The seeds of the idea of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria that were planted years ago by a few people of steadfast faith have begun to sprout, and this week, their branches reached all the way to the prime minister. There is still a long way to go, but we have begun the journey. We’re on the move.
Sara HaEtzni Cohen, Makor Rishon, February 18, 2018
Translated by Sally Zahav from the original Hebrew article
It all starts here. Always remember this. All of the initiatives, ideas and innovations begin here, in this country. They win international recognition afterwards. It is the same with sovereignty. There has been some movement over time, but apparently, this week it moved another few centimeters. The phrase “the application of sovereignty” is no longer considered jarring. Everyone is talking about sovereignty, and even if they do not agree – they are talking about it and considering it. Suddenly, the topic of sovereignty has become a realistic possibility, a subject for debate, and for quite some time has ceased to be considered delusional, but is perceived as a serious alternative.
HaBayit HaYehudi talks about sovereignty, as well as senior figures in Likud, the Likud Central Committee, the media, esteemed research institutions, foreign diplomats, serious universities abroad, and starting this past week – the Prime Minister of Israel as well. So much has transpired since Netanyahu’s Bar Ilan speech, which he never recanted, perhaps for tactical reasons or perhaps for reasons of principle: the good news is that the very conservative Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has also turned the ship’s wheel, and has begun speaking about sovereignty. The news that is less encouraging is that for now, it is only vague words and there is a long way ahead.
In 1990, a few years before Oslo befell us, Uri Elitzur, z”l, wrote an article focusing on sovereignty entitled “Who does this land belong to?” He was ahead of his time, but his words are etched well in our minds, and these words could have been written today. Even at that time, he begged for us to begin to discuss sovereignty, to plant the seeds. He foresaw, at that time, that the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state had the advantage from a public relations point of view, even if temporarily, because the minority that supported a Palestinian state had been fighting for years, while the minority that supported annexation had still not begun to talk about it”. In recent years, the nationalist camp has been talking about sovereignty and now everyone is talking about sovereignty. Approximately eight years ago, two dynamic women, Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katsover, founded the Sovereignty Movement, which, at the time, seemed almost like a messianic hope. Those were the days of Obama, the days of the construction freeze and feet on the table – when Nadia and Yehudit, for their part, not only planted the seed in the ground, but took pains to water it constantly.
“The first phase is only hasbara [public relations efforts], and it might last a good many years”, Uri Elitzur explained. How right he was. But in the middle there was Oslo, the Disengagement and a painful Intifada, and those “good many years” have grown into almost a 30-year-old boy with a high fever*, in other words, there is no time left. After many years, the State of Israel is beginning to speak about the proprietorship of Judea and Samaria – for security reasons as well as values and affiliation. Listen to the Likud MKs – they are not only talking about security, they are talking about the land of our forefathers.
Now, the question is– what do we mean by sovereignty – over the entire area or just part of it, what rights [the Arab residents will be given] and at what pace; where to begin and how to end. These are legitimate questions stemming from the birth pangs of the idea. Today, there are several proposals being considered: sovereignty over the areas of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria; Ma’ale Adumim first; sovereignty over Area C and others. And there are additional, more infrastructural steps being taken in the area. The bill passed by Minister Bennett to include Ariel University in the regular Council for Higher Education instead of the Council for Higher Education for Judea and Samaria; the proposal (which is raised and falls again) to annul the disengagement in northern Samaria; the changes that Minister Shaked made, stating that all new laws must also be relevant to Judea and Samaria, and more. Changes are happening.
There is no Status Quo
In order for the vision of sovereignty to be realized in some form or other, there is another important layer – the layer of infrastructure. Not just “what” but also “how”. The movement must come from both above and below, from the leaders as well as from the grass roots, in discourse as well as in practical ways. Words do indeed create reality but eventually, we must think about how we carry out sovereignty in a practical way. When the Oslo architects designed the accords, they not only presented a vision, they established think tanks and planning teams to design the reality for the vision to be realized. A large group of non-governmental elements as well as those within the governmental system were engaged to plan how to implement the vision of two states. How the sewage systems would be, how taxes would be collected, how security coordination would be handled, the Palestinian Authority, the judicial infrastructure, everything. To the very last detail. This is what we need to do too, but we have less time and we are swimming against very strong currents.
We also need to understand that the land is going away. Today’s Area C is not yesterday’s Area C and certainly not that of 2012 when Naftali Bennett presented his “Stability Initiative”, which includes the annexation of Area C. The Palestinian Authority designated it as an objective and is tearing into it with all its strength – all of its arrows are aimed at taking over these lands with agriculture, construction and they are bringing in people to populate it. These projects are funded with millions of dollars, partly by the Palestinian Authority and partly by direct funding by foreign governments. By the way, much of the money is intended to prevent Israel from dealing with this illegal construction by flooding the courts with appeals, thus paralyzing the system. There is a great deal of foreign money put into these efforts as well, and there are Israeli organizations that excel in this work. In short, there is no time. There is no time for a status quo – there is no such thing as a status quo.
And what will the world say? The disparaging and mocking headlines regarding Netanyahu’s troubles following the White House’s reaction to what Netanyahu said about sovereignty – “reports of a discussion of sovereignty are false” – are hot air. The important thing is that the seed has been planted. It will not happen in one day, and will certainly not happen if we do not begin speaking about the subject as much as possible. The idea of disengagement – was born here. The idea of giving them rifles as a result of Oslo – began here. The lobby against cutting funding to UNWRA – is supported from here. If Israel does not say that it is hers, and that this is proper and just, what can we expect from the world?
We have a tendency to disparage what we think and to revere what the world thinks. This is a mistake. The world is very interested in what the Israeli public thinks. It wants to know what the mood is, the voting patterns, what the public supports and how it wants life to be. The world will not always smile and not always agree; the international order, in general, is extremely complex and Prime Minister Netanyahu navigates it very wisely. But on the ideological level, it is important for us to understand that it all begins here. I do not minimize “what the world says”. We must not take it too lightly, but this must not be the primary determinant and we must certainly not become paralyzed or agonize over it.
This week something happened, something moved. But we must not fall asleep. Netanyahu’s declaration is important, but it is only a declaration, and the implementation on the ground will go at its own pace. We must continue moving forward.