Amid all the recent political turmoil, with the possibility of yet another national election looming on the horizon, a remarkable statement made earlier this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went largely unnoticed.
In a Channel 20 television interview on Monday, the premier was asked about the prospects of extending Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, a process that was supposed to have commenced back on July 1.
“The application of sovereignty,” Netanyahu replied, “will be done with American agreement, otherwise I would have already done it a while ago.”
“Right now,” he added, “President Trump is busy with other things, to tell you the truth. I hope that we will be able to advance recognition of our sovereignty and additional matters soon”.
At first glance, this statement might appear to be largely innocuous, if only because it is what most observers had already assumed to be the case, namely that Israel would aim to coordinate in advance any steps regarding Judea and Samaria with the Trump administration.
But upon further reflection, Netanyahu’s answer is both extraordinary and highly disturbing.
First, it essentially lays the onus of responsibility for Israel’s failure to invoke sovereignty at the doorstep of the White House, as though promoting matters of immense strategic and historical importance to the future of the Jewish state depend on how hectic an American president’s schedule might be.
Worse yet is the prime minister’s explicit admission that the extension of sovereignty to Judea and Samaria will not happen unless and until Washington gives Israel the green light to move forward.
The bitter irony in this is that by conceding its decision-making process to others, Israel is in effect undermining its very own status as a sovereign state.
In other words, by choosing not to extend sovereignty over Judea and Samaria unless someone else approves, Israel is diluting its power to chart its own fate, which is the very essence of sovereignty itself!
In this respect, Netanyahu is making a terrible mistake. As he and others have pointed out in recent months, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Israel to formally incorporate the cradle of our civilization into the Jewish state.
Sadly, the United States is engulfed by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout, with presidential elections less than 90 days away. Hence, it seems reasonable to assume that President Trump will only become busier in the coming months, making it even less likely with each passing day that the Judea and Samaria issue will be addressed.
Therefore, rather than simply waiting for US approval, Israel would do well to take a different approach. Indeed, Netanyahu should look back to days and months leading up to the very founding of the state and adopt David Ben-Gurion’s model of asserting sovereignty regardless of what others might think.
WHAT MANY people may not recall is that in the run-up to the end of the British mandate over the Land of Israel on May 14, 1948, senior figures in the US administration began pressuring Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders to forgo the idea of statehood, which had been previously approved by the 1947 UN partition plan.
Speaking at the UN Security Council on March 19, 1948, US Ambassador Warren Austin went so far as to publicly call for suspending “efforts to implement the proposed partition plan.”
Instead, Austin proposed the creation of a UN trusteeship rather than the establishment of independent Jewish and Arab states.
Subsequently, both US Secretary of State George Marshall and Defense Secretary James Forrestal did their utmost to dissuade President Harry Truman from agreeing to recognize Israel should the Zionist leadership declare its establishment.
With uncertainty surrounding what the US position might eventually be, the Zionist General Council established the Moetzet Ha’am (National Council) on April 12, 1948, which was to act as a provisional legislative body for the Jews living in Israel. Headed by Ben-Gurion, it consisted of 37 members, of whom 13 were appointed to the National Administration, which served as a rudimentary governing cabinet.
On May 12, 1948, just two days before the British Mandate was due to expire, the National Administration held an 11-hour long meeting to debate whether to declare Israel’s independence or accede to the US idea of a trusteeship.
Recognizing the potency of the moment, Ben-Gurion persuaded a majority of those present to reject the US proposal and instead choose Jewish sovereignty and independence.
He knew that it might very well have been a matter of “now or never” if there were to be a reborn Jewish state. Just imagine if Ben-Gurion and his colleagues had instead succumbed to American pressure!
After the vote, when someone called Chaim Weizmann, the chairman of the World Zionist Organization, who was then in New York, to inform him of the decision, he is said to have replied forcefully in Yiddish, “What are they waiting for, the idiots?”
The very same question can and should be posed to our own leaders today with regards to implementing our sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
If Ben-Gurion, who was the head of a not-yet-born state, could stand up to Washington in order to assert Jewish rights in the Land of Israel, why can’t Netanyahu do the same?
Eventually, as we know, President Harry Truman overruled his senior cabinet members and did recognize the Jewish state shortly after it declared independence.
Similarly, we can rest assured that Donald Trump, the best friend that Israel has ever had in the White House, will also embrace an Israeli declaration of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria once it is a fait accompli.
So instead of waiting for an opportunity that may never again return, let us bravely forge ahead and do what should have been done long ago: incorporate Judea and Samaria into the Jewish state. The time to act is now before it is too late.