Part II: Annexation versus Expanding Sovereignty in the West Bank

Is the extension of sovereignty identical with annexation? Further, since settlers as Israeli citizens are subject to Israeli law and most of the territory is already under Israeli administrative and security control, what difference would the initiative make? What effect will the initiative have on the American Peace Plan? A number of other questions follow. What are the variations in any extension of the sovereignty initiative? How would the initiative be received by:

  1. Palestinians;
  2. Egypt and Jordan which have peace agreements with Israel;
  3. Other Arab, particularly Gulf, states;
  4. The coalition of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in opposition to the Gulf Arab states, with some support from Turkey;
  5. Moderate Arab states such as Morocco;
  6. Europe;
  7. Russia;
  8. China;
  9. Middle powers like Canada;
  10.  The international legal regime?

There is a difference between annexation and the gradual extension of sovereignty. Most importantly, annexation cannot be gradual. It usually follows occupation and entails the unilateral joining of a conquered territory to the territory of the conqueror. “Conquest and annexation are not synonymous either. The latter term is used within and outside (my italics) the context of armed conflicts, to designate a unilateral decision adopted by a state in order to extend its sovereignty over a given territory. In many cases, the effective occupation of a terra nullius was followed by a declaration of annexation in order to incorporate the territory under the sovereignty of the acquiring State. In the context of armed conflicts, annexation is the case in which the victorious state unilaterally declares that it is henceforth sovereign over the territory having passed under its control as a result of hostilities.” (See Marcelo G. Kohen’s 2017 essay, “Conquest” published in the collection edited by Frauke Lachenmann and Rűdiger Wolfrum, the editors of The Law of Armed Conflict and the Use of Force.)

Complete sovereignty follows annexation. Annexation asserts legal title. But extending sovereignty does not entail annexation. Sovereignty may be extended by degrees and over time. In contrast, either a territory is annexed or it is not. The unilateral annexation of territory of another state, whether it was Bosnia Herzegovina in 1908 by the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Ethiopia by Italy in 1936, is generally regarded as illegal. But what if the territory has not been allocated to a recognized state? And what if the territory annexed was not conquered as such but acquired in a defensive war?

Under Israeli constitutional law, Israeli law, and, therefore, sovereignty, can be extended to new territories via:

  1. Ministerial decree if the land is located within mandatory Palestine/Eretz Israel – the Israeli cabinet decided to annex East Jerusalem in 1967, a decision ratified in 1980 in “Basic Law: Jerusalem the Capital of Israel;”
  2. Legislation if the land never was part of Mandatory Palestine, as was the case with the Golan Heights in 1981, which, unlike Bibi’s April election pledge, applied to the whole geographic area of the Golan, including all the Druze villages, as distinct from the extension of sovereignty over the West Bank that presumably would apply only to specific Jewish municipalities.

On the other hand, the extension of sovereignty can be gradual. When one country conquers another, the conquering nation exercises sovereignty over the conquered territory. No annexation need occur. The degree of sovereignty extended is variable. Extending Israeli law to cover Israeli citizens living in the West Bank is an extension of Israeli sovereignty. That is already the case with residents of “legal” settlements and certainly all settlements in Area C. Extending Israeli domestic security to cover Areas B and C is another extension of Israeli sovereignty. Extending Israeli domestic administration to cover Area B and C is a further extension of Israeli authority. Israel already controls the external security over the whole of the West Bank and effectively over Gaza, though only with respect to the control of air space, access by water, limitations on fishing rights and access by land from Israel.

Extending sovereignty is usually carried out by an executive decision though it may be backed up by legislation. Annexation requires legislation. Bibi did not promise to annex Israeli blocs in the West Bank but gradually increase Israeli sovereignty over the blocs. While extension of sovereignty over blocs in Areas A and B makes sense in the meaning that it can be comprehended, what could the extension of sovereignty mean in the case of Area C if not annexation?

Between 2016 and 2018, a number of private bills in the Knesset attempted to extend the application of Israeli law to: a) specific settlements; b) the Jordan Valley; c) all settlements. In other words, shifting from a cabinet decision to legislation entails a gradual increase in sovereignty even if there are no changes on the ground. The difference is that legislation unequivocally translates the gradual extension of sovereignty approaching virtual annexation through de jure and not merely de facto action, even when de facto decisions actually extend Israeli law. Extending laws by legislation sends a message of permanence. It is very significant in symbolic terms.
But it is not only symbolic. If areas are annexed by legislation, it is incumbent upon the party that exercises sovereignty to offer citizenship to the residents of the area. Israel did this with the Druzim living on the Golan Heights. Bibi’s announcement, even though unarticulated, makes if fairly clear that there would be no offers of citizenship extended to Palestinians, if only because the targeted areas for extending sovereignty include only Jews who are already citizens of Israel.

Why did Bibi not include all of Area C which is 60% of the West Bank? After all, of the original 500,000 Palestinians that were living there in 1967, there are likely less than 150,000, perhaps only 100,000, left. Offering citizenship to up to 150,000 Palestinians might be perceived as good public relations, but it would clearly put a one-state solution totally on the table.

More significantly, the gradual extension of sovereignty does not explicitly contravene the Oslo Accords, which specifically forbids changes in the permanent status not agreed to by both Palestinians and Israelis. If Israel, through unilateral legislation, effectively annexed Israeli-occupied municipal enclaves, it would be an official declaration that Oslo was dead. Oslo may no longer even be on life support, but no authority has yet declared that it is brain dead. Creeping annexation, an oxymoron, is really another name for the gradual extension of sovereignty, even though it is not annexation per se. However, the salami method of extending sovereignty reveals that the end goal is annexation. If Israel does not change the status of any areas in the West Bank by legislative acts, then Israel could continue the pretence that there has been no annexation. Further, even if the extension of sovereignty takes place as a result of legislation, Israel could argue, not very convincingly, that the Palestinians living next to these municipal areas still could theoretically create their own state even though their mobility rights might be very restricted.

But why at this time? Unlike the Golan, Israel cannot explain the move to be a result of war – there is no intifada currently underway in the West Bank – or even a significant security threat as existed in the Golan. One reason might be that the move for extending sovereignty would engage wide domestic support and muted international opposition while outright annexation might arouse both the international community as well as a very significant part of the Israeli electorate.
Did Bibi concede in advance the demand of the Union of Right-Wing Parties representing all the settlers, especially the national-religious ones (Shas and UTJ), that extending sovereignty gradually would be part of a deal to form his government? Bibi’s extension of sovereignty initiative was widely viewed as an effort aimed at galvanizing support among his nationalist base and right-wing allies, which it evidently did, but possibly at the expense of Bennett. In the negotiations with his allies in the new prospective government, it is not clear what promises he made to them concerning this issue, but the extension of sovereignty was certainly believed to be one of the promises that he made. When asked in that TV interview on 6 April on Israel Channel 12 why he had not annexed Israeli settlement blocs, most specifically Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion, Bibi replied, “Yes. We will go to the next phase to graduallyextend Israeli sovereignty in the areas of Judea and Samaria.”
That answer stirred up greater consternation among part of the Israeli public and around the world. Bibi added that, “I will impose sovereignty, but I will not distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements.” Bibi added three further clarifications. “From my perspective, any point of settlement is Israeli, and we have responsibility, as the Israeli government. I will not uproot anyone, and I will not transfer sovereignty to the Palestinians.” He also added, “We will control all of the area west of the Jordan River.”

The plan in outline then included:

  • Imposing sovereignty on outlier settlements as well;
  • There would be no uprooting of anyone, either Palestinian or Israeli;
  • There would be no transfer of sovereignty to the Palestinians, even in Area A where the Palestinian Authority (PA) is responsible for administration and domestic security and Area B where the PA is responsible only for internal administration;
  • Israel would continue to control the whole of the West Bank.

Why the surprise? Variations of this had always been the policy of the Likud. On 31 December 2017, 1,500 delegates to the Likud Party Congress unanimously required Likud elected officials to “take action to facilitate unlimited construction and to apply the laws of Israel and its sovereignty over all the liberated settlement zones in Judea and Samaria.” 

Bibi’s announcement was immediately (mis-?)interpreted by Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki as an intention to declare sovereignty over the whole of the West Bank. He held out the prospect that this would be a move to a one-state solution which would mean that Bibi would be faced, in Malki’s words, with “the presence of 4.5 million Palestinians.” But Malki’s figure included Palestinians in Gaza; the announcement did not include any intention to extend sovereignty over Gaza.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem previously annexed by Israel have been eligible for Israeli citizenship since it was annexed decades ago, even though, in the last few years, bureaucratic obstacles have been placed in the way of Palestinians applying for such citizenship. The actual number of Palestinians affected by Israel extending sovereignty into the West Bank would only be 2.8 million. Bibi ruled out ethnic cleansing since he promised that no one would be uprooted.

The announcement implies the extension of sovereignty only over Israeli blocs rather than a specific territory, even the whole of Area C. In depicting “outlier” settlements, this seemed to include Israeli settlements in territory under Palestinian security and administrative control. But what about the roads and infrastructure that link the settlements to one another and to Israel?

Whatever the interpretation re the extent of the sovereignty, it is widely believed that any effort in this direction would put the final stake in the possibility of a two-state solution because the move would make the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state impossible, especially since Bibi announced that no sovereignty would be transferred to the Palestinians, which he claimed would “endanger our existence.”
Given that Donald Trump had recognized a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and, much more recently, Israel sovereignty over the Golan Heights, a further assumption was made by many that Bibi had conferred with Trump on the extension of sovereignty plan and, further, that Trump had promised his support.

Perhaps Putin as well had extended his quiet endorsement given Russia’s need to gain greater support for its own initiatives in annexation.

To be continued

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part V: The Palestine Economy

By the Palestine economy, I refer primarily to the West Bank and only to the parts of the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Gaza will receive only a cursory attention. As suggested in yesterday’s blog, that economy is under severe strain. Each and every individual in the West Bank is affected. The impact can be illustrated by a story that appeared in the Times of Israel yesterday.

Ahmad, a 31-year-old resident of Nablus, is a member of the Palestinian Authority security forces. He is a father of two. In June, his salary totaled US$700. This was after Israel decided in February to withhold tax rebates equivalent to the amounts the PA paid the families of security prisoners and terrorists killed by the IDF and border police. Abbas decided to shoot itself in the foot by refusing all tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA until the cuts were restored. Those revenues totalled half of the income of the PA. The effect on Ahmad – a decline in his salary by 20% or US$140 per month. For others in less critical roles, salary cuts may have been as much as 50%. Jafar Sadaka, a reporter for the PA’s official news outlet Wafa, said Ramallah cut his salary from NIS 4,000 to around NIS 2,000 or US$560 per month. There are insufficient funds even to pay rent and put food on the table.

Add to these indicators the rise in unemployment, especially among the young, the decline in manufacturing and retail sales that have put many businesses on the brink of bankruptcy, and it is an understatement to say that there is an economic crisis in Palestine.

Another factor in the decline in revenue to the Palestinian Authority has been the cut in monies allocated to the PA and Palestinian refugees by the Trump administration. When the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas boycotted President Donald Trump, Jared Kushner and special envoy Jason Greenblatt. However, diplomatic efforts are currently underway to bridge the rift between the U.S. and the PA. Majid Faraj, head of PA security services, is leading the rapprochement following backroom exchanges. Economic pressure has forced the PA to come on bended knees to restore communications with the U.S.

Whatever the failures of the Bahrain workshop for American diplomacy, this might be counted as a success. For the results in Bahrain were far worse for the PA as it was clearly deserted and left to stew in its own juices by its major Arab allies and supporters. The gloom that resulted added to the previous despair that was a product of the abandonment of militancy since efforts to protest the Israeli occupation were met with harsh responses; the protests set the Palestinians back even further. Meagre achievements did not justify the loss in human lives.

Greenblatt’s message to the Palestinians: “The Palestinian leadership must internalize that the success of the conference in Bahrain shows that there are those who believe in peace and in the ability of the Palestinian people to create a good and prosperous economy with the help of many investors. This is an opportunity that the Palestinian leadership must not miss.” Will they or won’t they?

Given that the Europeans have been political pygmies in advancing economic peace in the Middle East, the EU has tried to offset its political weakness with large investments in infrastructure. One project to use wind farms to both generate electricity as well as solve the serious shortage of water has entailed investing 100 million euros ($112.8 million) over the last three years in this project. As the EU has stated its goal: “this project aims at ‘supporting the Palestinians’ right to water. Water is a right just like dignity and freedom. We choose to stand by this right, and we choose to be with the Palestinians in their long journey until we reach an independent Palestinian state.”

France and the EU may try to stand tall on a pile of euros, but the reality is that there has been a decline of 50% in economic aid to the Palestinians over the last six years. |In any case, a political resolution must go in tandem with economic initiatives and cannot be viewed as a separate goal. Otherwise, the EU is making the same mistake as the Trump administration.

In spite of Bahrain, temporary relief might be coming from the Gulf States. In May, Qatar promised to send $50 million in grants and $250 million in loans to the PA over the next 12 months. However, a finger in a dike will not prevent a flood, contrary to myth.

What a contrast to the early optimism and economic improvement following the Oslo Accords! What happened? For the following, I have relied on some Israeli economists, but mostly on the report of Dr. Mohammed Samhouri, a former senior economist of the Palestinian Authority and fellow at Brandeis University in the Crown Center for Middle East Studies. (“Explaining Failure: How Palestinian economic potential was denied during Oslo”, July 2019)

The PA is just 25 years old. Samhouri traces the stages of the increasing economic anemia of the West Bank. Last year, Palestine had a very meagre economic growth (0.9%). This year, there will be a severe decline. Oslo was premised as much on economic development as on the political negotiations. In fact, the stability of PA political institutions was seen as a magnet for attracting economic investment when combined with the negotiated economic arrangement between Israel and the PA known as the Paris Protocol.

Samhouri argued that it was not the economic plan that was faulty. Instead, he located the failure in the “wider political, security and territorial context.” There were three: “(1) the restrictive nature of the political and territorial arrangements t. Instead, he at were negotiated between Israel and the PLO; (2) the deterioration in political and security conditions during the 1994-2019 period; and (3) the Israeli system of constraints, complex and multilayered, that was imposed on the access and movement of Palestinian people and merchandise trade in and out of WBG.”

Israeli security was premised on restrictions and control. Palestinian economic development was premised on the free flow of capital, labour and goods. The two premises were incompatible. The most obvious example was not only the tripartite division of the West Bank under Oslo with Areas A, B and C under different or combined authorities, but the division of the areas under PA control into a fragmented economic terrain of disconnected towns and villages.

Further, according to Oslo II (Chapter 2, Article XI.3.c), Israel’s temporary control over Area C did not end in July 1997 as intended. Instead of a gradual transfer of responsibilities and authority to the PA, the creeping extension of Israeli sovereignty began, initially to control the movement of people and goods in part in response to the series of suicide bombings in Israel in 1996, but also through the confiscation of private Palestinian land, ostensibly for security purposes, the expansion of Israeli settlements and the building of Israeli-only road connections.

By 2000, the tipping point had been reached with the failure of the Camp David Summit. The Palestinian economy began its downward spiral, propelled by the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000. By 2002, Israel occupied all of Area C and began the construction of the separation barrier largely on West Bank land. Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza completed in September 2005 led to the election and coup by a radical Palestinian political party, Hamas. Israeli and Western reprisals followed and reinforced a deep schism in the Palestinian polity. The faith of Israelis in the peace process, never very hardy at any time, began a downward slide to match that of the Palestinian economy.

Three wars with Gaza, 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014, followed as Gaza became a base for rocket attacks on Israel and the latter responded with a tighter and tighter economic squeeze involving the closure of commercial crossings and the shrinking of the sea areas in which Palestinians could fish. The economic blockade was eased when Hamas prevented its militias and that of other groups from engaging in terrorist acts and tightened when missiles and, more lately, fire balloons were sent across the border against Israel. For twelve years, the economic blockade of Gaza was either enforced or eased in response to the behaviour of the radical leadership in Gaza. Gaza, thus, also served as an object lesson for the West Bank Palestinians and the international community as well as Israel.

The election of Hamas in Gaza was followed by the effort to reignite the peace process in a summit in Annapolis Maryland in November 2007, an EU-led pledging conference that committed $7.7 billion for investment in the West Bank, the strengthening of security coordination between the PA and Israel and the easing of Palestinian movements between West Bank urban centres. However, the economic improvements were feeble and short-lived. A West-Bank first policy became just another in a long series of failed efforts to solve political problems with economic band aids.

The West Bank economy remained structurally weak with an overloaded and inefficient public sector, endemic corruption and a dependency on outside aid that soon began to decline. A one-third unemployment rate would sometimes be offset with joint Israeli-Palestinian entrepreneurial partnerships, but never in sufficient amounts to offset the economic disruptions of a dysfunctional Palestinian governing apparatus and Israeli settler expansion and additional fragmentation of the intra-Palestinian transportation and communication systems.

As Samhouri documented, the economic indicators are terrible:

  • decline in manufacturing by about one-half
  • severe drop in agricultural productivity by more than two-thirds
  • decline in private investment
  • private investment largely goes into residential construction, retail trade and services
  • decline in internal capital formation by two-thirds
  • decline in merchandise exports by 20% while remaining concentrated in low value-added products
  • increased dependency on the Israeli economy; 83% of exports go to Israel
  • use of foreign aid to offset budget deficits versus capital and infrastructure projects.

Samhouri traced the decline to:

  • Military occupation
  • A faulty foundation in the Paris Protocol that resulted in a lopsided pattern of dependency and restrictions
  • General insecurity for economic investment resulting from an unresolved military conflict
  • Singular dependency on Israel

“After researching the Palestinian economy for several years, we are convinced that its links with the Israeli economy were the most important factor in determining the course of its economic development. The formation of these links and the nature of the labor, goods, and capital flows between the Palestinian and Israel economies, were determined almost exclusively by Israel.” Israeli economists Arie Arnon, Israel Luski, Avia Spivak, and Jimmy Weinblatt

  • Restrictions on mobility resulting largely from Israeli constraints that reduced supply capacity and increased transportation costs while preventing economies of scale
  • Limitations on access and utilization of Palestinian land and water resources and on the ability to, import raw materials and machinery
  • Inability to freely reach regional and international markets 
  • Lack of access to resource-rich Area C (60% of the West Bank) at an estimated cost of $3.4 billion and $800 million in tax revenues
  • Lack of access to the Jordan Valley where the development of agriculture could create 100,000-200,000 new jobs
  • Lack of access to the resource rich Dead Sea
  • The construction and expansion of Israeli settlements where employment opportunities were offset by further restrictions
  • The construction of the Separation Barrier that created a seam zone (9.4% of the West Bank) of agricultural land inaccessible to Palestinian farmers
  • Restrictions on the use of modern telecommunication equipment
  • An absence of Palestinian fiscal, monetary, exchange rate, and trade policy tools
  • The severe restrictions on decision responsibility that will cramp any enterprise, whether private or public sector

This past record provides an object lesson in why one cannot separate transactional initiatives from solid progress on the political and military fronts and, further, why political agreements must be properly thought through to assess the impact of agreements on the economic sector. The lesson posed by Greenblatt’s challenge is that even if the PA submits to the behemoth of the U.S.-Israeli partnership, no significant breakthroughs will be forthcoming on the ground unless political and economic approaches are viewed synergistically. Further, it is crucial that the right formula for their marriage be found and that the mistakes of Oslo not be repeated.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part IV: The Palestinian Response to the Extension of Sovereignty

On 22 December 2014, a new non-partisan movement called Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) was founded. It represented more than 150 retired high-ranking security officials from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Mossad, Shin Bet and the National Police. CIS called upon the Israeli public to encourage Israel’s political leadership to embark on a regional effort in cooperation with the Arab Peace Initiative in order to advance a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict based on the principle of “two states for two peoples.” Recently, this group seemed most concerned about the impact of the extension of sovereignty promise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the current cooperation between the Israeli and the Palestinian security services.

In 2014, former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo worried about “the threats against us on the one hand, and the government’s blindness and political and strategic paralysis on the other.” He continued: “Although the State of Israel is dependent upon the United States, the relationship between the two countries has reached an unprecedented low point. Europe, our biggest market, has grown tired of us and is heading toward imposing sanctions on us. For China, Israel is an attractive high-tech project, and we are selling them our national assets for the sake of profit. Russia is gradually turning against us and supporting and assisting our enemies.”

Five years later, how the situation has radically changed. The relationship between the USA and Israel has reached an unprecedented peak of cooperation at the same time as Israeli policy shifted further to the right and bolder right-wing initiatives were undertaken that were backed by the USA. In spite of that, there are no EU sanctions in the works. In fact, the EU is desperately seeking ways around enhanced American sanctions against Iran. Israeli cooperation with both China and Putin’s Russia has grown. 

Five years ago, Pardo added, “Our public diplomacy and public relations have failed dismally, while those of the Palestinians have garnered many important accomplishments in the world.” In fact, the reverse has turned out to be true. Israeli diplomacy has secured unprecedented successes with Egypt and the Gulf states. European voices have remained relatively muted. And Russia has served as a mediator between Israel and Syria and between Israel and Turkey. At the same time, the influence of Palestinian diplomacy has stalled in most places and declined precipitously in Washington. Although the Palestinian Authority achieved a number of breakthroughs in the United Nations and within international agencies, for the last few years progress on the Palestine project has stalled.

However, the voices of both the PLO and Hamas have grown on university campuses in the West, particularly in the U.S. “They are hothouses for the future leadership of their countries. We are losing the fight for support for Israel in the academic world. An increasing number of Jewish students are turning away from Israel. The global BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against Israel, which works for Israel’s delegitimization, has grown, and quite a few Jews are members.” On the other side, in official political circles on both the state and federal level in America, efforts to advance the BDS agenda have been made illegal.

What is clear and less controversial is that the Oslo process, instead of moving both sides towards a resolution of the conflict based on two states for two peoples, has been undermined and inverted to serve as a cover for practices that disempower Palestinians in the West Bank. The Oslo Accord has more recently been interpreted as a “capitulation agreement” given the consequences that followed the signing. Israeli dominance has increased and the sovereignty accorded the Palestinians, though increased in some respects, has diminished overall.

The reason the Oslo Accords are now interpreted as a failed framework is because the steps taken on the ground have advanced Israeli sovereignty without penalty or consequences. Palestinians have become more politically vulnerable as the security situation in the Middle East has pushed greater cooperation between Israel and a number of Arab states. At the same time, both Europe and the international community have demonstrated the relative impotence of the members of these two groups. Distorted and mis-applied language, such as the French ambassador to the U.S. depicting Israel as an apartheid state, and denunciations that misdescribe and miss their target, such as the objections to Bibi’s policy of expanded sovereignty as annexation, are all signs of desperation rather than avenues for a more constructive approach.

Nothing recently has signified the impasse that has developed as much as the recent Bahrain conference ostensibly designed to push the parties towards an agreement, but revealed as an empty gesture, especially since neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority was in attendance. Under the cover of pseudo-diplomacy, Israeli efforts to extend sovereignty in areas of the West Bank have proceeded unimpeded. Ever since 1948 when a transactional approach was first proposed as the foundation for resolving the Palestinian refugee situation, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was created to use economic development initiatives to resettle the Palestinian refugees in Iraq, America continues to push unrealistic solutions for a problem that seems impervious to either a two state solution or a one state resolution with the recognition of two nations with equal rights as part of a single state. Disconnected dreams and possibilities disguise and cloud the reality of an unbreachable chasm. Americans once again dream of replacing political with economic leadership for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.  

It is a fantasy. Interests can never substitute for resolving questions of a collective good, especially when the good envisaged by one side is so out of synch with the good imagined by the other side. What happens then? Israelis out of ideological conviction or strategic exhaustion now continue their march towards enhanced sovereignty leading to annexation of Area C of the West Bank while protecting settlements outside Area C. Palestinians fight a rearguard action to resist accepting a state truncated in its geographic base and its sovereign range and that seems more akin to a reserve for indigenous people in North America than a true sovereign state based on the self-determination of its people.

Palestinians know the situation is getting worse and worse for them as they try different options for coaxing the genie out of its bottle. They can read the polls that show the right wing almost certainly destined to retain control of the Israeli polity in the next election. Even if Trump is defeated in 2020, advances will have gone too far for any significant reversal. And no one in the Israeli peace camp has anything but utopian visions to deal with a conflict deeply rooted in realpolitik. It does not help the Palestinian cause when Israeli breaches of human rights pale in comparison to the Palestinian Authority detaining 1,600 peaceful protesters during the last twelve months alone and Hamas arresting another 1,000 in just one month, March of 2019, in a context in which even a peaceful protest is virtually impossible.

The Palestinians in Israel cannot be left out of the analysis. At the same time as a Palestinian Israeli has become the head of one of Israel’s major banks, Arab Israeli members of the Knesset continue to demonstrate their absolute opposition to Israel as a Jewish state. Even Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, a Christian Arab, refused to sing the national anthem at the 2012 swearing-in of Justice Asher Grunis. Jewish Israelis will not recognize that they live in a bi-national state and Palestinians will not recognize the rights to a Jewish state while demanding absolute sovereignty for a Palestinian state. The contradictions are not just daunting. They seem insurmountable.

There is another factor serving as a propellant for the enhanced energy and determination of the Israeli right. The rise in antisemitism in Europe has not only pushed many French Jews into moving to Israel, it has strengthened the cause of ensuring that Israel remains a Jewish state dedicated to providing a home for Jews fleeing insecurity elsewhere. American Jews continue to remain relatively immune to this fear, even though there has also been a rise in antisemitism in North America. 73% of Jewish Americans feel Jews have become less secure since Trump, a champion of Israel and a Bibi lackey, assumed office in these past two years. Antisemitic rhetoric and actual attacks on the ground have increased. The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on 27 October 2018 leaving 11 parishioners dead now serves as a symbolic signpost. Six months later this past March, an attack on a Chabad synagogue killed another Jewish worshipper.

These attacks and shouts of “Jews will not replace us” at Charlottesville, reinforced by many more incidents of antisemitic vandalism, may have increased Jewish support for Trump even though he has been an apologist for the far right. However, these vents have not as yet enhanced resettlement numbers in Israel from America. But it has clearly put Israel as a sanctuary in a new light, especially with the rise in radical rhetoric attacking Israel from the left.

How can Palestinians cope with the tactic of Israel expanding sovereignty by small installments? How have they responded to the offer in the new Kushner initiative of 22 June 2019 of $50 billion and presented as a formal offer in Manama, Bahrain on 25-6 June? The monies would be dedicated to Palestinian economic improvement with the bulk of the funds allocated to the Palestinian territories and much of the rest used by Jordan and Lebanon in return for offering citizenship to Palestinians who lack such recognition but live within those states. With only mid-level bureaucrats rather than Ministers of Finance from the European states, and even low-level ministers from Egypt and Jordan, the Bahrain meeting lacked gravitas to match its glossy promotional rhetoric.

In May, the Palestinians had already announced that they would boycott the workshop, a boycott with the unprecedented backing of virtually all sectors of Palestinian society, most importantly in this case, in addition to all political parties and civil society organizations, business and trade associations as well as unions. The Palestinians could have attended and placed strenuous conditions on accepting the monies and perhaps influenced the shape of the political part of the peace plan to be announced this fall. But they had lost faith in the good faith of the U.S. The Palestinian Working Group on Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon also rejected the offer. So did the Lebanese government which also refused to join the workshop. On 26 June, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced its rejection in Lebanon’s parliament. On 27 June before the Council of Ministers, Hariri declared, “Our constitution is clear and forbids resettlement and emphasizes the right of return.”

Why was Lebanon opposed? For the same reason it never offered the vast majority of Palestinian refugees citizenship over the past seventy years. Lebanon feared the political and social consequences of such a demographic shift and the threat to the sectoral balance among Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. Further, implied offers to resettle some of the Palestinian refugees seem far vaguer than previous proposals and represent an even weaker base of burden sharing. The $6 billion offered was just not worth the risks to the fragile stability of Lebanon, even though the expenditures would improve Lebanon’s transportation infrastructure, trade network and tourism sector. Further, since $4.6 billion of that $6 billion came in the form of debt that would further escalate Lebanon’s ballooning indebtedness (currently 150% of GDP), the incentive seemed to be magical trickery rather than a genuine offer of aid. This was especially true since the rumour that had previously circulated was that Lebanon’s debts would be forgiven in return for offering most of the Palestinians citizenship. In any case, only 5 of the 179 economic projects proposed were for Lebanon.

The demographic fear seemed to be confirmed when Jared Kushner in a conference call with Arab media on 3 July said, “I also think that the Palestinian refugees who are in Lebanon, who are denied a lot of rights and don’t have the best conditions right now, would also like to see a situation where there is a pathway for them to have more rights and to live a better life.” The reality: the offer was far too meagre and too inconsequential and spread over too many years to offset the demographic risks. Kushner did not even seem to be able to make transactional diplomacy meaningful.

The Democrats do not have anything much better to offer. They simply seemed to be fixated on re-establishing the status quo ante. It is highly unlikely that they would reverse Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the cuts to the PA and UNRWA might be restored as well as special funds for East Jerusalem hospitals and Jewish-Palestinian co-existence programs. In the American Senate in April, the Senate Democrats introduced a resolution to restore humanitarian funding for Palestinians. Democratic and Republican members of Congress met with top Israeli officials to push the two-state solution based on a demilitarized Palestinian state and direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, events on the ground seem to have bypassed traditional rhetorical references and processes as well as Kushner’s fancy brochures.

The reality is that there cannot even be any economic progress for the Palestinians as an independent polity unless transportation, communication, fiscal and trade restrictions imposed by Israel are lifted. Further, the February 2019 Israeli government decision to deduct part of the Palestinians’ tax revenues that Israel collects on their behalf that is used to support the families of terrorists combined with the subsequent refusal of the PA to receive any tax money unless Israel reverses n trade. bankruptcy.  

Economic initiatives to promote peace appear as a mirage for Palestinians.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part III: The American Response to the Extension of Sovereignty

Last week, David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, together with White House so-called peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, appeared together in the bowels [well, not really the bowels, but I write this metaphorically) of the earth below Jerusalem, more specifically, below a Palestinian village, Silwan, just outside the walls of the Old City. Symbolically, Friedman and then Greenblatt smashed through the remaining rock membrane protecting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Using a sledgehammer (actually, it was a small 10 pound yellow-handled one with a sharp edge used by archeologists), they broke through the last stone obstacle on the dig uncovering the ancient Pilgrimage Road to Jerusalem.

Needless to say, the wall remaining was deliberately left very thin. Trump, though recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, though specifically not recognizing all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, smashed any claim of Palestinians to the Old City as well as the neighbourhoods abutting it, at least very symbolically and with the world watching. Friedman, to prove that he was as learned about history and archeology as well as contemporary conflicts as his boss, Donald Trump, pronounced that the existence of the Pilgrimage Road, “lays all doubts to rest” of the Jewish claim for the entirety of Jerusalem. So much for the assurance by the Trump administration that recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not pre-judge the outcome of which side would have sovereignty over the whole city.

To focus on the contemporary political significance, I avoid commenting on the scientific authenticity behind the archeological dig. The Pilgrimage Way was not only about Jewish rights in Jerusalem, but about the “spiritual underpinnings” and “the bedrock of principles” underlying the political foundation of America according to Friedman. Music for the ears of Trump’s evangelical base! 

This sensational photo-op said more than a thousand diplomatic pronouncements. The smashing of the peace process was deliberate and blatant and lacked any indication of subtlety. It was intended to mark the recognition of the extension of Israeli sovereignty to all of Greater Jerusalem. Further, given the timing, the photo-op also signalled the American preparation for recognizing the extension of Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank. Would it be only the settlements in Area C or would the application of Israeli law also extend to Israeli settlements in Areas A and B, or, as the right prefers to call them, cities and neighbourhoods in Judea and Samaria?

Recall that at the time of Friedman’s confirmation hearings on 1 March 2017, tens of thousands of American Jews, hundreds of rabbis and major groups like the Reform Movement joined with J Street and all but two Democratic senators in making clear that Friedman’s right-wing views were dangerous and totally out of step with American values and decades of U.S. foreign policy. However, when David Halbfinger of the New York Times recently explicitly asked Friedman about American support for annexation, the latter responded: “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.” The evidence was overwhelming: extending sovereignty salami-like is understandably confused with annexation, though de facto annexation of Area C in the West Bank may be in the works.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, the Israel Policy Forum along with eight other Jewish American organizations, including five from the Reform and Conservative movements (the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, its Rabbinical Assembly, and MERCAZ, the Zionist Conservative affiliate, as well as the Anti-Defamation League, Ameinu and the National Council of Jewish Women), urged the administration to oppose West Bank annexation (my italics) in the face of a pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex West Bank territory. However, Netanyahu made no such pledge. Decoys should not be confused with real targets warranting comment and criticism.

The actual American diplomatic direction was confirmed by Jared Kushner. The author of the “Deal of The Century” and the organizer of the Bahrain Conference indicated unequivocally that the reference to “two states” will not be in the language of any proposed peace deal. “If you say ‘two states’ to the Israelis it means one thing, and if you say ‘two states’ to the Palestinians it means another thing. So we said, let’s just not say it. Let’s just work on the details of what that means.” And what it means, for Jared, is a very truncated state geographically for the Palestinians. What it means is a very truncated sense of sovereignty for a prospective Palestine.

The Democrats, at least those on the left of the party, were understandably critical. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley drafted a resolution that was co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders, Tammy Duckworth, Elizabeth Warren, Dianne Feinstein, Tammy Baldwin, Tom Udall and Dick Durbin: “the policy of the United States should be to preserve conditions conducive to a negotiated two-state solution,” not a unilateral one-state solution abutted to a mini- and semi-Palestinian state. “Unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank would jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution, harm Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors, threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, and undermine Israel’s security.”

The problem is that there are no plans for annexation, unilateral or otherwise, of even parts of the West Bank. To repeat, the creeping extension of sovereignty is not annexation, but those efforts move inexorably towards annexation. Since there is no longer a two-state solution that is envisaged that would currently be acceptable to both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, there is no two-state solution in the traditional sense to harm.

Paradoxically, each of Israel’s steps at increasing sovereignty can be correlated with improved relations with many Arab, especially Gulf, states. Hence, the declaration that such moves will “harm Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors” rings hollow. Further, as far as these Arab states are concerned, Israel’s political moves have not seemingly harmed the country’s security. If anything, common security concerns vis-à-vis Iran have brought Israel and the Gulf states into closer security cooperation. And Israel’s democratic identity? Without full annexation, Israel is not inheriting a Palestinian population to which it is obligated to offer citizenship.

How can Israel’s extension of sovereignty to settlements in all areas of the West Bank be perceived as a threat if they do not amount to annexation? By mis-describing the problem, the criticisms miss their mark and the impact is significantly diminished. Focusing on the ostensible ultimate goal rather than the salami sovereignty expansion strategy, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer led a campaign to discredit the resolution as the above members of the Democratic Party misleadingly claimed that Netanyahu had promised to annex the West Bank. Misunderstanding the politics undermines intentions considered laudable by the left.

These Senators were not the only ones to misinterpret the Israeli government’s strategy and Netanyahu’s promise three days before the last election. Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg warned that, “if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes good on his promise to annex West Bank settlements, he should know that a President Buttigieg would take steps to ensure that American taxpayers won’t help foot the bill.” The exaggerated claim was matched with the promise of a feeble punishment that does nothing to alter facts on the ground.

There has also been pushback from Republicans who reiterated their support for a two-state solution. That opposition ranges from strong supporters of Donald Trump, such as Lindsey Graham, to Republican Party critics, such as Mitt Romney. As the critics have said, “The incessant push for annexation [note, not actual annexation itself] has political consequences, and it is entirely the fault of the pushers, who won’t be satisfied until they have brought the calamity to pass.”

Dr. Michael J. Koplow, the Director of the Israel Policy Forum in Washington, callsthe salami method of extending sovereignty “partial annexation,” meaning that the moves taken are partial steps towards a goal of annexation. Rather than clarifying the muddle, I prefer to avoid characterizing what is taking place as annexation, however qualified, for when annexation is not in the immediate works, the likelihood is that the criticism will be compromised. Nevertheless, Koplow is correct in concluding that each new step in expanding sovereignty creates more obstacles to reversing the process. “Turning back the clock on the new political realities is going to be next to impossible.”

The nine sponsors of the letter to Trump of 19 April 2019 referred to above, though incorrect in focusing on annexation of the whole of the West Bank, were quite accurate in anticipating that the Netanyahu announcement will “lead to greater conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, severely undermine, if not entirely eradicate, the successful security coordination between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and galvanize efforts such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that are intended to isolate and delegitimize Israel,,,It will create intense divisions in the United States and make unwavering support for Israel and its security far more difficult to maintain.”

There are two clear results of the effort to expand sovereignty to West Bank settlements, interpreted as stages in the move towards annexation. Such steps, even the promise of taking such steps towards annexation, undercut the bipartisan support for Israel. Second, these initiatives also divide the Jewish diaspora.

What seems clear is that the dividing line between right and left has become a chasm. The problem arises from the intention of extending sovereignty to settlements in Areas A and B in the West Bank. Area C is de facto almost under the complete sovereign control of Israel. However, extending Israeli law only to settlements in Area C would signal that Israel is ready to cede full sovereign control of Areas A and B, except for security, to the Palestinians. Netanyahu is explicitly unwilling to do this. Such a step would be a definite pause in the incessant expansion of sovereignty towards annexation. That is now unequivocally and undeniably a central plank of the Likud-led government. With the aid of Donald Trump, those efforts have been accelerated.

If true, it also means that the issue is no longer land for peace, but a choice between Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty. For Jews on the left unwilling to make such a choice, this will mean they will either withdraw from the struggle or adopt a resigned critical position as a marginal movement. Except in America. BDS will be able to increase its recruitment of North American Jews, especially on college campuses. And most American liberal Jewish academics will be torn as America’s unanimous legislative support for Israel, already displaying fissures, begins to develop a deep fracture line.

On the other side, the Israeli right is not stupid. The majority on the right recognize that they have little to gain by engaging in wholesale annexation. The risks are too well known and the benefits too few. That is why a continuation of salami tactics of extending sovereignty rather than legislating outright annexation can be expected.

However, if efforts are made to extend Israeli law to settlements in Area A and B, the political left is not stupid either. It can read the writing on the wall. As the goal comes nearer and the breaches of red lines more obvious, extending Israeli law to settlements in Areas A and B may serve as the tipping point to initiate a much larger process of American and American Jewish alienation from Israel. If, as expected, the Democrats are elected to both the presidency and even the Senate, the pitch of criticism of Israel can be expected to rise a number of decibels and cooperative arrangements threatened. This prospect may, in turn, fire up the right to provide even stronger support for Donald Trump and even convince some conflicted Jewish Americans to vote for him.

Obviously, there are far too many factors in play to engage in any reasonable kind of prediction. But the various possible scenarios are more or less clear. Profound events, depending on their character, could shift the weight easily from one side to the other. The right is probably prepared for such an opportunity. Is the left? In the absence of a Palestinian Authority deeply committed to peace, except possibly on terms unacceptable to most Israelis, the left lacks both direction as well as a set of strategies and tactics to reach that objective.

One final point. The imminence of a possible and even likely Republican defeat may embolden the right to take advantage of an American regime that is so fully onside. I suspect the issue to heat up considerably over the next year. I also suspect that the issue will cause tears in the fabric of the American Democratic Party as strong supporters of Israel in the party try to mute criticism while the activist base revs up for a more outspoken confrontation with Israel. It is possible that the support for BDS will spread beyond Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. Watch the path that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes. Watch as the strident tone within both parties increases.

To be continued.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Part I: Bibi’s Expansion of Sovereignty Promise – Background

I am on the road again travelling west to visit our two sons living on the West Coast and then my nephew in California. We will drive back to Toronto via the U.S. My blogs will become intermittent, but I want to use the first part of my trip before I arrive at the West Coast to catch up on my thoughts about Israel.

Part I: Bibi’s Expansion of Sovereignty Promise – Background


Howard Adelman

On the evening of Saturday 6 April, just three days before the recent election in Israel, Bibi Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, promised on TV that he would extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements in Judea and Samaria (note, not the West Bank) if he were to be re-elected. On Israel’s Channel 12, he announced: “I am going to extend [Israeli] sovereignty and I don’t distinguish between settlement blocs and the isolated settlements.”

It was telling that the announcement took place only two days after he had met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the second meeting this year. Further, Putin presented Netanyahu with the remains of Zachary Baumel, who was killed in Lebanon in 1982, a public relations coup for Bibi. That meeting with Putin was held only ten days after Bibi had been in Washington to celebrate the benefits of the Trump presidency for Israel. In politics, timing is almost everything. This particular sequence was especially significant and very auspicious.

In one interpretation, the announcement following those two high level meetings was made to ensure the alliance with parties further right than Likud as well as the backing from Likud members who supported implementing such a policy. Further, Avigdor Liberman, Bibi’s former defense minister and head of Yisrael Beitenu, since his resignation from the government last November, has been a spur in Netanyahu’s side. At the time of the 6 April announcement, polls indicated that Liberman and his party might not meet the minimum threshold to take seats in the Knesset. Bibi’s visit with Putin had been timed and stage managed by Bibi to attract Russian immigrant votes away from Yisrael Beitenu; the members largely admire Putin and constitute Liberman’s base. Did the announcement on expanding sovereignty following the meeting harm a dangerous rival of Bibi’s?

The Likud-led bloc of right-wing and religious parties won 65 seats in the Knesset out of 120. Likud won just enough seats to ensure that President Rivlin would not call on Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Kachol Lavan, Blue and White Party, to try to form a government. Of the right-wing parties, Avigdor Liberman passed the minimum threshold of 3.25% of the vote and held 5 seats, just enough to prevent Bibi from forming a government without his support and to force Bibi to call new elections. The ostensible reason was the failure of the government to follow through and pass the law requiring Hasidic youth to serve in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).  

During the past three months since that announcement of extending sovereignty, much has happened on the Israeli front. First, there was the diplomatic fallout from that announcement in the international arena and the domestic fallout within Israel, including the very widespread misinterpretation of the announcement that equated the expansion of sovereignty with annexation. I will expand on the difference in a subsequent blog, but suffice it for now to explain that expanding sovereignty means extending the application of Israeli law to settlements in Judea and Samaria and not annexing those areas. Nevertheless, the Haaretz headline on 6 April read: “Netanyahu Says Will Begin Annexing West Bank if Re-elected Prime Minister.” In a Haaretz poll, 42% of Israelis backed annexation.

Second, Netanyahu failed to form a government and called new elections. Third, the quest for a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas made some progress, though it seems to have been a case of two steps forward but only one step back. Fourth, the political conflict between the U.S. and Iran escalated enormously, with Israel seemingly left on the sidelines and the Revolutionary Guards in Iran put on a Terror Watch List.

Fifth, though much derided, the stream of leaks concerning President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” became a torrent as it headed either towards a carefully constructed dam which began construction in Bahrain on 25-26 June that would hold back the headwaters of further conflict or come crashing down over a precipice even steeper than Niagara Falls. The key to peace shifted from the Israeli-Palestinian border to the Arab Countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Saudi Arabia would not only throw billions of dollars at the issue, but would cede land to Jordan of an equivalent area to Naharaim and Tsofar, territory that Israel leased from Jordan on a very long-term basis as part of the Jordan-Israeli peace deal. Jordan would cede those territories to Israel as a very different version of land for peace deal.

Even though Palestinians already constituted a majority in Jordan, the country would also receive a huge infusion of economic aid and, in turn, would also grant citizenship to the remaining Palestinians, many who fled the wars in Iraq and Syria and who did not have citizenship. Egypt would open industrial zones in the Sinai to provide economic relief for Palestinians in Gaza and would also receive billions of dollars in aid, a tentative plan that was to be confirmed in a meeting between President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Washington on Israel’s election day.

Lebanon, in spite of the dominance of Hezbollah in the country, would also receive an infusion of aid in proportion to the number of Palestinians granted citizenship, while the rest would be offered resettlement places in the West in return for renouncing a “right of return.” Political issues would then take a back seat to transactional diplomacy that, while not settling the border issue and the status of Jerusalem in the Palestinian negotiations, would de facto resolve the Palestinian refugee issue.

What about the issue of the border between Palestine and Israel in a two-state solution and an exchange of land for peace? Bibi had announced prior to the election that not one settler would be uprooted from Judea and Samaria. 430,000 Jews live in the West Bank. Another 200 thousand Jews live in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem annexed by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. The initiative on expanding sovereignty was also taken to shatter the main plank of the pro-annexation New Right Party.After all, expanding sovereignty in settlements was not the same as annexing Area C as Bennet had advocated as far back as 2012.

In the next blog I will analyze the difference between extending sovereignty and annexation on which subject I provided a brief headline above. President Trump had already endorsed annexation of the Golan Heights. 30 of 90 synagogues found and excavated by archeologists in Eretz Israel were located on the Golan. Further, Israel has occupied the Golan much longer by now than Syria had. The U.S. also advanced the sovereignty movement in Israel by moving its embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, though not explicitly all of Jerusalem. This advanced the right-wing agenda in Israel. Further, the Trump administration had clearly indicated that the settlements were no longer to be considered illegal and went even further in declaring them to be legitimate and not an obstacle to peace.

Before I clarify the difference between annexation and the extension of sovereignty, it will be very helpful if the views on expanding sovereignty versus annexation by West Bank settlement leaders are also provided as a critical part of the background. The issue is not about the ultimate goal of annexation by the West Banks settlers, but the approach to the expansion of sovereignty. In March in the month before the Israeli April election, Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Council, reiterated the governing doctrine of the West Bank settlers that surrendering the heart of Eretz Israel to a two-state solution would amount to the abandonment of Zionism. However, current tactics focused on sovereignty expansion, even though Yohai Damari, head of the South Hevron Hills Council, insisted that now was the time for a final resolution.

Prior to the election, West Bank settlement leaders launched a drive to expand Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. They had significant support in the government. Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of Justice, lauded the progress towards sovereignty. The concerted campaign, however, depended on in-depth strong support from the settlers themselves. Yigal Lahav, head of the Karnei Shomron Council, reaffirmed his commitment, and that of the settlers that he led, to the goal of the application of sovereignty. Yisrael Ganz, head of the Binyamin Council, and Shay Allon, head of the Beit El Council, announced prior to the election, “The vision for activity in the coming years – sovereignty.”

Shlomo Ne’eman, head of the Gush Etzion Council, reaffirmed that commitment: “No more question marks. It’s time for sovereignty.” Eliyahu Liebman, head of the Kiryat Arba-Hebron Council, pronounced: “sovereignty is vital for the proper administration of any authority.” Up until five years ago, the progress towards increased sovereignty had been meager. But in 2019, the progress towards this goal over the past five years had become significant.

There had been a broad spectrum of government and parliamentary initiatives on behalf of the application of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. In the Knesset prior to the elections, 18 legislative proposals had been introduced to apply Israeli law in West Bank settlements. The Likud Central Committee in 2018 had endorsed an expanded effort on increasing sovereignty for West Bank settlements, an initiative which Bibi initially resisted. The reality on the ground, however, was that the National Camp had firmly and decisively united over a vision of sovereignty. A three-day Leumiada was held in March in Eilat on the issue of sovereignty at which Minister Haim Katz announced, “I will do everything I can for the advancement of sovereignty. Minister Zeev Elkin pronounced that sovereignty would be expanded by the salami method.

The West Bank settlement movement had, by and large, abandoned an all or nothing approach to enhancing Israel’s position in the West Bank and instead adopted pushing for sovereignty by the salami method.  In return, the peace camp viewed these efforts as death to the peace process by a thousand slices. Further, the salami method was viewed as critical to the effort of pushing settlement interests from the right fringes to the centre of the political spectrum.

While annexation would mean an assertion of full sovereignty over the West Bank, the salami method would deal with irritants to the settler movement, whether dealing with the tourist ministry, environmental issues and courts of justice. Just before getting to the end of the salami, a very late slice would entail extending sovereignty over all state lands in Judea and Samaria while recognizing private ownership of land by Palestinians which would have enhanced legal security.

To be continued: Sovereign Expansion versus Annexation

With the help of Alex Zisman

Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32 [also Korah and Korath]

Yesterday we completed the day long drive around the north shore of Lake Superior. We never tire of its magnificence. The views are spectacular. As you drive through the cuts in the granite rock of the Laurentian shield, the natural sculptures formed, the rock striations, the vistas of this enormous lake with nearby islands to provide perspective and rising mountains to the immediate north to provide a sense of grandeur, you literally have to catch your breath. And, at this time of the year, there are a plethora of wild flowers of many varieties and in an enormous palette of colours alongside the road. But then the sensual richness is enhanced by the enormous size of this lake that takes a day just to get past the northern shore. Lake Superior holds 10% of the whole world’s fresh water supply. If you stretched the shoreline south from Thunder Bay, it would reach Miami. What a day!!

After a marvelous meal at The Nook, I slept for 7 hours. Therefore, this will be an abbreviated blog.

Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32 [also Korah and Korath]


Howard Adelman

Yesterday, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, was ushered in with several hundred visitors praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem led by the new Minister of Education and Chair of the Home Party, Rabbi Rafi Peretz. Bezalel Zinni, head of the Joint Headquarters for the Preservation of the Sanctity of the Western Wall, commented upon the remarks Peretz made at the service. “It was only recently reported that senior Jewish Federations in the US admit that most of the public in general and in Israel in particular does [sic!] not understand or support the Reform campaign at the Western Wall, that remnant of our Holy Temple that was erased from its foundation, but to which the people of Israel are still loyal after 2,000 years. Again, it has become clear that all the talk of a ‘rift’ with Jews of the Diaspora is an invention disconnected from reality. We congratulate the Minister of Education, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who, as he declared during the elections, arrived today and joined the masses (my italics) of worshipers to express the widespread and clear public position that the sanctity of the Western Wall must be preserved throughout its length under the authority of the chief rabbinate of Israel only, and we are certain that he will also act to realize his words.”

Masses did not attend the service and there is no clear and widespread opinion that the Western Wall should be the preserve of the Orthodox, who ban women praying at the wall. Reading this was like listening to a squeaky version of the hyperbole of Donald Trump impervious to factual checks.

Yesterday, July 4th, was also American Independence Day. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. embassy in Ottawa hosted its Independence Day celebrations at the Arts Centre rather than at the American ambassador’s residence to focus the party on U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Kelly Craft, who will shortly move to New York as the American ambassador to the UN. (She will not likely be missed since she reputedly spent only 300 days in Canada during her appointment.) If this shift from a non-partisan celebration to one focused on politics and an individual was unprecedented in the diplomatic core in Ottawa, it did not compare in any way with the militarization, politicization and grandstanding of the Washington party which Donald Trump converted into a political rally for himself. Tanks and planes, bemedaled and embarrassed generals alongside a grinning totally unembarrassed Trump, decorated the National Mall.

Non-partisanship on a national birthday be damned! Instead, ritual veneration of the Commander-in-Chief! Instead of political substance, political showmanship. Instead of policy proposals, props. Instead of modesty, pageantry and pomp. Thus do empires decline and crumble. Yesterday, Mad Magazine announced the cessation of publication because it can no longer compete with an Alfred E. Neuman who has had his teeth fixed, but wears the same enormous supercilious grin and has become president of a once great republic.

Thus, are moves towards authoritarianism reinforced by rituals. Yet, in many parts of the world, the people are taking up arms against authoritarianism. In Sudan, popular demonstrations led to the overthrow of the country’s long-serving dictator only to learn that the protests had to continue to get his replacement, a military junta, to retreat in favour of civilian government. A million people mass together on Hong Kong streets in anti-extradition protests against the interference in democracy by the authoritarian mainland regime. Tyranny may be expanding, but so are democratic responses.

On Independence Day, Jews in America, nevertheless, continued their practice of celebrating how they could both remain Jewish as well as continue to be proud Americans. They fondly recall the bicentennial celebration in 1976 when, amidst barbecues and parties, parades and fireworks across the country, Jews also celebrated the daring rescue by the Israeli Defence Forces in Operation Thunderbolt of 100 passengers and crew being held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda after their Air France flight had been hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. This year, will some mourn the decline in American democratic values and respect for human rights while other Jews join in celebrating Donald Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and Trump’s probable endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans to enhance Israeli sovereignty in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?

If American Jews were divided in their feelings yesterday, Jewish biblical commentators across the board, though with some variations, either overtly condemned Korach as a rebel and rationalized the punishment doled out to him and his allies, or remained neutral and detached as they picked apart the myriad of contradictions in the story and, using biblical critical scholarship, tried to knit it back together with more coherence.

The apologists in various ways depicted what happened as a “revolt of the mob” and/or “a conspiracy of the elite.” In their commentaries, they weighed in favouring, in this case, centralized authority versus personal autonomy and criticized Korach’s political convictions. Korach was labeled: “klever, conniving and krafty.” Korach was accused of being an ambitious politician in pursuit of leadership and a position above everyone else in the name of equality. Korach was said to be guilty of the sin of arrogance. He was not only guilty of unbridled political ambition, but of denying Moses’ claim simply to be a humble servant of God.

And the modern critical scholars?

Was Korach a rebel in the ordinary sense of the term? Was he in pursuit of authoritarianism under an egalitarian message? Was his character flawed and did he serve as a foil to the humility of Moses? They want to get the intent of the writing clear and evaluate the text rather than the ethical and political substance. And they are brilliant and instructive in their efforts. From their analyses of the role and meaning of the firepans (mahtot) in the tale and the connections with all the other references, the role of such a prop becomes much clearer in raking up the dead coals and embers from the sacrificial fire and, then, the significance in the contest between the Aaronites and the challengers.

The parashah begins as follows:

א  וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן. 1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men;
ב  וַיָּקֻמוּ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם. 2 and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown;
ג  וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם–כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם יְהוָה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל יְהוָה. 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’

When Korach assembled Datan and Abiram and the descendants of the tribe of Reuben to confront Moses and Aaron, why is an expression of dissidence depicted as an uprising? There is no reference to the use of arms. Protest and rebellion are two very different activities. 250 leaders + of the Israelites. They were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown. This was not even a mob. Further, the dissidents were asking an important question. If God declared all of Israel holy, why are some men, particularly Moses’s brother and his children, considered more holy? Further, isn’t this a clear-cut case of nepotism?

Who was the target of the dissent – Moses’ political leadership or the elevation of the Aaron clan above the other Levites? The Reubenites joining the challenge suggests the former while other parts of the tale suggest it is just a debate over priestly privileges. Should Trump be empowered to take off her head when the captain of the American woman’s soccer team refuses to visit the White House? What is wrong with Datan and Abiram refusing to rise up and meet Moses?

And what about the punishment meted out to the dissidents? Not only is the depiction of their complaints and protest misrepresented as a rebellion, even if they were rebels in some vague sense, there is no justification offered for the punishment, let alone having Datan and Abiram swallowed up by the earth and the 250 members of the elite of Israelite society as well, possibly, of Korach and his whole household, including children and servants, burnt alive. Never mind whether the punishment was even deserved, under no decent ethical regime could it be considered proportionate in relationship to the dissidence.

My daughter Rachel was one of many scholarly commentators who wrote wonderful revealing expositions of the text. But where is the ethical and political judgement? Is this not just a case of those defending egalitarianism in the face of unaccountable drifting into authoritarianism? Is the accusation against Korach and his followers, that they were simply playing politics and acting as partisans seeking their own glory and superior status rather than equality, unfair even if possibly true of any dissident group? After all, the South African regime made the same charge against Nelson Mandela and the British monarchists charged the American rebels who actually did take up arms of the same illicit motives.

I have no time this morning to suggest answers and can only imply my dissatisfaction with the rabbinic and scholarly approaches that generally fail to take up the ethical and political issues directly. But, as can be expected, I will return to the issue when I have more time. I have to get back on the road again.

Part III: Antisemitism in Shakespeare

“A widespread independence of thought, a purer simpler faith, a deep religious earnestness, great vigour of imagination, a burning jubilant patriotism, all these are reflected in the literary outpourings of the time, the lusty spirit of the age producing new literary forms, lyrics, sonnets, pastorals, religious and metaphysical poems, and, supreme among them all, the plays of Shakespeare” (Samuel 23)

The Merchant of Venice (1600) by William Shakespeare is a response to Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1589). Why did Shakespeare call his play The Merchant of Venice rather than The Jew of Venice? In both dramas, a central focus is an avaricious Jew. “Shakespeare owes Marlowe much, both in the choice of material and in the many echoes which show how his assimilative ear had taken the rich suggestiveness of his contemporary’s style.” (Humphreys 279)

Look at the other elements: revenge, father-daughter relations, an acquisitive hero, but with a Christian political-business figure in Marlowe and a Venetian aristocrat in Venice who invests in the speculative business of overseas trade. Further, the antisemitism in Marlowe’s play is much more vicious, much more aggressive and much less subtle than in Shakespeare. Marlowe invents the core wonderful plot from which Shakespeare steals, while The Merchant of Venice is crammed with marvelous poetry.

Why is money lending so important at the end of the sixteenth century? Why and how does Marlowe suck in the audience so they participate viscerally in Jew-hatred? Shakespeare, on the other hand, keeps his audience at a distance as the spectators watch a gladiatorial battle between ostensible noble ideals and the ruthlessness of the new bourgeoisie. “The Merchant of Venice… presents a plot to which we must respond as to a golden ideal, and also as to a human action.” (Humphreys 280).

Let me provide a bit of background as an answer. In 1204, Pope Innocent III issued a document entitled, “Protest to Philip Augustus of France Against Royal Protection of Jewish Money-Lenders.” In the Pope’s dispute with Philip Augustus over the seizure of Normandy by the English, a military operation allegedly financed by loans from Jews, the Pope, as the moral leader of Christendom, attacked the English for encouraging usurious practices rather than for a military assault. Philip countered artifice with misleading moves of his own. He expelled the Jews, but then surreptitiously readmitted them upon payment of a fine. Thus, he acknowledged the pope’s primacy in morality while, at the same time, he made money off his compliance.

At the same time, capitalist Christian lenders, the Caurisines, were lending money to other political and societal leaders, including the pope himself. They made the usury of the Jews appear miniscule, but they were part of the financial shakedown system. They laundered their proceeds from interest by engaging in trade. Since many of England’s elite were heavily indebted to them, they used their position to instigate the ban against Jews in England in 1290. In one stroke, they eliminated the competition and, at the same time, were applauded for their high sense of morality.

Hence, the Jews became villains, not primarily for deicide, but for their involvement in money-lending. Both Shylock and Barabas were money-lenders. Shylock in The Merchant of Venice appears also to share similar characteristics to Barabas in The Jew of Malta. One similarity is their devotion to their daughters as well as the continuity of Judaism, a continuity built on the exploitation of women.

The theme of that treatment of women can be found in both plays.

Women are doormats

The years those mats applaud

They keep their men from going in

With muddy feet to God.

Female love and self-sacrifice are counterpoised against material accumulation. Shylock and Barabas are both Jews. While Shylock fantasizes about having his pound of flesh, Barabas desires wanton slaughter. For both men, the second most important thing for them is their daughters. Greed and lust after money presumably propelled their daughters to reject their fathers and flee into the arms of gentiles. But note some crucial differences. Shylock was a money lender and fully justified in demanding repayment of his loan; Barabas used his wealth to lend out money to a political leader in need of funds to finance a war. But why would Shylock demand a pound of flesh if Antonio welched on his loan repayment because his investment in trade was totally lost because the ship sunk?

Further, it is Antonio who is the trickster and double-dealer in Shakespeare’s play. Yet the play inverts justice and turns Shylock into the villain. If my interpretation of The Jew of Malta is correct, in the inversion in Marlowe, the Christians are found more wanting than the Jews. In Shakespeare, in spite of Antonio’s bankruptcy, in fact perhaps because of it, in spite of Antonio’s breaking a solemn contract, it is Shylock who is held to be the villain. Why are they villains? Because they lack Montaigne’s empathy, his sympathy and identification with the other. In both plays, each of the main characters is offered a new deal if only they convert to Christianity. They refuse. But in the refusal, Barabas becomes a mystery while Shylock is humanized in the beautifully poetic monolog he articulates.

Or is it because they expose the hypocrisy of the Christians? Further, they are both deeply loyal to their Jewish identity. In both plays, each of the main characters is offered a new deal if only they convert to Christianity. Each refused. However, in the refusal, Barabas emerged as a secretive satanic figure while Shylock was humanized.

SHYLOCK: You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog, And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine, […] ‘Fair sir, you spet on me on Wednesday last, You spurned me such a day; another time You called me dog; and for these courtesies I’ll lend you thus much moneys.’

ANTONIO I am as like to call thee so again, To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too. (Shakespeare 1.3.121-122; 135-141)

SHYLOCK’S eventual response:

“To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrongs a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrongs a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard but will better the instruction.” (Shakespeare 3.1. 56-58)

Marlowe stresses the differences between Jews, at least the perceived difference – the bulbous nose, the dirty clothing, the bad manners; he exaggerates the caricature. The above soliloquy celebrates the sameness of all humans. Shakespeare performs a balancing act between the villainy of Jews and Christians while Marlowe appears to fault Jews, but a deeper probe suggests that Christians are the worse villains. If that is the case, why do members of the audience in the end of Shakespeare’s play in most modern productions often have more sympathy for Shylock while the audience would lynch Barabas if they could and if he had not been killed by the end.

Shylock’s has a passion for fair play or vengeance. However, he is really incensed at the

loss of his daughter. That helped make him human while Barabas, driven by a similar motive, becomes a monster. In Shakespeare, the Christian court shows, not blindfolded justice, but blinding injustice and bias. In the case of Barabas, there is no court to adjudicate anything and he dies inadvertently by his own hand. If Shakespeare is the better poet, Marlowe is the more sensational dramatist.

In both Shakespeare and Marlowe, for the gentile, fraud is the sign of a Jew, whereas the opposite is an act of compassion and love. Barabas has a dark personality which makes the reader feel no pity for him; he is identified with being a wrecker. Shakespeare draws a picture of the unfair situation of Elizabethan Jews. “Marlowe cuts a single-minded and powerful cleft through his startling material. Shakespeare myriad-minded and richly humane explores the varying shades and colors which make up human nature.” (Humphreys 279).

Religion is far more prominent in Marlowe, while culture and class are the more important elements in Shakespeare. He uncritically intertwines the fears of the English people reinforced by religious stereotypes – a “finger of birth-strangled babe” (Shakespeare 121; 4.1.30). The character of the Jews arises from an inordinate supply of bile from the liver, the source of the Choleric humour, explaining the bad temper and rush to rage of the Jew. In the end, the difference is anatomical resting as it does in the “Liver of blaspheming Jew.” (Shakespeare 121; 4.1.26) In effect, Jews and witches belong to the same order of humanity, worthy targets of exclusion and elimination.

That is the ultimate irony. While Shakespeare humanizes the Jew, he also provides a physiological (hence racist) and not just a cultural and anti-Judaic ground for despising Jews. Marlowe, on the other hand, provides the most extreme caricature of Jews. However, in portraying Christians as much worse, he ends up exhibiting more empathy for Jews, even though he, like Shakespeare, portrayed their character based on ignorance rather than informed opinion.