Though there are currently almost half-a-million Jews living in Judea and Samaria (excluding Jerusalem), Israel has never annexed the areas. It was therefore quite surprising when just days before the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised the right-wing parties that he would annex Judea and Samaria.
“I’m going to extend sovereignty,” he announced an interview with Israeli Channel 12, adding that “I don’t differentiate between the settlement blocs and isolated settlements.”
Even more surprising than the politically motivated promise by Netanyahu was a statement by U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. In an interview about the yet-to-be-revealed Trump peace plan published last Saturday, Friedman said, “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
“Certainly Israel’s entitled to retain some portion of it,” he added, criticizing the Obama administration’s approach to negotiation.
This statement was controversial, to say the least. The Palestinian Authority – which in the past has called Ambassador Friedman the “son of a dog” – went on the attack, saying “the remarks of the settler Friedman expose the truth about him and his ideas, as well as those of his settler peers. We are studying whether his racist rhetoric is sufficient to file a complaint against him with the International Criminal Court for trying to impose his racist visions…”
While not denying or criticizing its ambassador, the U.S. State distanced itself from the subject of annexation. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told reporters at a press conference on Monday that “the administration’s position on the settlements has not changed. Our policy on the West Bank has not changed.”
The identity of Judea and Samaria as part of Biblical Israel is clear but the ambiguity and uncertainty of the region are based in its turbulent role in modern Israeli history. In the 1967 Six Day War, Israel’s miraculous victory against overwhelming Arab armies resulted in Israel taking control of large swaths of territory included in God’s promise to Abraham as described in the Bible. The United Nations Security Council responded with resolution 242 calling for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” The areas of Judea and Samaria, occupied and annexed by Jordan after the war in 1947 in contravention of international law, were put under the supervision of the Israeli military governate. The UN and its associated organizations refer to the area as “occupied territory”, though the Israeli government considers it to be disputed territory. In 1948, Jordan abandoned its claim to the West Bank as part of the peace treaty signed with Israel the previous year. Israel has controlled the region for over 50 years and the only opposing claim comes from the Palestinian Authority, a political entity with no historical precedent for independence and with an ambiguous claim to historicity in the region.
The State Department’s statement seems especially cryptic since they did, in fact, change their policy last March when for the first time, its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices did not refer to Judea and Samaria as “occupied territories.”
“In light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement before the elections and the State departments semi-refutation, it seems more than possible, far more likely than the possibility that Friedman, who has a strong relationship with the president, made rogue statements., Rubin said. “The same can be said, albeit to a slightly lesser degree, of Netanyahu’s sudden openness to annexation.”
Rubin has been predicting that the Trump Deal will be an important step towards Israeli annexation of Judea and Samaria.
“Due to Israel’s repeat election campaign, the peace plan has been temporarily postponed but the public leak in a high-profile NYT interview with the Israeli ambassador keeps the plan alive and relevant,” Rubin explained. “It was stated for campaign consumption, but it was intended for an important right-wing segment of his voter base, so it can’t be discounted. In addition, he wouldn’t say it unless he knew that there is some understanding for such a policy in the White House.”
Even with its political expedience, Freidman’s announcement led to accusations of racism.
“Of course he is not racist and the statement did not refer to any race,” Rubin said. “Rather than addressing the historical question of whose country this is, it’s easier for them to call the US ambassador silly names that make no logical sense.”
“Based on the historical claims, Israel should retain ALL the West Bank, which should be called by its correct historical names – Judea, which is the region south of Jerusalem, and Samaria, which is the region north of Jerusalem,” Rubin said. He explained that much of the criticism comes from the belief that the Israeli claim to Judea and Samaria precludes a two-state solution, perceived as the only possible path to peace between Israel and the Palestinians
“Yes, the Israeli claim to Judea and Samaria does preclude the two-state solution as it is envisioned,” Rubin said. “But when we move past that, we can start talking about more realistic peace plans, like the one that I have proposed, which calls for Israeli sovereignty combined with a path to loyal citizenship for the non-citizen residents of Judea and Samaria.”
More insights into the developing relations between the U.S. and Israel can be found in David Rubin’s new book, “Trump and the Jews”. Rubin is the founder and president of Shiloh Israel Children’s Fund, established after he and his then three-year-old son were wounded in a terror attack. He can be found at www.DavidRubinIsrael.com or at www.ShilohIsraelChildren.org