior to the Six Day War.
Moreover, item b. in Rabin’s speech is supported by a series of references, all of which clarify and specify what he meant by the adamant determination which preceded that section: “We will not return to the June 4, 1967 borders.” Therefore, the reference to the Jordan Valley should be deemed to be the equivalent of referring to greater Jerusalem, to Gush Etzion and to the other settlement blocks. A thorough examination of the text, as well as familiarity with Rabin’s frame of mind, make it clear that he insisted on a “security border” located within Israel’s sovereign territory.
It was in fact the Netanyahu government that in peace talks and detailed military discussions with the Obama Administration (relating to security, with an emphasis on the Jordan Valley) made a major concession and moved away from the traditional understanding of the term “security borders.” Netanyahu talked of a “long-term military presence” in the Jordan Valley as a possible basis for permanent peace accord. Implicitly, and sometimes even expressly, this suggested the possibility of security arrangements replacing security borders (and could even be taken as a hint about removing Israel’s non-military presence in the Jordan Valley, namely settlements).
On the practical level, the implementation of this would have required reaching an agreement with the future Palestinian state on the continued presence (for decades?) of IDF forces, perhaps in conjunction with additional entities (such as US or NATO forces, the Jordanian army, or Palestinian police) and with the support of an advanced array of measures (such as fences, sensors and tracking devices) that do not require a significant physical presence (i.e., no “boots on the ground”).
Detailed discussions in this regard were indeed held with the Americans; first with General Jim Jones and later with General John Allen. (On this basis, former US ambassador Dan Shapiro and General Allen today argue that there is no security justification for applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley). Nevertheless, it must be noted that the Palestinians never participated in these discussions on security arrangements, and they even vehemently refused to consider Israel’s positions on the matter. In any case, the security arrangements discussed, including positioning a foreign military presence in the Jordan Valley, never matured to become operative plans approved by Israeli leadership.
Why is the Application of Sovereignty Preferable?
A review of Rabin’s seminal text and Israel’s current reality, 25 years later, as well as of historical experience relating to foreign military presence, indicates that the “security arrangements” proposed by US generals are neither consistent with Rabin’s thinking nor with Israel’s security needs. The solution lies in redrawing the border, not in problematic and tenuous arrangements regulating military presence beyond Israel’s border. A military “presence” (whether Israeli or foreign) cannot be effectively maintained over time, without sovereignty.
Alongside the desire to achieve progress in the negotiations, and the striving toward a Jewish and democratic state, Rabin’s words also already expressed a growing displeasure with Yasser Arafat’s inaction, both on the diplomatic-ideological level (relating to the question of the revocation of the Palestinian National Charter, which denies Israel’s right to exist) and regarding the fight against Islamist terrorism. (By that time, IDF military intelligence had concluded that Arafat did not intend to respond to the pressures exerted on him by Israel to restrict the activity of Mohammed Deif and other high-ranking Hamas operatives). It is highly doubtful that under these circumstances Rabin was considering any arrangement that would have the IDF operate in the Jordan Valley only by virtue of a “Status of Forces Agreement” with authorities in Ramallah.
The experience amassed since then does not encourage an optimistic assessment regarding the viability of such arrangements. Consider, for example, the current situation in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Or consider the British military presence in Egypt, which did not stop being an “occupation” in the eyes of Egyptians even when it was enshrined in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. In the absence of Israeli sovereignty, Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley will end up facing the same predicament, even if Palestinian leadership solemnly swears to honor agreements reached.
One need only recall the opinion of then-IDF Chief of Staff Ehud Barak regarding the Oslo Accords. He called them “Swiss cheese with a lot of holes.” The accords ultimately exacted a heavy, bloody toll from the State of Israel. Nowadays, too, the Palestinian Authority is a problematic actor that constantly incites to violence against Israel and Jews. The PA is also unable to wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, an organization that seeks to destroy the Jewish state.
In Area C of Judea and Samaria, which under the Oslo II Accord (1995) falls under Israeli military and civil control, the Palestinian Authority is violating agreements with Israel and constantly eroding Israeli control by building roads and settlements. If this is the way it conducts itself in Area C, it is all the more certain that it would not be able to withstand the temptation to harass an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley that falls under its control. “Remove the Foreign Forces” is the rallying cry of many a national movement. One should not trust guarantees given by the Palestinian Authority in diplomatic agreements that do not provide Israel with a significant security assurance.
Both the Palestinian national movement and external terrorist entities (such as Iran and its satellites, as well as various Sunni Islamist entities such as the Islamic State) will strive to undermine any arrangement allowing an IDF presence in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians will do so in order to establish undisputed sovereignty, and the terrorist entities will do so to gain access to the Palestinian state from Jordan. (Such access would also swiftly lead to efforts to undermine the kingdom’s stability.)
Minor yet persistent harassments of a civilian nature; casual lethal attacks and sabotage on the roads; agricultural projects and construction plans intended to disrupt the Israeli presence; and a concerted diplomatic campaign to “release” the Palestinians of their obligation – all these would slowly but surely cripple the IDF’s ability to remain in an area not under Israeli sovereignty.
As for foreign peacekeepers: Israel’s experience suggests that such forces cannot be relied upon as an effective component of security arrangements. UNIFIL has yet to find even a single Hezbollah rocket in southern Lebanon! UNDOF in the Golan Heights dissipated at the outset of the Syrian civil war after being attacked but a few times. Even the US now wishes to withdraw its military presence in the Sinai (meant to oversee the demilitarization arrangements), against Israel’s wishes. “Solutions” based on current technology and offered to Israel as part of security arrangements may not keep up with the changes in military technology. Thus, only Israeli military presence in the field, under Israeli sovereignty, guarantees optimal defense of Israel’s eastern border if political upheavals were to occur to Israel’s east.
Furthermore, it is only through such sovereign presence that the demilitarization of a Palestinian state can be guaranteed. Demilitarization is, of course, a prerequisite in the American plan for establishment of such a state. Therefore, only Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley can facilitate realization of a Palestinian state option.
A Preferable Option, at Some Cost
Therefore, there is a clear strategic advantage to the application of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley as well as to the broad Jerusalem envelope which dominates the road to the Jordan Valley, over and above the alleged alternative of a military presence that is limited in time and subject to coordination with the Palestinian state.
For reasons of strategic and operational logic, and in terms of Israeli cohesion, the application of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley is the best political option for Israel at present. It does not involve the creation of a tangled “patchwork” of sovereignties as would be the case in the mountains of Judea and Samaria, and it is not dependent on the development of a complicated system of transportation arteries that run through zones of Palestinian settlement.
The ideological rationale behind the creation of a patchwork of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty, prioritizes the ensuring of Israeli sovereignty for all settlements. But this disregards the security imperatives which support a “block” structure, just as it disregards the need for a broad Israeli consensus. Again, application of Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and to greater Jerusalem as a first and vital step would be in consonance Yitzhak Rabin’s strategic doctrine and would be in accordance with a broad Israeli national consensus.
The third option is maintaining the status quo until a comprehensive diplomatic arrangement is achieved. But this means losing the opportunity presented by the Trump administration’s peace plan. And then Israel would face pressures, down the road, for extensive territorial concessions based on the “conventional wisdom” of withdrawal to the 1967 borders. The security reality which would be created if Israel succumbed to such pressures eventually would imperil Israel’s citizens, as well as the stability of Jordan and the future of the Palestinians. Thus, under the current conditions of staunch support by the US, it is preferable to present to the world a fait accompli conveying Israel’s resolve to guarantee its security by herself.
There would be certain costs imposed upon Israel pertaining to the status of Arabs who live in the Jordan Valley, but these would be limited. (Israeli sovereignty would not extend to Jericho and the town of Auja, which are today part of Area A under full Palestinian control.) In dispute only are the status of several Bedouin settlements and hamlets between Route 90 and the Allon Road. For many in the international arena (and for many American Jews whose support is important to Israel, especially if a Democratic administration takes the White House this fall) the application of Israeli sovereignty to these areas without affording their residents the option of Israeli citizenship, would be highly objectionable. Israel’s willingness to grant such citizenship – which is an offer not likely to be taken up by many – should be considered an acceptable price to pay in order to secure Israel’s diplomatic flank against criticism by her friends.
The American peace plan provides Israel with an historic opportunity to improve its security. Israel must not miss this opportunity.
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.