Facts About Israel Potentially Applying Sovereignty to part of the West Bank/Judea & Samaria
Sunday, 17 May 2020
The agreement between the Likud and Blue and White parties to form a government includes a highly sensitive clause about Israel applying sovereignty to a portion of the West Bank (aka Judea & Samaria). This has become a more prominent and hotly debated issue in Israel over time, after decades of Palestinian leaders rejecting peace agreements and frameworks.
As a non-partisan Israel education organization, StandWithUs respects Israel's democratic process and does not take positions on such controversies regarding Israeli policy.
We support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace and security with its neighbors. Much like we did during Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, we will continue to educate about the facts and the different sides of the argument.
The Likud-Blue and White agreement states that applying Israeli sovereignty would require a vote in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) and backing from the US. Such a move also must take into account Israel’s peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. A Knesset vote on the issue could happen as soon as July. Additionally, Israel's Ambassador to the UK has stated that, “If there is to be the extension of Israeli law to parts of the West Bank, my presumption is that [Palestinian] people living in those areas will be given the option of full Israeli citizenship".
According to a Times of Israel report, "the US will recognize an Israeli application of sovereignty over parts of the West Bank when a) the joint US-Israel mapping committee has completed its work, b) the Israeli government implements the four-[year] freeze [on settlement building in] the areas earmarked for a future Palestinian state and c) the government formally agrees to negotiate with the Palestinians," based on the terms of the US Administration's 2020 peace plan.
The US plan calls for roughly 30% of the West Bank to become part of Israel, in return for significant portions of Israeli land near the West Bank and Gaza becoming part of a future Palestinian state. A joint US-Israeli team has been working on a detailed map based on these parameters.
Given the above conditions, it is not guaranteed that a Knesset vote in July would pass. Many from the center-right to right wing of Israeli politics would certainly support it.
However, some factions on the right may oppose the four year freeze on settlement building in certain areas and the formal agreement to negotiate a future Palestinian state. Blue and White may oppose the application of sovereignty altogether, depending on the circumstances. We expect there will be an increasingly vigorous debate about these issues among Knesset members and the Israeli public going forward.
Supporters of applying Israeli sovereignty argue that the territory in question, particularly the Jordan Valley, is essential to Israel's security. Israeli national security experts often point out that the hills of the West Bank (aka Judea & Samaria) directly overlook Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion Airport, millions of Israeli civilians, key economic hubs, and other vital Israeli infrastructure.
Supporters believe Hamas could take over as they did in Gaza and that Israel must apply sovereignty to ensure it can prevent any future smuggling of weapons through Jordan. They also argue that Jews have a right to live in Judea & Samaria, the cradle of Jewish civilization, and should not be forced to leave their homes (400,000 Jewish Israelis currently live in the territory). More broadly, many believe Israel has a right to this territory under international law. Furthermore, some say that applying sovereignty would pressure Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace agreement, because it sends a message that time is not on their side.
Opponents of applying Israeli sovereignty argue that it is equivalent to annexation, harms Israeli security and international standing, and endangers Israel's survival as a Jewish and democratic state. Many Israeli national security leaders and others are concerned that annexation would lead to renewed conflict with Hamas, end any hope of a peace agreement, and cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse, forcing Israel to take responsibility for the daily needs of millions of Palestinians in the West Bank. They believe Israel would have to erode its existence as a Jewish state by offering citizenship, or give up on democracy by ruling over Palestinians without giving them a right to vote. Some suggest that annexing limited territory could be justified, but only after sustained efforts to bring Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table around the US peace plan. Many opponents also believe annexation would damage Israel's relations with Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab states, and lead to popular unrest that may destabilize their governments (particularly in Jordan, which has a large Palestinian population). Furthermore, they argue that Israel's bipartisan alliance with the US, relationship with diaspora Jewry, and ties to Europe and other states around the world would suffer significantly as a result of such a move.
StandWithUs hopes that whatever decision Israel makes regarding this issue will lead to a more peaceful and prosperous future for all people in the region.