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Weekly Update (May 17): What will Israel do with Judea and Samaria?

editor - 17 May 2019

What will Israel do with Judea and Samaria?

“King” Bibi Netanyahu, the master of the art of turning defeat into victory, emerged as the clear winner in the elections held in Israel early April. With a remarkable shift towards the centre/right, the political landscape in Israel has been transformed. Bibi now faces a huge challenge to form a stable coalition. President Rivlin this week granted him extra time to achieve this.

One of the main issues facing the new government will be Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, especially the question of the status of settlements. Prior to the elections Bibi had announced that if re-elected he would annex (ie. extend Israeli sovereignty to) Israeli settlements in the “West Bank” (ie. Judea and Samaria), including “isolated settlements”. He also ruled out a Palestinian state as it would “endanger our existence”. It was difficult to tell if this was a serious statement or just a remark designed to win votes on the right of the political spectrum. I suspect the former.

Bibi will of course not do anything until President Trump’s team has revealed its peace plan. The “deal of the century” – a mastermind of Trump’s (Jewish) son-in-law Jared Kushner – is a highly-guarded secret (Kushner said recently even the President hasn’t read it yet). It is still being drafted as we speak and is due to be released mid-June at the earliest. Kushner has revealed enough of the plan already for us to know that it will constitute a radical departure from the one-dimensional “two state” paradigm – the model that has dominated diplomatic discussions for the last few decades, but has so far failed to produce an outcome acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians.

Basically the Two State Solution says that the Palestinians have a right to a state covering all of the so-called West Bank, including “East Jerusalem” as their capital.

The Two State Solution has failed because it assumes the PLO is capable of governing the Palestinian people (the PA has practically no legitimacy amongst the Palestinians). But also because its main conditions are simply unacceptable to Israel. The vast majority of Israeli’s will not – and cannot – agree to the division of Jerusalem, creation of a Palestinian state without adequate security guarantees, and removal of all settlements. In addition, they cannot accept the Palestinians’ claim that Palestinian “refugees” have a “right to return” to Israel. To accept such conditions would be to sign their own death warrant.

In true Trump style the U.S. plan will be “out of the box”. It will provide detailed proposals addressing core issues (eg. suggestions for the final borders of Israel, the status of Jerusalem, the future of Palestinian refugees, etc), but it will not be about how to create a new negotiating process; rather, its goal is to offer “solutions.”Above all, the U.S. plan will have proposals for attracting investment to improve the quality of life for Palestinians, while dismissing their “political aspirations”. When asked to endorse the idea of demilitarized statehood that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself once proposed, Kushner said he was avoiding the term “state” altogether: “If you say ‘two-states’ it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians, and we said, let’s just not say it.”

Many are skeptical about the plan’s chances of success, and worried about the risk of unforeseeable consequences if it fails. And the chances of the plan being implemented are very slim indeed. The U.S. has no power to impose any solutions. The Palestinian leadership have already rejected the plan. European leaders are also vehemently opposed to any plan that replaces their cherished “Two State Solution”.

That said, the plan may shake up the region. The position of Egypt is particularly interesting. Recent reports indicate that President Sisi may have a crucial role in trying to win Arab support for the U.S. proposal – yet another indication of growing acceptance of Israel in the Middle East, due in part to the deepening hostility between the (moderate) Sunni and more radical Shiite regimes.

Plan or no plan, there is increasing pressure on the Israeli government to take action regarding Judea and Samaria. Many (former) IDF leaders have been warning for some time that the “West Bank” is slowly becoming another Gaza. Israel must either completely withdraw or take back more control. The current policy of maintaining the status quo is untenable in the long run. But Israel will face huge resistance if it seeks to take more control in Areas A and B, and/or annex Area C – not only in the diplomatic arena but more importantly on the ground, especially from radical elements within Palestinian society, Hamas, Hezbollah and other radical Islamic forces in the region, backed by Iran. It is also hard to see how Israel could unilaterally roll back the structures that have been put in place since the Oslo agreements in the early 1990’s.

One way or another an escalation of conflict in the near future seems likely.

It is really important that we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Let’s pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu this coming week as he seeks to form a government. Pray for wisdom for the government. And we must pray that the Lord will continue to bring the Jewish people home, and for both the Jewish and Arab people in the land.

 

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu this coming week as he seeks to form a government. Pray for wisdom for the government. Pray that the Lord will continue to bring the Jewish people home. Pray for both the Jewish and Arab people in the land. More
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