Applying Israeli sovereignty: Changing the ‘when,’ not the ‘what’

The presumption was that exchanges of land for peace would happen after an agreement with the Palestinians. But that left the timing up to them; if they didn’t agree, then it wouldn’t happen. And so far, it has not.

Shoshana Bryen
Shoshana Bryen
Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

European Union foreign-policy chief Josip Borrell put forward a surprise resolution on Israel’s new government that included the following: “The E.U. does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank. The E.U. reiterates that any annexation would constitute a serious violation of international law.” But E.U. statements have to be unanimous, and Borrell was thwarted by members of his own club. The details aren’t clear yet, but Hungary and Austria were definitely opposed, and an Israeli diplomat noted that the largest number of E.U. delegates to date opposed a resolution aimed at Israel.

It was the second time Borrell made such a move, and the second time countries of the European Union opposed him. In February, Borrell had met with Iranian leaders and shortly thereafter tried to ram through a condemnation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan. Of the 27 E.U. members, six refused, including Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

In an apparent “sop” to Israel, Borrell’s latest statement also said that the European Union is willing to continue cooperation with Israel on fighting the coronavirus. He appears to have been channeling Omar Barghouti, founder of the BDS movement, who blatantly compromised his anti-Semitic principles because Israel appears set to create something he wants to use. Barghouti said, “If Israel finds a cure for cancer, for example, or any other virus, then there is no problem in cooperating with Israel.” Borrell’s point is the same—the European Union will happily benefit from Israel’s medical and high-tech innovation, as well as use Israeli security mechanisms (including intelligence that has saved countless European lives by thwarting planned terrorist attacks). Nevertheless, criticism of Israel will be attached to everything it says.

The delegates who voted against Borrell, in fact, appeared unhappy that the European Union’s first message to Israel’s unity government would be repetition of an old criticism couched in the cloak of opposition to Trump’s peace plan. So, bravo to E.U. countries that appear tired of using every message, every platform and every possible moment to criticize Israel.

Moving to the substance of his criticism, as the Israeli political establishment resolves itself into a unity government it is devoted first and foremost to continuing to manage the outbreak of COVID-19, as it should be. But on the table is the intention of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward on applying Israeli sovereignty to parts of the territory acquired by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. An Israeli diplomat was very specific recently about the phrase “applying Israeli sovereignty.” Not “annexation,” the relevant definition of which is, “to incorporate (a country or other territory) within the domain of a state.”

This goes to the heart of the ongoing dispute between the E.U. version of life and the Israeli version with which the American government is in accord.

If you posit that Israel’s presence anywhere east of the armistice line is “illegal,” as the European Union does, Israel would be taking another country or someone else’s territory for incorporation into Israel, aka annexation. But that is not the case. The territory’s last legitimate ruler was Great Britain under the U.N. Mandate for Palestine. Before that, it was a province of the Ottoman Empire. Jordan’s 1950 annexation—the proper use of the word here—was illegal and deemed so by all the countries of the United Nations, except Great Britain and Pakistan.

The application of Israeli sovereignty to the unallocated part of the British Mandate is not illegal. The U.N. resolution specified that Israel was entitled to “secure and recognized boundaries,” which the armistice line certainly was not (Abba Eban did not call them “Auschwitz Borders” lightly.)

That is not only the position of the Trump administration. It was specifically understood by the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations that Jewish population centers east of the line would be part of Israel; the only question was when. The presumption was that it would happen after an agreement with the Palestinians. But that left the timing up to the Palestinians; if they didn’t agree, then it wouldn’t happen.

It was simply a recipe for pushing the conflict on indefinitely, and this is where the new peace plan represents a break in prior U.S. policy.

Trump didn’t change the “what,” but the “when.” No longer was Israel required to wait for Palestinian agreement. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated to reporters this week that Israel is no longer required to wait for an agreement the Palestinians have thwarted since Oslo, telling reporters, “The Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in (a) private setting.”

European Union or not.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Jewish Policy Center and editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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