On 1 July the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote an op-ed in the Israeli press, titled ‘As Israel’s friend, I urge you not to annex’. In this open letter Brig.-Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, an Israeli intelligence and security expert, responds to the prime minister. Kuperwasser served as the head of the research division in the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence division and Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs, and today is a senior research fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Dear Prime Minister Johnson,
The UK should support the application of Israeli law and sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) according to the US peace plan.
It is a legitimate and legal move that may finally break the impasse on the road to a peace based on the ‘two states to two peoples’ formula, and it will contribute to the security of Israel, the Palestinians, the Middle East and Europe.
UK support may be significant in materialising the benefits of the move, which most probably is going to take place anyhow, and finally turn the UK and Europe into a meaningful player in shaping the future relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
There is no viable alternative to the plan and to the unilateral application of Israeli sovereignty over the designated area. Waiting for Palestinian acquiescence and allowing the Palestinians to retain a veto power over any progress in the peace process guarantees that there will never be peace.
Dear Prime Minister Johnson, as an admirer and a real friend of Israel you penned a letter to us Israelis calling upon us to refrain from applying Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria (West Bank). To convince us you used the three arguments we keep hearing from around the globe and also from some Israeli politicians and pundits. First you claim that it is an illegal move, a violation of international law. You term it ‘annexation’ and you define the territory over which Israel intends to apply its law and which is a part of our ancestral homeland ‘Palestinian territory’. This is quite problematic coming from a good friend, and especially from a British friend, and it is definitely wrong on many counts. After all it was Britain who in 1922 got the mandate from the League of Nations based on recognition of the historical connection between the Jewish People and Palestine to reconstitute the national home of the Jewish People in that country. Article Five of the mandate was very clear. It said that the mandatory shall be responsible that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of any foreign power, namely other than the Jewish People. This is the last legally binding document regarding the ownership of this land. Obviously, the Palestinians also claim the land and Israel is ready to share it with them, but to term it a Palestinian land instead of disputed land does not lend you many ears in Israel. That said, it is not a surprise to hear it from you. After all, we remember well that you were the British Foreign Secretary under whose watch the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted the Obama administration promoted Resolution 2334 of December 2016, which referred to all the territories in question, including the Western Wall, as Occupied Palestinian Territory. That was a colossal stab in our back.
Then you warn us that we are taking unnecessary risks as the price of applying Israeli law and sovereignty is going to be considerable (you focus on straining the relations with Arab countries), while the benefits are limited to non-existent. Your assessment of the price we are going to pay is reasonable, maybe even restrained. We may face harsher reaction. But in my assessment, you are underestimating the long-term potential benefits for Israel, the Palestinians and the region and the unique opportunity we have now to make this move with American support.
Finally, you worry that this move will make reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians more difficult. This is misleading as the prevailing situation is that there is no way today to make durable peace with our Palestinian neighbours. Moreover, the Palestinians reject the ‘two states for two peoples’ framework as long as one of these peoples is the Jewish People, based on their denial of the existence of a Jewish People and its sovereign history in the Land of Israel or as the Romans called it Palestina – to erase the name Judea. In UNSCR 2334 you adopted their version and made no reference to the two peoples or to our identity as the national state of the Jewish People. Moreover, we cannot reach an agreement with them regarding the Jordan Valley, which is essential for our security and essential for them to enable the Palestinian state to fulfil its purpose of being the jumping board to ending Zionism. Here is article Eight from their Phases Theory adopted in 1974 by the Palestinian National Council and never altered since then: ‘Once it is established, the Palestinian national authority will strive to achieve a union of the confrontation countries, with the aim of completing the liberation of all Palestinian territory, and as a step along the road to comprehensive Arab unity.’
In fact, applying the Israeli law to the designated areas in accordance with the US peace plan is the only way forward towards real peace. It is based on a new paradigm that tell the Palestinians that they no longer hold the veto power over progress towards peace and that their persistent intransigence is not going to pay off anymore. It is also based on three other basic elements that were missing from the peacemaking paradigm you subscribe to – that Israel as the national state of the Jewish People has a valid claim to Judea and Samaria (West Bank), namely the territories it took control of in a defensive war in 1967; that the Palestinian narrative is the main obstacle to peace; and that Israel’s security concerns are real and can be taken care of seriously only if this narrative changes and Israel is responsible for its security. The old paradigm does not work. It failed miserably and brought a lot of suffering with it. I understand how difficult it is to change paradigms, especially after you invest so much in the old malfunctioning one and became addicted to it. What I actually ask you to do is to admit that the way you and the entire peace industry promoted was and is hopeless and a new paradigm – the US peace plan paradigm – has better chances and therefore it should be supported. You actually admit it in your letter, but you prefer to keep waiting until some miracle happens and the old paradigm will work. Albert Einstein had something to say about such an attitude. Sure, it is going to be a long and difficult way, but the only alternative is the status quo, and Europe, including the UK, used to tell us that that it is not sustainable. Now you actually embrace it. This by itself is a nice positive outcome of the debate, but not a sufficient one.
Mr Prime Minister, before I elaborate on these three arguments, allow me to raise an idea. Since we both want peace, security for Israel and prosperity and freedom for the Palestinians, why don’t you write a letter to the Palestinians calling on them to resume peace negotiations on the basis of the US peace plan and demand them to stop using British taxpayers’ money to promote hate in their textbooks and pay salaries to terrorists who kill and maim us Israelis. I’m sure you know that they pay about £300m, which are about 7 per cent of their budget, for that purpose annually. They do so on the basis of a law they enacted that refers to the terrorists as ‘the fighting sector of the Palestinian society’. You know that but you keep giving them money that they use for paying these salaries while you stick to your wilful blindness towards the real goals of the Palestinian leadership. Unfortunately, I don’t think any Palestinian newspaper will publish this letter.
You are well known for your nonconventional and creative leadership and way of thinking. You led Britain to a new reality. You may also lead the Israeli-Palestinian relations to a new and better future.
Israel’s expected application of its law and sovereignty on parts of Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley is legitimate and legal.
Israel is getting ready to extend its sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over the Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria in line with the US peace plan and not as a completely unilateral step. This move is not going to happen without American support. The UK and the EU oppose this move, which they mistakenly define as annexation, claiming it is illegal and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law that states that it is illegal to acquire land through the use of force. In fact, according to international law, the lands that are the subject of this move belong to the Jewish People and to the state of Israel – the nation state of the Jewish People, and therefore the extension of Israel’s sovereignty over them is not annexation, which is the application of sovereignty over foreign lands.
The Jewish People’s historical ownership was approved in the language of the mandate given by the 51 members of the League of Nations to Britain after World War One, which states that ‘recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country’. It was clear at the time from the language of the mandate that this ownership extends over all of Palestine, so that when the British government decided to subtract a considerable part of the territory to establish Jordan in 1921, it needed the approval of the Jewish agency, which represented the Zionist movement. The final language of the mandate given in 1922 was very clear in this respect. Article Five states that: ‘The Mandatory shall be responsible for seeing that no Palestine territory shall be ceded or leased to, or in any way placed under the control of, the Government of any foreign Power’. It was the European powers at the time – Great Britain, France and Italy – that played a major role in phrasing the mandate in spite of Arab opposition.
This ownership remain valid as the UN Charter clarifies (Article 80) that nothing in this Chapter shall be construed in or of itself to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments to which Members of the United Nations may respectively be parties. Ever since then there was no legally binding international document, resolution or agreement that changed this status. Therefore, the UK and the European Union reference to this territory as an Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) lacks any legal basis. Especially bearing in mind that there was never a Palestinian state and that the notion of a Palestinian people is very new.
It was Jordan’s 1950 annexation of the land, of which it took control in the war it launched against Israel in 1948 (with its forces led by a British General), that was illegal (only Britain, Iraq and Pakistan recognised it). Israel retained its rights over the land and in the armistice agreements signed in Rhodes in 1949, and approved by the UN Security Council, stated that ‘No provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations’. Therefore, the armistice lines did not change the status of the land and when Israel in 1967 regained control of the area in a defensive war, it actually regained control of a territory it has internationally recognised legal rights over and there is no question of annexation.
UN Security Council Resolution 242 reaffirms implicitly this legal status, because otherwise there is no way to explain the contradiction between the preamble that emphasises the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the resolution itself that calls for ‘Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict’, namely allowing Israel to keep certain territories under its sovereignty. Lord Caradon, the British representative at the Security Council at the time, played a major role in phrasing this sentence (earlier in his career he was the assistant district commissioner of Nablus under the mandate).
In the context of the Oslo agreements Israel insisted on its right for sovereignty in these territories, but since it accepted that the Palestinians also claim ownership of the same land, the territory will be treated as disputed land under Israeli control until a permanent status will be agreed upon between the parties. This was the relevant status until the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) decided in late May 2020 that it is not committed anymore to the agreements and by that released Israel from its commitment according to them to refrain from unilateral steps regarding the status of the land. It should be reminded that the Palestinians violated all of their commitments according to the agreement right from the beginning by supporting terror, promoting incitement against Israel and taking a long list of unilateral steps, none of which was met by harsh reaction by the UK or the EU. At best, the EU expressed dismay with the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) activities. Even the payments of salaries to terrorists and the decision to join the International Criminal Court did not invoke meaningful reaction.
To sum up, if Israel decides to apply its sovereignty on the Jordan Valley and parts of Judea and Samaria it is not illegal annexation but a legal move to extend its sovereignty on areas the international law recognises as historically belonging to the Jewish People. The law Israel will probably use for this purpose is the Israeli administration law from 1948, which in Article 11B states that the government may apply the Israeli law, administration and legal system to any part of the land of Israel (meaning the area that was under the British mandate) it controls.
The real question is why Israel has not done it until now. The answer is double fold. First, Israel has always preferred reaching a peace agreement to applying its sovereignty without agreement. That is why it did not do it right after the Six-Day War in 1967 and instead extended its hand to a land for peace deal; and this is why it was and still is ready to a territorial compromise with the Palestinians for the sake of peace. Even the coming unilateral move is in the context of a peace plan. Second, it was not implemented until now because there was no green light for such a move from Israel’s closest and most important ally, the US. The American position is that the move is legal because of the above-mentioned arguments and this attitude is also reflected in their decision that the Israeli settlements are not per se illegal. Now for the first time there may be American backing for a certain move in this direction, under certain conditions that Israel may accept (some Israelis on the extreme Right reject these conditions).
The unilateral application of Israeli sovereignty is necessary to move the peace process forward.
The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has been completely stalled now for six years since the Palestinians rejected the Obama-Kerry proposal of March 2014 because it included a demand that the Palestinians accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. The Palestinian rejectionism is the reason the peace process is frozen and did not produce any agreement. It is a direct derivative of the Palestinian fraudulent narrative which claims that there is no Jewish People, that there was no Jewish sovereign history in the land of Israel/Palestine, that Zionism was forced upon the Jews by the colonial European powers, led by Britain, who wanted to get rid of the Jews living among them because the Jews are unbearable people. The British further thought that by sending Jews to Palestine they will serve as a buffer and hold the Moslem forces away from Europe. Because all of the above, the Palestinian identity should be based on the struggle against Zionism on behalf of the Palestinian people, the Arabs and the Moslems, and in the meanwhile the Palestinians should emphasise their victimhood and especially the suffering of the 1948 refugees and their descendants, and remain committed to their wish to return to the homes their family left. Overall, the Palestinians narrative focuses on the refusal to recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People because eventually the Palestinians have to rule a free Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea.
The Palestinians are ready to have a two-state solution but not a ‘two states for two peoples’ solution and they insist that the Palestinian state, that will be Jews free, will preside over the entire 1967 territories, including all of East Jerusalem as a capital, without showing any readiness to compromise, beyond limited swaps of land. They clearly reject the option of Israeli lasting control over the Jordan Valley. Israel, on the other hand, insists that a two-state solution must be a ‘two states for two peoples’ with Palestinian recognition in Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. It also insists that for security reasons it has to control the Jordan Valley and be solely responsible for its security in the entire area until the Palestinians adopt a new narrative that promotes recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People, denial of violence and giving up the return of refugees and their descendants. This is an insurmountable impasse and it has proved to be so since the Oslo agreements came into effect.
UK, other European countries and some leaders of the US Democratic Party, together with almost everybody in the peace negotiations industry, chose to be wilfully blind to this bright reality. They repeatedly tried to promote the same idea of the two states based on false perception about sovereignty rights and on some territorial compromises, while totally ignoring the impossibility of making peace without changing the Palestinian narrative. Moreover, they chose to exert pressures only on Israel, though it was ready to take uncalculated risks, make dangerous concessions and approve every American initiative, while every Palestinian intransigence was met with further concessions to the Palestinians, culminating with UNSCR 2334 that followed the Palestinian rejection of the Obama-Kerry proposal and gave the Palestinians everything they asked for. And on top of all that, the way the peace process was handled was that the Palestinians were given a veto power on any progress in it, which guarantees that there will never be any progress.
Applying Israeli law to the Jordan Valley and the Israeli settlements in the context of the US peace plan finally solves all these problems. Since there is no way the Palestinians will agree to Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and all of the settlements, it allows Israel to do it unilaterally, provided that its Prime Minister(s) accept the other elements of the plan, including the establishment of a Palestinian state if the Palestinians change their problematic narrative. This will untie the Gordian knot by taking the veto power away from the Palestinians and forcing them to reconsider their narrative.
The UK and Europe sided until now with the Palestinians and tolerated their narrative. It insisted on giving them generous financial support though 7 per cent of their budget was spent on paying salaries to terrorists and their families and more on hate indoctrination in textbooks and by their leaders. Europeans led the efforts by Palestinian NGOs, who were financed and guided by European countries, to boycott Israel and was very active, often more than the Palestinians themselves, in the efforts to unilaterally create facts on the ground in Israeli-controlled Area C and East Jerusalem to support the Palestinian claim for the territory. As a matter of fact, in recent years Europe (thankfully not the UK) has been more committed to the Palestinian positions than many Arab states and even some Palestinians. By considering sanctions against Israel for applying sovereignty, some Europeans lean towards the positions of Iran and Turkey rather than those of the pragmatic Arabs. This policy has emboldened the Palestinians and encouraged them to stick to their intransigence and to their narrative and has played a great contribution to preventing any chance of progress towards peace.
But paradoxically, because of this attitude and since Europe has become the only international supporter of the Palestinians that matters (the Palestinians know that Russia and China do not bother Israel in the Palestinian context), if the UK and Europe change their approach now, it may help the Palestinians understand that time has come to change course and adopt a different policy. The Palestinians realise that they have lost most of their assets in their efforts to force their narrative and demands over Israel. The Israeli Left, on which the Palestinians and the Europeans spend so much effort and resources, has shrunk and the Israeli public has practically given up the hope that there will be a genuine Palestinian partner for an acceptable peace in the foreseeable future. Many Arabs oppose publicly the application of Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank as they call it, but are fed up with the Palestinians. They focus on confronting Iranian and Sunni extremism and are interested in cooperating with Israel to confront these threats. Jordan has threatened that the Israeli move may lead to a grave conflict and may take some diplomatic measures, but neither Egypt nor Jordan will risk their peace agreements with Israel to protest against the application of sovereignty – even the Palestinian youth is less prepared to take action against Israel to protest such a move. So, if the UK and Europe tell the truth to the Palestinians, instead of encouraging them to reject any offer, they may have to reconsider their position and come to the negotiation table to discuss peace based on the US peace plan that promises them a state and vast economic opportunity.
The UK and Europe have also to realise that whereas until recently their attitude towards Israel was explained by their view of the Israeli government as an extremist right-wing nationalistic government, now this argument has no bearing. The government that has adopted the policy on applying sovereignty is a unity government in which the right-wing of the nationalistic bloc is not represented (neither Yamina of Naftali Bennet nor Yisrael Beiteinu of Avigdor Lieberman or Telem of Moshe ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon). This government clarified that it is going to apply sovereignty only if there is full American support, but did not make international support beyond the US a condition for implementing the move. UK and European opposition will clarify how irrelevant they have become because of their staunch support for the Palestinians rejectionism. But supporting the move may prove that they can play a meaningful role in paving the road to a better future for all.
To sum up, because the UK cares so much about the Palestinians, the Israelis and about peace it should support the unilateral application of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley within the context of the US peace plan to enable progress in the peace process. Moreover, if the UK (and other European powers) supports the move it may have some leverage on the way it is going to be implemented and guarantee that it will lead to peace negotiations.
Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley will contribute to security and stability for all in the long run.
It is widely expected that after Israel extends its law and/or sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the settlements in accordance with the US peace plan, there will be a period of unrest and maybe a rise in violence and terror, even though the daily life of the Palestinians or the Jordanians are not going to change significantly or at all because of this move (the details of the implementation of the application of Israeli law/sovereignty and of the practical meaning of the PA decision to absolve itself from the agreements with Israel and the US are not clear yet). This might well be the case due to the strong Palestinian opposition to the Israeli expected move. But it is also reasonable to expect that after a while violence will subside and the new reality will prevail. Under this new reality it will be clear that Israel is going to remain in the Jordan Valley and control the main roads leading to it from the littoral through the Judea and Samaria mountain ridge. This will allow the Palestinians to have their own state on 70 per cent of the West Bank, Gaza and new territories that are now part of southern Israel.
The value of permanent control of the Jordan Valley to Israel’s security is paramount. It was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who explained in the Knesset on October 1995, when he was seeking its approval for the second Oslo agreements, that the Jordan Valley in the widest meaning of this term will be the eastern security border of Israel. The topography of the valley explains this strategic value very simply. The western slopes rise very sharply to a relative altitude of more than 1,000 meters enabling very good observation of any intruder and the ability to stop him, and the Jordan River and the Dead Sea serve as a natural border and obstacle. Moreover, the area is very sparsely populated and provides a buffer against short and medium range rockets reaching Israel’s heartland. It is essential for Israel to control this area to prevent weapons and terrorists from hostile entities like Iran or ISIS from reaching the main Palestinian-controlled territory on top of the Judea and Samaria mountains, which overlook the most populated areas of Israel.
Obviously, Israel controls the area today and enjoys the security benefits of it, but as long as this is considered a temporary situation and as long as there is no sign of a peace agreement on the horizon, the Palestinians and other opponents of Israel may think that they can plan for a different situation in the future, and this incentivises them to try and challenge the Israeli presence in the valley as a step on the way to threatening Israel’s overall security. This is especially true if Israel does not capitalise on this unique opportunity to turn its presence in the Jordan Valley into permanent sovereignty.
Today, Israel enjoys close security cooperation with Jordan and shares with it the burden of securing the area, but the Arab world is in a continuous disarray, which may affect Jordan’s ability in the future to prevent attempts to harm Israel from its territory. Clarifying Israel’s determination to stay in the Jordan Valley will help stabilise the area through ongoing cooperation with Jordan.
For the same reason, a permanent Israeli presence and sovereignty in the Jordan Valley is also in the interest of Jordan. The alternatives of either a temporary status quo that encourages terror groups to operate against Israel, or even worse a Palestinian or international force controlling the Jordan Valley that may enable Palestinians from both banks of the river to destabilise both Israel and Jordan, is a well-known Jordanian nightmare, that the Jordanians are not allowed to speak about publicly.
In the end, Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley will embolden the pragmatic Arabs who face, together with Israel, the extreme radicals from both the Shia and Sunni strands of Islam. The stronger the pragmatists become, the more secure the UK and Europe are going to be as well.
The Jewish and democratic character of Israel is not going to change as a result of applying sovereignty on parts of the disputed territories.
One of the arguments raised in order to deter Israel from applying its law and sovereignty (and previously against sticking to the status quo) is that it will inevitably lead to changing its identity as a Jewish and democratic state, and thus forcing it to decide whether to retain its Jewish identity on the expense of becoming undemocratic, or remain democratic but then lose its Jewish majority and identity. This line of thinking assumes that if Israel does not accept a Palestinian state over most of the areas it has controlled since 1967, the PA will eventually collapse and Israel will have to add to its citizenship the Palestinians living today under the PA, making the ‘One State’ option the only viable option, which will present a heavy economic burden for Israel’s economy.
Clearly, this sequence of events is completely baseless. Under no circumstances is Israel going to make the Palestinians living in the PA its citizens. Israel has no intention to rule them and I doubt if the PA really intends to dissolve itself. Its existence is considered to be the most important achievement of the Palestinian national movement, and it is the basis for the continuation of the Palestinian struggle, the source of funding necessary for financing the struggle and for enjoying economic benefits, and in Palestinian eyes it is actually the Palestinian state in the making. It is within this entity that the Palestinians have the capability to vote and decide their fate. Whether they actually use this capability is up to them (unfortunately their leadership has not given them this opportunity since 2006). Even if the PA decides to cease to exist, surprisingly, the Palestinians will still enjoy some sort of autonomous self-rule. The Israeli application of sovereignty on parts of the disputed territory is going to change almost nothing for the Palestinians living in the area controlled by the PA. On the other hand, if the Palestinians were to sit at the negotiation table to discuss the peace plan and were prepared to adopt a realistic narrative that focuses on improving their situation politically and economically, they may have a much better future in a state of their own.
To sum up Mr Prime Minister, I call upon you to think it over once again. By echoing the old and failed paradigm you make little difference (Israel listens to you but there is little that we don’t know in your message). By adopting a new paradigm and calling upon the Palestinians to change course, you can make much difference and help us and the Palestinians finally make a move towards better future to all of us. Believe me, as an Israeli there is nothing I want more than peace that will guarantee Israel’s security and prosperity, preserve its Jewish and democratic identity and its exemplifying morality. Israel that you will be always proud of and admire. Even if we don’t agree, I deeply appreciate your friendship and caring and as you know Israelis and me among them love Britain in spite of the disagreements we may have from time to time.
In the end of the day the Israeli decision is going to be affected by several restraining factors, among them the American position, which is not clear at this point, and the American time constraint, the need to focus now on fighting the new wave of Covid-19 in Israel and the PA, the level of unity and support at home for the move (there seems to be a clear majority to support it in the Knesset but it is important that the Blue and White party, who comprises a part of the unity government and supports the move in principle, will support it in practice) and the evaluation of the immediate risks and whether they are worth taken. It is hard to say with all these factors what is going to be Israel’s decision, but still, British support is going to be very important in the long run.
And by the way, I hope that the UK will adopt a harsher policy towards Iran as well.
With appreciation, Yossi Kuperwasser