OpinionIsrael at War

Judea and Samaria are a tinderbox

We Americans want “right now” solutions, but now is not the time.

An Israeli flag in the E1 area of Ma'ale Adummim in Judea, Jan. 2, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
An Israeli flag in the E1 area of Ma'ale Adummim in Judea, Jan. 2, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, senior security editor of The Jerusalem Report and a contributor to The Hill and The Jerusalem Post. He regularly briefs member of Congress and their foreign policy advisers about the Middle East.

It’s an early spring morning in Samaria with beautiful blue skies, early blossoming trees and poppy anemones as I crisscross the highly contested and volatile region. Besides the natural beauty, what stands out is the amount of uninhabited land between Arab and Jewish villages. The idea that Judea and Samaria cannot sustain more population growth appears unwarranted.

What brought me to Samaria was Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s call from Qatar for an uprising at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan on March 11. This was intended to incite Palestinian violence against Israelis to start a third intifada. This would open up another front that could distract attention from Hamas’s losing war in southern Gaza.

As Meir Ben Shabbat, a former Israeli national security adviser, wrote in Israel Hayom, “The inspiration supplied by the war in Gaza, the calls from terror group leaders to West Bank residents to join the struggle and open an active front against Israel and Al Jazeera’s ongoing fanning of the flames of revenge have created an atmosphere conducive to carrying out such attacks. … What has curbed the potential so far is mainly the intensive thwarting efforts by security forces … against terror networks.”

I began my day with IDF soldiers guarding a checkpoint between Nablus and Jenin, allowing Arab cars and trucks into Area A, which is Palestinian Authority-controlled territory. The whole of Judea and Samaria is under a high terror alert. Unbeknownst to me, there was a terror attack just a few miles to the south near the Jewish village of Eli.

The soldiers checked each identity card and vehicle, remaining respectful, perhaps because they were mature reserve soldiers. They knew that every car was a potential terrorist threat. Later in the day, the commander of the unit quizzed me on how his troops were treating Palestinians at the checkpoint, telling me that over his 14 years of service in Judea and Samaria, such conduct has always been taught. 

Driving in an armored vehicle, I toured the large city of Nablus with the deputy battalion commander for the Jenin and Nablus area. He was a reservist too. This is the heart of biblical Judaism. I saw Nablus’ Balata refugee camp from Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, where Jews stood over 3,000 years ago before entering the Land of Israel to receive the blessings and curses described in Deuteronomy. The contentious Joseph’s Tomb could be seen. Every attempt by Jewish visitors to enter Nablus is interpreted as a provocation and met with violence.

Over 300,000 Israeli reservists have been called up since Oct. 7, leaving families, jobs and normal lives behind for months at a time. It should be remembered that many of them are serving in Judea and Samaria, not in Gaza or on the northern border. Their service is why terror is under control in the region for the time being.

Most Americans are unaware that—under the media’s radar—Judea and Samaria are relatively quiet because the IDF and the Shin Bet go into the breeding grounds of terrorism in the refugee camps of Nablus and Jenin to extract terrorists on an almost daily basis.

This was underway before Oct. 7. The P.A., which America has banked on for years, is unwilling and unable to police Palestinian areas without Israeli help, as it is despised among their people because of endemic corruption. If Israel withdrew from Judea and Samaria, it would become “Hamastan” in short order.

Understanding the reasons for Israeli security control in Judea and Samaria is crucial because it will be the template for how Israel will ensure security in Gaza. Israel likely will not occupy the Gaza Strip but will retain the ability to carry out preemptive counterterror operations. Terror activity will almost certainly arise “the day after” the war against Hamas is over. The ideology of radical Islam and the antisemitic brainwashing of generations of Palestinians will require generations to undo.

The American answer to the possibility of a Palestinian uprising in Judea and Samaria is to implement a two-state scenario immediately and, as a Wall Street Journal editorial said, “to campaign against Israeli settlements… … Criminalizing 500,000 Israelis in the West Bank won’t bring peace closer. It tells the Palestinians, who have rebuffed every offer of statehood, that they needn’t make concessions.” Palestinians today overwhelmingly want a “one-state solution,” with the Jewish state replaced by an Arab supremacist entity “from the river to the sea.”

On “the day after,” Judea and Samaria will remain a tinderbox. This will continue until the Palestinian educational system is reformed and a new Palestinian leadership takes over from Hamas and the P.A. and prioritizes economic development. That is the path towards Palestinian independence.

President Joe Biden should begin by prioritizing such educational reform instead of prematurely calling for a Palestinian state, which would be perceived as a reward for the Oct. 7 atrocities.

We Americans always want “right now” solutions. It would behoove American foreign policy analysts who have the ear of the president to understand that pushing unrealistic options at the wrong time only creates more violence.

Without reappraising previously failed solutions and creating new pathways to peaceful coexistence, the best of American intentions for a “day after” will just add more logs to the fire in Judea and Samaria.

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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