A guide to the perplexed: What does Israel’s sovereignty move mean?

Where will Israel apply its sovereignty? What will the price be? And why is the Trump plan better than previous proposals?

By Arial Kahana

The Trump administration’s Vision for Peace has created a whole host of rumors on whether Israel will extend its sovereignty to certain areas in Judea and Samaria. The new government’s guidelines stipulate that this could happen as early as July 1. But what exactly are we talking about?

What does applying sovereignty mean?

Israel has regarded Judea and Samaria as disputed territories since their capture in the 1967 Six-Day War. If it was to extend its sovereignty to certain areas, they would become Israeli territory.

How do you apply sovereignty?

In a basic sense, through a cabinet resolution or Knesset law stipulating that the laws of the State of Israel apply in those areas. Another step could have Israel announce that it no longer considers those areas to be in dispute but rather as part of Israel.

Where will sovereignty be applied?

The Trump plan grants Israel 30% of Judea and Samaria. A mapping committee is working to delineate the exact borders. It is likely that sovereignty would be applied on the Jordan Valley and on the Israeli communities in Samaria, Binyamin region, Gush Etzion and Mount Hebron. The roads leading to those communities will also be defined as part of Israel.

Is sovereignty good for Israel?

Compared with what other US administrations proposed, there is no doubt that the Trump plan is better (for example, under this plan, Israel keeps 30% rather than 5% of Judea and Samaria). Israeli security experts believe that continued Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley must be part of any deal and an overwhelming majority of Israelis and decision-makers agree with applying sovereignty. Some worry that the move would hurt the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt.

Does Israel get this for free?  

No. Israel will agree to give 70% of Judea and Samaria under the peace plan and to swap land in the Negev in order to expand the Gaza Strip substantially. Israel will also agree to the creation of a Palestinian state in the area it will leave, and to the establishment of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem. In addition, Israel will agree to release Palestinian prisoners, except murderers or those who tried to murder. And Israel will also agree to a four-year moratorium on settlement construction in many communities in Judea and Samaria.

So why is the Trump plan better than previous plans?

Unlike past plans, the Trump vision makes all the gains for the Palestinians contingent on a long list of fundamental steps toward reconciliation. This includes a complete cessation of anti-Israel incitement and ending the payment to terrorists, as well as avoiding legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court at The Hague. As US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told Israel Hayom, Israel will “have to live with the Palestinian state when the Palestinians become Canadians. And when the Palestinians become Canadians all your issues should go away.”

Will the sovereignty move have to wait until the Palestinians become Canadian?

No. President Trump said that the mapping committee will convert “the conceptual map into a more detailed and calibrated rendering so that recognition can be immediately achieved… And the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory that my vision provides to be part of the State of Israel.” Ambassador Friedman has also said that this can be carried out within several weeks.

Will Israel take this step soon?

This depends on Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking all the preparatory steps and if he does that, President Trump will give him a green light.

Isn’t Trump supposed to decide on this?

Trump can always place pressure, but he has already given his approval. Many in his administration would support any Israeli move on this matter, including his vice president, his chief of staff, and his secretary of state and ambassador to Israel. His senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner’s position will most likely carry significant weight, but he is most likely focused now on the US economy’s recovery in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. It is in Trump’s political interest that Israel makes this move because many in his base are from the evangelical Right and are very much in favor of this move. It is likely that Trump would want this to take place before the presidential election in the fall.

Why is the Left against the plan?

Of course it entails risks because every step taken in this arena touches on many sensitive matters. If sovereignty is extended, this could result in riots. Jordan has warned it might scale back relations. European countries, and most likely the EU itself, will be furious and punish Israel economically. Israel may also face legal challenges at The Hague for this move. Thus the move could trigger a backlash from countries in the region and elsewhere.

So what does Israel have to gain by doing this?

Extending sovereignty will allow, for the first time since the state’s founding in 1948, to more conclusively define Israel’s borders. In addition, many of the Trump plan’s principles are better to Israel than what other plans have offered, by far. It does not call for the eviction of settlers, and gives the Palestinians four years to respond positively and become “Canadian.” If they continue with their intransigence, it is possible that in four years down the road, the US will let Israel add more territory under the plan.

Are the Arabs truly angry over this move?

No. The Arab world is paying lip service to the Palestinians even though it has had it with them. Even some Jordanians think that having the Jordan Valley become part of Israel would be good for the kingdom, but they are afraid to say it out loud. Egypt and many Arab states have welcomed the Trump vision and have not joined the chorus of detractors and the threats made by Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Will Jordan or Egypt abrogate the peace treaties with Israel?

Such a scenario is unlikely. Egypt has not really commented on the sovereignty issue. Jordan’s king has talked about the move triggering a clash with Israel and he may recall his ambassador or even suspend the deal to buy gas from Israel. But abrogating the peace treaty will hurt Jordan more than it hurts Israel and will lead to a furious response from the US. So the king, in his way, will try to maneuver between the angry street on the one hand, and Israel and the US on the other hand, as he has done before.

Can the process be phased over a long period?

No. The Americans want the sovereignty move to take place in one fell swoop.

How will it unfold?

We will know by the end of the summer.