US peace plan secures sovereignty for Israelis and Palestinians
Facts and context are needed. In the framework of the US plan, Israel has declared its intention, starting on 1 July 2020, to replace military law with civilian law in about 30% of the territories that lie east of the 1949 armistice lines, including the strategic Jordan Rift Valley. In these territories where Israeli civilian law may be applied, 500 000 Jews and 25 000 Palestinians live. Jewish and Arab residents of those areas will benefit from the application of Israeli civilian law.
There is a historical precedent. Israel applied Israeli law to the existentially critical Golan Heights in 1981, and to the strategically vital eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967. Today’s Arab Israeli citizens and residents in those areas will attest to their quality of life under Israeli law versus the status quo under previous Syrian and Jordanian law respectively.
This US plan grants Palestinians and Israelis rights and responsibilities, and provides a blueprint to solve the conflict.
First, a key correction of definition is necessary. Israel isn’t annexing anything. States that illegally conquer other states’ sovereign territory, for example Russia’s annexation of Crimea, or Turkey’s annexation of Northern Cyprus, are examples of unilateral annexation. Israel is applying civilian law to non-sovereign territories, particularly the existentially critical Jordan Rift Valley that it has controlled by international agreement since 1995.
The US plan is the first viable blueprint for peace that gives the Palestinians the prospect of becoming the first Arab Middle East “start-up nation” without threatening the security of Israel, its Jewish majority “start-up nation” next door.
The Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) record hasn’t inspired confidence in its peaceful intentions. The PA assigned $350 million (R6 trillion) of its 2019 budget to a terror-incentive programme financing pensions for incarcerated terrorists or those killed while carrying out terror assaults and their families. The Palestinian leadership and affiliated NGOs in Ramallah have actively co-lead the international economic and political warfare campaign against Israel known as the global Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
South Africans may remember that the Palestinian-driven global BDS crusade was launched and led by Yasser Arafat and the PA leadership at the United Nations-sanctioned Durban World Conference Against Racism in 2001. Durban called for a “policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state … and the full cessation of all links between all states and Israel … and its perpetration of its racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide”.
Today, the PA leadership, Palestinian school books, and official media have continued to demonise Israel and Jews including accusing the Jewish State of blood libels. Most recently, in March 2020, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israeli soldiers of purposely infecting Palestinians with coronavirus. This behaviour has reminded Israelis to secure themselves first, and make concessions second.
The current US plan has also pre-empted the PA’s past strategy of vetoing far-reaching Israeli territorial offers for yet a better one. The PA rejected the past six US mediated offers to end the conflict. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered 92% of the West Bank at Camp David in 2000, with additional land swaps, and Ehud Olmert offered to concede 94% at Annapolis in 2008, with swaps. The PA vetoed each one, including Israel’s vital security requirements, waiting for a better deal. Israelis have become wary of the intentions of the Palestinian leadership.
The US plan reverses this failed peace paradigm. It begins by recognising Israel’s wall to wall security consensus, and Jewish legal and diplomatic rights.
In the framework of the US plan, Israel has said it may apply Israeli civilian law in the 50% of Area C, which Israel has controlled by agreement under the Oslo Accords that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the State of Israel first signed in 1993.
Under that power sharing agreement, Israel has already conceded to the PA either full or functional control of 40% (Areas A and B of the West Bank where more than 98% of Palestinians live), and 100% of Gaza. What remains to be shared under the US plan is 60% of the West Bank, referred to as historic Judea and Samaria for Israelis, of which Israel has agreed in principle to concede an additional 50% plus Gaza and land swaps from the Western Negev.
This latest territorial package paves the way for a viable and potentially prosperous $50 billion ($866 billion) start-up Palestinian nation. This is a high-risk venture for Israel. Neighbouring failed states such as Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Hamas dominated Gaza Strip have effectively been kidnapped and controlled by the Iranian regime.
So, how does Israel secure itself while being called upon to make room for a 23rd Arab state that risks becoming another Iranian-controlled terror state?
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call to apply Israeli law to the Jordan Valley as the first step. The Netanyahu-Gantz unity government has merely operationalised the Oslo Accords “security-first” peace vision laid out by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin based on the non-negotiable territorial demand of every Israeli Prime Minister since 1967 of retaining or applying sovereignty to the Jordan Valley. Observers will remember that Rabin declared to the full Knesset assembly on the eve of the signing of the Oslo interim accords in October 1995 that, “Israel’s security border will be located in the Jordan Valley in the broadest sense of that term”.
Rabin’s former commander, General Yigal Allon, who would become Rabin’s foreign minister, had called for Israeli sovereignty to be applied to the entire Jordan Rift Valley following the 1967 war, after Israel barely short-circuited an Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian planned invasion. Readers may remember that scores of Jordanian tanks crossed the West Bank westward in a fierce tank battle opposite Israeli forces with the intention of annihilating the territorially indefensible Jewish State.
Therefore, Netanyahu’s intention in the US peace framework to apply Israeli law from the outset to the Jordan Rift Valley and its 4 500 foot (1 371m) high ridge that dominates Israel’s coastal cities and protects Ben Gurion Airport reflects Israel’s need to survive in an unstable and dangerous Middle East. The Palestinian leadership didn’t honour these iron-clad security needs in previous peace blueprints.
The US plan also formally recognises Israel’s legal rights to live and build east of the 1967 lines. This is an affirmation of what the 51 principal powers of the League of Nations, the legal predecessor to the United Nations, formally recognised and affirmed a century ago – the right of the Jewish people to reconstitute their national home in the geographical area of Palestine. It affirms Israel’s modern legal rights to what has been historically Jewish territory for the past 2 000 years. The US state department’s international jurists have refuted the former Carter-era administration’s position on Jewish housing in Judea and Samaria, thus reaffirming what every Israeli government since 1948 has understood to be Israel’s legal and diplomatic rights.
In sum, the US security-first peace plan paves the way for a secure, viable Palestinian state without threatening Israel in about 70% of the West Bank, with a $50 billion ($866 billion) state-development budget promised by the Arab states and the West. The PA started out on the wrong foot by boycotting the US administration, Israel, and the Arab states participating in the US Peace to Prosperity’s Bahrain economic workshop in May 2019.
It’s still not too late for Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership to learn from past mistakes, and pave the way for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Palestinian future living next to an Israeli neighbour willing to help them achieve it.
- Dan Diker is a foreign policy research fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.