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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘Future of Judea & Samaria’: Former US Envoy Unveils Sovereignty Plan

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Former Ambassador David Friedman’s proposal “protects Israel’s security, respects biblical covenants and affords civil rights and human dignity to all.”

By: Alex Traiman

Israel suffered the worst massacre in its history on Oct. 7, at the hands of Hamas—an Iranian terror proxy that was voted into power and continues to be supported by the majority of Palestinians in Gaza. The attack proved longstanding Israeli fears that any independent Palestinian entity without overriding Israeli security control would become a staging ground for barbaric terrorism against the Jewish state.

And now, as Israel fights to permanently remove Hamas, a U.S.-designated terror organization, from the Gaza Strip, key members of the international community, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are doubling down on calls for the creation of a Palestinian state in all of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. These nations are considering official recognition of Palestinian statehood, while Israel fights to restore order in the region, whether or not Israelis or Palestinians support a two-state outcome, let alone are willing and able to reach an elusive agreement.

Yet for the international community, there has only been a singular proposal for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: dividing a tiny parcel of land, one smaller than New Jersey, into two separate states for peoples with opposing religions and cultures.

Former U.S. Ambassador David Friedman and former President Donald Trump at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 22, 2024. Source: Screenshot.

It is in this context that former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is now proposing an alternative that recognizes the Jewish state’s biblical claims to Judea and Samaria, as well as Israel’s abilities to police the territory and build lasting infrastructure that can improve the standard of living for all the residents of the world’s most contested territory.

Friedman on Thursday unveiled a paradigm-shifting proposal calling for full Israeli sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.

The plan, dubbed “The Future of Judea & Samaria” and devised by the former ambassador’s Friedman Center for Peace Through Strength, seeks to deliver a “solution that protects Israel’s security, respects Biblical covenants and affords civil rights and human dignity to all.”

Friedman knows a thing or two about bringing peace to the Middle East. He served as America’s ambassador to Israel under President Donald Trump. The years in which he served were among the quietest in Israel from a security perspective, in large part because of the defunding of Israel’s enemies, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as the Palestinian Authority and many of its supporting U.N. agencies.

The Trump administration also recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and declared that Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria are not inconsistent with international law—a policy now being challenged by the Biden administration. More impressive yet was the signing of four historic peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors across the greater Middle East and North Africa, known as the Abraham Accords.

While the successful ambassador has yet to discuss any future role with the former president, it is widely believed that Friedman could once again occupy a key post with significant policymaking influence in the Middle East should Trump win reelection in November.

Friedman presented an outline of the proposal at the launch event of the Keep God’s Land movement during the National Religious Broadcasters Conference in Nashville, Tenn., last week. Explaining the need for an alternative vision to a two-state solution, Friedman asserted that a Palestinian state represents “an existential security threat to the State of Israel.” He added that “efforts by past U.S. governments to design security protections if it [Israel] surrenders this territory have all failed.”

The two-state solution sought by the Biden administration and much of the international community is nothing but a “dead letter” that would only perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead, there needs to be an “honest, optimistic” vision that goes beyond the two-state dogma, the ambassador told JNS on Thursday.

David Friedman, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, speaks at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 22, 2024. Photo by Larry Brook.

The Friedman Center’s “Vision for the Future” seeks to extend Israeli sovereignty to the disputed area as part of a tripartite agreement between the Jewish state, the United States and an “expanded group” of Muslim countries that have normalized ties with Israel under the Abraham Accords.

In exchange, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria will be awarded permanent residency and travel documents, but no rights to vote for the Knesset in Jerusalem. (In his plan, Friedman cites the example of Puerto Rico and Guam, whose residents do not vote in federal elections.)

In addition, Gulf countries will be asked to fund a “Marshall Plan” to improve the Palestinians’ economic conditions.

“I believe the plan is a win-win for everybody. It will take a while; it is not something that will gain support all at once, but it will work for everybody,” said Friedman, noting: “I know there are certainly members of the U.S. House and Senate that will support this.

“I think Gulf states would be supportive if America supports it. If America doesn’t support it, I wouldn’t expect Gulf states to support it,” added the former envoy.

Friedman thinks the government in Jerusalem would get behind the plan “if it is presented to Israel as including American support, and if it is self-funded.

“It depends on what the American position is and what is this going to cost. What is the cost of assuming responsibility for Palestinian healthcare and infrastructure? That is why you need support from the Gulf and others,” he said.

The plan says it “ensures that Judea and Samaria is sovereign territory of the State of Israel in accordance with biblical prophecy and values, and guarantees that the most holy of sites to the Christian and Jewish faith remain preserved and accessible to all.”

Although Trump hasn’t been updated on the plan, the former president would regard the creation of a Palestinian terror state as “the worst thing” that could be generated in the Middle East, Friedman stressed.

“I believe the president is horrified by the actions of Hamas. He is horrified by the actions of the P.A. He signed the Taylor Force Act and knows it is not being enforced,” Friedman explained, with the latter referring to the law that bans Ramallah from receiving U.S. aid as long as it continues its policy of financially incentivizing terrorism.

If the Biden administration follows through on reported threats to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, that is something that would be reversed “on the first day of the Trump administration,” he vowed.

“I don’t think that any unilateral recognition is going to bind Israel. Israel needs to do what is best for Israel. There is a demographic reality where there is one Jewish state in the world. I doubt there will be another one,” Friedman concluded.

From left: U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Special Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, White House adviser Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, meeting in Jerusalem, June 22, 2018. Credit: U.S. Embassy in Israel.

Q: Ambassador Friedman, on Feb. 22 your foundation, the Friedman Center for Peace Through Strength, to much fanfare, unveiled your plan for Judea and Samaria at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention in Nashville, Tenn. Can you briefly describe the contours of the plan?

A: In a nutshell, the plan provides for Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, permanent residency of all Palestinians living in that territory, and American and Gulf support for a “Marshall Plan” to bring better healthcare, education and prosperity to the region. It is a win-win plan that comports with biblical covenants, security concerns and the advancement of human dignity for every one of God’s creatures.

Q: Why was this presented now?

A: I’ve been advocating against the two-state solution ever since I’ve been out of government. We need an alternative to a two-state solution being pushed by the Biden administration. Biden’s approach doesn’t work. It rewards terror, creates what undoubtedly will become a terror state, creates an existential risk for Israel and its neighbors and violates the covenants that God made to the Jewish people. Those pushing the two-state solution argue that there’s no alternative to their plan. Well, here is the alternative and it is the only path that works.

Q: On Feb. 23, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared to reverse the Trump administration’s “Pompeo doctrine,” which stated that civilian Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria were not necessarily illegal according to international law. What do you make of this?

A: First of all, I think it is wrong. The Trump plan proposed the largest retention [by Israel] of land in Judea and Samaria of any plan that was ever promulgated. If it was illegal, we wouldn’t have done it. We studied the issue and concluded that it wasn’t.

In the simplest sense, lots of different territories were divided after WWI, after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, and were handed off to various territorial mandates. The Jewish people were the only nation who were assured of any rights to Palestine at the 1920 San Remo conference. The Jews were recognized as having a legal entitlement to Palestine, and nobody else was. The actual title to the land was given to the Jews.

The Ottomans had it for 400 years. Then they relinquished all claims to the land. The British were given the land in trust. They weren’t supposed to keep the land. Seventy-two percent of the land was peeled off and given to Jordan.

Now, there are no Arab countries with a claim to the land. If you look at all the potential claimants—the Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians—they all walked away from the territory. Meanwhile, the Palestinians never had any claim. The Jewish people have a claim based on biblical history: the covenant God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

If you are in the State Department, once you tell the Palestinians that they own it, what incentive do they have to compromise? You are guaranteeing the conflict will continue. The current policy is self-defeating.

Q: How do you respond to diplomats who refer to Judea and Samaria as the “West Bank”?

A: There are obvious politics behind the nomenclature. I think that the appropriate term is Judea and Samaria. “West Bank” was a name given to the territory by Jordan, and I think that is unfair. These diplomats are all pushing—at best—for a two-state solution, and by denying Israel’s historical connection to the land, they feel it is making it more palatable to get Israel to give it away.

By the way, it’s obvious that, from a de facto perspective, the Oslo Accords are over. The Palestinians and the U.S. are trying to cling to parts of Oslo they like and breach the parts they don’t like. That tells me it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Q: Under the Friedman Center plan, what rights will the Palestinians have?

A: Essentially all the rights that do not threaten Israel. That includes the right to live in their homes in perpetuity, to vote for their local leaders and to transact business within Israel and the rest of the world.

Q: Will they vote in national elections?

A: Existing Arab citizens and their offspring will vote in national elections but not Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria. Israel cannot swap a military risk for a demographic one. But Palestinians will have significant voting rights on the local level on most matters that affect their daily lives.

Q: Won’t that system offend many who will claim this is a form of apartheid?

A: This is nothing like apartheid. In racist South Africa, blacks were taken from their homes and placed in “bantustans” with substandard living conditions. Under our plan, Palestinians will be assured of permanent residency in their homes and receive a significant upgrade in infrastructure, healthcare, education and overall prosperity.

Let’s remember that this is the Middle East, not America or Europe. There are no democracies here other than Israel. When Egypt ran an election, the Muslim Brotherhood took over until the military under President el-Sisi gained power. And the world breathed a sigh of relief. Our construct indeed maximizes Palestinian self-governance and prosperity without jeopardizing Israel’s security.

Another point. I don’t think anyone considers the United States an apartheid state even though Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories do not vote in national elections. This system works because the benefits achieved by these localities from their relationship with the United States outweigh the restrictions on voting. The same will be true here.

And one last point. There are around 50 Muslim nations in the world, and most go to great lengths to preserve their Muslim character. Not only does the world not object but visitors are highly respectful of these practices, as they should be. There is room in the world for one Jewish state, and the price of a Jewish state cannot be national suicide through a two-state solution.

Q: Won’t the Palestinians reject this plan out of hand as they have all other plans in the past?

A: Of course, they will, but then things will get interesting. The Palestinian people have no interest in living within a state run by the Palestinian Authority, which is a corrupt, incompetent and repressive organization. As they see the opportunity begin to emerge, I believe they will embrace it.

Q: And what about the terrorists?

A: Israel’s war on terror must continue to a successful conclusion. But this plan enables Israel to offer the Palestinians a carrot as well as a stick. In essence, Israel’s message will be: “If you want to kill us, we will kill you first, but if you want to live with us in peace we can offer you opportunities beyond your wildest dreams.”

Q: Mr. Ambassador, there have been other proposals for Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria in the past. How does this differ from prior plans?

A: Prior plans sought to retain Area C for Israel and cede Areas A and B to the Palestinians. But if areas A and B remain isolated from Israel, they will just turn into Gaza and we will be perpetuating the conflict. Israel needs sovereignty over areas A and B along with C, both for its security and to create the opportunity for Palestinians to prosper within Israeli society.

I pivoted from the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” because the Palestinian response to the Trump plan was so hostile. It seems futile to offer a compromise to those who don’t want to compromise. I’m convinced that after Oct. 7, any discussion of a Palestinian state will incentivize further terror. We had a dry run for a Palestinian state both in Gaza and in Area A of Judea and Samaria. These are places where no Jews live, and there is no Israeli military presence. We’ve seen that it doesn’t work. It creates a bubble in which terrorism flourishes. These are painful lessons we learned on Oct. 7.

Q: And how long will it take for all of this to be achieved?

A: It could take a generation, especially with all the hatred and distrust that has emerged from Hamas’s barbaric assault. But I think the fundamental principle is sound: To all Palestinians willing to live in peace with Israel, Israel (with help from its friends) will assume the responsibility for their well-being. Again, this works from all three relevant perspectives: Israel’s security, advancing human dignity and being faithful to biblical covenants. I believe that this plan puts Israel on the right trajectory to the right outcome.

(JNS.org)

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