Analysis from Israel

Ever since the Trump administration published its Mideast peace plan, critics have vociferously claimed that it “violates U.N. resolutions” and “challenges many of the internationally agreed parameters” guiding peacemaking since 1967. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this is the first plan that actually relates seriously to the document every plan cites as the basis for those parameters: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

The resolution was adopted in November 1967, five months after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem and Sinai Peninsula in the Six-Day War. But contrary to popular belief, it was carefully crafted to let Israel keep some of this territory by demanding a withdrawal only from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” rather than “the territories” or “all the territories.”

As America’s then U.N. ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, later said, the omitted words “were not accidental … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the United Nations who drafted the resolution, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”

The reason was that, in the resolution’s own words, a “just and lasting peace” would require “secure and recognized boundaries” for all states in the region. But the 1967 lines (aka the 1949 armistice lines) did not and could not provide secure boundaries for Israel. As Goldberg explained, the resolution called for “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces” precisely because “Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.” And since Israel had captured these territories in a defensive rather than offensive war, the drafters considered such territorial changes fully compatible with the resolution’s preamble “emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

But then, having successfully defeated the Arab/Soviet demand that Israel be required to cede “all the territories,” America abandoned its hard-won achievement just two years later, when it proposed the Rogers Plan. That plan called for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines with only minor adjustments (since nobody back then envisioned a Palestinian state, the West Bank would have returned to Jordan, even though Jordan had illegally occupied it in 1948).

This formula made a mockery of Resolution 242 because it failed to provide Israel with “secure boundaries.” Yet almost every subsequent proposal retained the idea of the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, even as all of them continued paying lip service to 242.

Now, for the first time, a plan has attempted to take that resolution seriously and provide Israel with defensible borders. That’s why it assigns the Jordan Valley to Israel, reflecting the long-standing Israeli consensus that this territory is crucial to defend the country against threats from the east (in this regard, the name “Jordan Valley” is misleading because what makes the area critical for defense is its high ground—the eastern slopes of the Judean Mountains and Samarian Hills).

Even Israel’s mainstream left has long deemed the valley essential, aside from a brief flirtation with Oslo-era delusions of a New Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, said in his final speech to the Knesset in 1995 that Israel’s “security border … will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” And today, both the center-right government and the main center-left opposition party agree that Israel must retain the valley. Parties seeking to cede it constitute a mere 20 percent of the Knesset (and just 10 percent of Jewish MKs).

There is similar consensus around the need for the belt of territory near the Green Line where most settlements lie, since this provides a territorial buffer for Israel’s major population centers. And a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule is essential because dividing it would leave Israel’s capital vulnerable to nonstop shelling from the city’s eastern half: For evidence, see Jerusalem’s experience when the city was divided from 1948 to 1967, or the experience of communities along the Gaza border today. Again, even Rabin’s final speech envisioned a “united Jerusalem … under Israeli sovereignty.”

The plan’s limited version of Palestinian sovereignty derives from the need for defensible borders as well, since as the past quarter-century has shown, Palestinian military control over territory means kissing Israeli security goodbye. The Palestinian Authority was able to wage the Second Intifada—which killed more than 1,100 Israelis, 78 percent of them civilians, including through suicide bombings in major Israeli cities—because the Oslo Accords barred the Israel Defense Forces from entering P.A. territory. Only after the IDF reasserted control over those areas did the terror wane. Similarly, the IDF’s absence from Gaza is what has allowed Palestinians to fire more than 20,000 rockets at Israel from that territory, even as not one rocket has ever been launched from the West Bank.

Having learned this lesson, Trump’s plan assigns security control of the West Bank solely to Israel. And again, this used to be an Israeli consensus before Oslo fever took hold; even Rabin, in his final speech, envisioned a Palestinian “entity which is less than a state.”

One could obviously quibble with certain details of the plan; for instance, the idea of leaving some settlements as enclaves in Palestinian territory sounds like a security nightmare. One could even legitimately wonder, given the experience of the last 25 years, whether any kind of Palestinian state is compatible with Israel’s security.

Nevertheless, Trump’s plan is the first serious attempt to give Israel what Resolution 242 promised more than 50 years ago—borders that are not only recognized, but secure. As such, far from “violating U.N. resolutions,” it’s actually the first plan that doesn’t violate them.

This provides Israel and its allies with a golden opportunity to remind the world that contrary to what is widely believed today, U.N. resolutions and “internationally agreed parameters” originally promised Israel defensible borders. Thus all the plans that broke this promise are the ones that ought to be deemed illegitimate—not the one plan that finally seeks to keep it.

This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on February 5, 2020. © 2020 JNS.org

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Israel’s unity government may prove a constitutional time bomb

That Israel will soon have a government is good news; almost any government would be better than the political dysfunction that has produced three elections in the past year. But aside from its existence, there’s little to like about this “unity” government.

The biggest problem isn’t that many important issues will perforce go unaddressed, though that’s inevitable given the compromises required when neither bloc can govern on its own. Nor is it the risk that the government will be dysfunctional even on “consensual” issues like rescuing the economy from the coronavirus crisis, though this risk is real, since both sides’ leaders will have veto power over every government decision.

Rather, it’s the cavalier way that Israel’s Basic Laws are being amended to serve the particular needs of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his new partner, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Though Israel’s Supreme Court wrongly claims the Basic Laws are a constitution, they were never intended as such by the parliaments that passed them. Indeed, some were approved by a mere quarter of the Knesset or less.

But they were intended as the building blocks of a future constitution should Israel ever adopt one. That’s why this handful of laws, alone of all the laws on Israel’s books, are deemed “Basic Laws,” and why each addresses a fundamental constitutional issue (the executive branch, the legislature, the judiciary, human rights, Israel’s Jewish character, etc.).

In other words, though they aren’t a constitution, they do serve as the foundation of Israel’s system of government. And tinkering with the architecture of any democratic system of government can have unintended consequences, as Israel has discovered before to its detriment.

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