There is a truism – “You can’t be more Catholic than the pope” – that is rather scrupulously adhered to in political circles.
With regard to Israel, this bit of political wisdom suggests that it is inappropriate for U.S. politicians, whatever their predilections or convictions, to move to the right of the Israeli government on issues of Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank).
However remote the possibility of negotiations between the PLO and Israel – however clear the evidence that the Arabs don’t want a negotiated settlement, but want the Jews gone, the notion of a “two-state solution” continues to be the politically correct mantra in the U.S.
As long as that “solution” remains the official position of the Israeli government, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu persists in his calls for PA president Abbas to come to the table without pre-conditions, Republican members of Congress are reluctant to advance positions to the right of what he is saying. Republican policy-makers are waiting for the Israeli government to make the first move.
It is time for Republican decision-makers to move beyond this conventional wisdom. For, in fact, a vast historical opportunity awaits them if they are bold enough to seize it.
What we are seeing is a confluence of events in the U.S and Israel that has significant implications:
In Israel, a 90-page report has been released that is surely destined to cause shifts in the political landscape and has already begun to do so. In January, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a committee of three to consider the legal status of “unauthorized settlements” in Judea and Samaria. Headed by Supreme Court Justice (ret) Edmund Levy, the committee also consisted of Tel Aviv District Court Judge (Ret.) Tehiya Shapira and Dr. Alan Baker an expert on international law.
After taking testimonies and doing an extensive examination of a host of legal and historical documents, what they have concluded, in brief, is that:
“According to international law, Israelis have a legal right to settle all of Judea and Samaria, at the very least the lands that Israel controls under agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, the establishment of Jewish settlements [in Judea and Samaria] is, in itself, not illegal.”
“…considering the testimonies heard, the basic conclusion is that from an internationallaw perspective, the laws of ‘occupation’ do not apply to the unique historic and legal circumstances surrounding Israel’s decades-long presence in Judea and Samaria.”
“Likewise, the Fourth Geneva Convention [relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War] on the transfer of populations does not apply, and wasn’t intended to apply to communities such as those established by Israel in Judea and Samaria.”
The Levy Committee has made recommendations in accordance with its findings, but these recommendations are not binding on the government.
The report was released first to the attorney general, about two weeks ago, and then to the prime minister. He has submitted it to the Ministerial Committee on Settlements for consideration, and in due course it is hoped that there will be an official response from the prime minister and this ministerial committee.
The recommendations might be accepted. It is possible, however, that the prime minister will decide to sit on the report at present, rather than taking a definitive position.
Be that as it may, there has been a significant shift in the political climate in Israel, and there is no way that matters can return to a “pre-Levy report” situation:
“Two-state” advocates are in despair, and some are saying, “OK, you’ve won. Now what?”
Nationalists, who believe that the land from the River to the Sea belongs to Israel, have been significantly buoyed by this turn of events and are strongly motivated to continue the quest for the fulfillment of their goals. A host of initiatives are at work. For example, it is the stated intention of Member of Knesset Tzipi Livni (Likud) to introduce a bill into the Knesset declaring the findings of the report binding on the government. She says she will persist until she succeeds. There is, as well, talk about annexing Area C of Judea and Samaria – the part under full Israeli control – without undue delay. Today, that is not yet a possibility, politically. But the talk grows.
The point here is that we are witnessing a process. And a process takes time. Yet, it is possible now to see the future, as it seems to be coming down the road.
Prime Minister Netanyahu may well not be at the forefront of this process. There is in fact good reason to assume he will not be, for he is bound by a number of constraints. For example: a primary concern of his, with valid reason, is the nuclear advancement of Iran. His interest in securing the cooperation of the U.S. in dealing with Iran may make it necessary for him to continue to assume the politically correct “two-state” stance.
In light of this situation, perhaps it is time for Republican leaders to understand that it may be in Israel’s best interest – and their own political best interest – to endorse a position with regard to Israel that moves beyond the constraints that bind the prime minister.
It may be time for them to work more seriously with members of the Knesset, including several from Likud, who are advancing a nationalist agenda. In point of fact, these Knesset members are eager to secure the attention of Republicans in Congress and those who will be setting policy for the party.
For the other half of the equation here is that the U.S. is in an election year. This makes it a time for rethinking old attitudes and setting new policies. A statement by the Republican Party that acknowledges the rights of Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria would be vastly appreciated in many quarters in Israel.
A letter that provides an explanation of the Levy Report has already gone from members of the Knesset to certain members of Congress. And, as this is being written, Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) is in Washington. With a full English translation of the report in hand, he will be meeting with potentially supportive members of Congress.
Hopefully this will be the beginning of a constructive relationship.
American-Israeli journalist Arlene Kushner maintains a blog in which she discusses political, diplomatic and military issues affecting Israel: www.arlenefromisrael.info. She currently also serves in a consultant capacity with the Center for Near East Policy Research.