The longing for Jewish sovereignty over the historic homeland of the Jewish people is understandable. Nevertheless, the recent attempt to pass a law declaring Israeli sovereignty over the settlements in Judea and Samaria is useless. This is a waste of Zionist energy. Furthermore, this political campaign has been causing Israel unnecessary international damage and undermining Israel’s social solidarity.
Sovereignty is the supreme authority of a political entity, which allows it to enact laws applying in its territory and to establish agencies to enforce its laws and regulations. Unfortunately, the expectations that the laws of the state should be applied and enforced all over the country are not fulfilled in Israel. The Jewish state’s enforcement agencies have a difficult time trying to enforce the country’s decisions within Israel’s sovereign territory.
Only some of the government’s decisions are actually carried out. Tens of thousands of illegal home demolition orders remain written on paper without being implemented. There are even some areas in the country where police officers hesitate to exercise their authority. In other words, Israel suffers from a governance problem that stems from the political system’s lack of resolve. The politicians try to avoid confrontations that carry political repercussions, and there are not enough policemen or inspectors to carry out the enforcement. This phenomenon is not the result of a lack of sovereignty, but of governance shortcomings.
Therefore, without effective governance, there is no point in deciding to expand the domain of Israeli sovereignty. Even today, the Israeli government has all the legal authority to prevent illegal home construction in Area C within Judea and Samaria. This authority is even anchored in agreement from the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords. Yet Israel refrains from demolishing many illegal buildings in Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and security control.
Besides, the Israeli military has several advantages over the country’s democratic regime when it comes to fighting terrorism. In the best-case scenario, a Knesset declaration or legislation is devoid of meaning. In the worst-case scenario, it actually hurts Israel’s ability to fight Palestinian terrorism.
Another reason to avoid expanding Israeli sovereignty in the territories is the price that such a step would cost Israel in the international arena. Only a few of Israel’s friends overseas would accept such an Israeli statement with equanimity. Most countries still adhere to the “two states for two peoples” solution and would consider the Israeli statement a departure from what is called “the peace process.” That would make it much easier to blame Israel for the “peace process” failure. While most countries focus on the benefit of bilateral relations rather than on the Palestinian issue, it would still be wiser not to add difficulties to having positive relations with other countries. Sometimes, Israel should risk drawing international criticism, but a useless step such as a declaration of sovereignty is certainly not worth it.
Declaring sovereignty over Judea and Samaria also exceeds the limits of the Israeli consensus. Applying Israeli law in Judea and Samaria does not command the support of the majority of Israelis. According to all surveys, the vast majority of Israelis are prepared to make territorial concessions in Judea and Samaria, but they do not believe that there is currently a serious partner to talk to on the Palestinian side. The consensus on applying Israeli law to the Old City in Jerusalem and to the Golan Heights is absent in the case of Judea and Samaria.
Every government in Israeli history has had to prove it was doing enough to achieve peace in order to win public trust. For most Israelis, “enough” means an undefined and unadventurous willingness to make concessions for peace. A government that would declare Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria would lose its ability to mobilize the people to go to war and to bear its price when the time comes.
The political campaign to expand the Israeli sovereignty alienates the government from the Israeli consensus and from much of the Jewish Diaspora. Above all, it jeopardizes Israel’s most important resource—social solidarity.
Professor Efraim Inbar is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Institute.