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June 25, 2020 11:20 am
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‘Annexation’ or Sovereignty?

avatar by Jerold Auerbach

Opinion

A general view picture shows a construction site in Efrat, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun / File.

“Annexation Looms” headlined a mournful New York Times article (June 19) co-authored by Jerusalem Bureau Chief David M. Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon, Palestinian affairs reporter for The Times of Israel. They cited “respected former Israeli military, intelligence and diplomatic officials” who warn that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his way annexation would pose “a grave risk to Israel’s security.” And West Bank Palestinians, the Times reporters asserted, would suffer greatly.

For The New York Times, opposition to Jewish settlements has been an enduring obsession. A decade after the Six-Day War, as handfuls of Israelis returned to restore the ancient Jewish community of Hebron half a century after its destruction in the 1929 murderous Arab riots, a Times editorial warned against the “colonizing” of their Biblical homeland. Thomas Friedman, insisting that settlements were transforming Israel into “an undemocratic apartheid state,” bracketed “crazy” settlers with Palestinian suicide bombers and falsely accused them of assassinating Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. For columnist Roger Cohen, “messianic” settlers were to blame for Palestinian intransigence

But any Palestinian (or Times) fantasy that one day more than 400,000 Israelis now living in Judea and Samaria, the Biblical homeland of the Jewish people, will abandon their communities is inconceivable. Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel has always defined Zionism. The Netanyahu sovereignty plan confirms that historic reality.

A dose of history might guide the Times from criticism to comprehension. The Balfour Declaration issued by the British government (1917) announced support for “the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Where was “Palestine”? Defined in 1922 by Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for the Colonies, it comprised the land — all of it — west of the Jordan River. Land east of the river, gifted to Emir Abdullah, became known as Transjordan. Biblical Judea and Samaria, conquered by Jordan during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 (and identified as its “West Bank”), were regained by Israel during the Six-Day War.

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The New York Times notwithstanding, history is on the side of the “settlers.” The Netanyahu plan, extending sovereignty over their communities, but not all of Judea and Samaria, is its affirmation. Palestinians would be assured of their present locations. If they remain stateless that is their choice, not Israel’s. Already comprising a significant portion of the Jordanian population, their future sovereignty may lie east of the Jordan River.

The Netanyahu plan has been accused of violating international law. Not so, according to international law expert Eugene Kontorovich. “When Israel liberated [Judea and Samaria] in 1967,” he asserts succinctly, “it renewed its control over lands that it had sovereignty over based on Mandatory borders” — west of the Jordan River. Writing in The Wall Street Journal (June 24), he added, “Israel’s sovereign claim to the territory is superior to any other country’s.”

Jewish history in Judea and Samaria, beginning millennia before “Palestinians” emerged as a distinctive people (well into the 20th century), justifies the presence of Jewish settlements and the extension of Israeli sovereignty. Occupied for 20 years by Jordan, the Biblical Land of Israel was restored to its rightful inheritors, the Jewish people and the State of Israel, in the Six-Day War. For facts and reasons grounded in Jewish history and international law, Israelis are entitled to inhabit their Biblical homeland.

In its reflexive critique of settlements — and, indeed, Israel — The New York Times has long been, and remains, either oblivious to history or exceedingly uncomfortable with it. By now it should at least know that a country cannot “annex” its own land.

But it can extend sovereignty over it, which Israel is prepared to do.

Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a Best Book for 2019.

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