Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu caused a stir when, in his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he showed a map depicting Israel covering the entire region from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. The Palestinians and ultra-left group Americans for Peace Now accused Netanyahu of promoting an expansionist “Greater Israel” strategy.
However, what the critics mistook as an aspirational map of a future “Greater Israel” was actually a map of the Land of Israel, past and present—which includes Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank), plus today’s State of Israel.
Although many media, progressive politicians and some Jews describe Judea and Samaria as “occupied Palestinian territory,” that itself is aspirational, since the Palestinians have no legal status therein. Indeed, Israel has the strongest legal claim under international law to Judea and Samaria—as well as the strongest moral claim, since it comprises the core of the indigenous Jewish people’s ancestral homeland.
Surely a final peace treaty between Jews and Palestinians should be able to honor both peoples’ needs for land. Claims by Jews to significant portions of their ancient homeland should be considered, while still leaving space for Palestinian land and autonomy.
The overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews actually oppose the idea of a Greater Israel—annexing all of Judea and Samaria. According to a poll conducted in 2020 by Commanders for Israel’s Security, just 26% of Israeli Jews support such a move.
On the other hand, the Palestinians show maps in schoolbooks and other official documents completely eliminating the State of Israel—confirming their desire eventually to destroy and replace the Jewish state with their own. As for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the Palestinians were offered land for a state on three separate occasions in the last 23 years—all of which they rejected.
Thus, the accusation that Israel wants to achieve a “Greater Israel” is a paper tiger. The idea finds no favor among most Israelis or with Netanyahu, who has never advocated it.
However, it’s worth recalling that the terms of seminal international resolutions called for the entire Land of Israel—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—to become a “national home for the Jewish people.” This land was originally designated for the Jewish state under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, then the San Remo Resolution of 1920 and, finally, the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine, which lasted from 1922 to 1948, when Israel declared independence.
The Palestine Mandate recognized powerful reasoning for a Jewish state in this land, asserting, “[R]ecognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”
International law also holds that a new country should inherit the borders of the former entity. Thus, Israel should have inherited the borders of the former Mandate of Palestine. In 1950, Jordan belligerently annexed Judea and Samaria, but this annexation was almost universally rejected by the international community. Yet notably, there was no talk by local Arabs (later called Palestinians) or the United Nations of an “occupation” by Jordan.
In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured Judea and Samaria from the Jordanians, and since this territory was part of the Palestine Mandate, the Jewish state was within its rights to exercise sovereignty over it.
Nevertheless, since 1967, the international community has accused Israel of illegally occupying “Palestinian” land—bizarre, since Palestinians never in history controlled Judea and Samaria. Even stranger, since Israel signed a peace treaty with the Jordanians, who relinquished claims to this territory.
Notwithstanding that Israel had every right to annex Judea and Samaria, it did not. Instead, it offered to trade land for peace, an offer it has repeated several times since, only to be answered with terror and murder on the part of the Palestinians.
Judea and Samaria form the core of the biblical Land of Israel, the ancestral and spiritual home of the Jewish people. It is where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel gave birth to Judaism and the Jewish people. It’s where Jesus was born, preached and performed great deeds. The territory is home to many of the Jewish and Christian people’s historic and sacred sites—including Jerusalem, the ancient Jewish capital and home to the First and Second Temples. They also include Hebron, home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people, and Shomron, the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.
But in a flagrant perversion of history, the Palestinians and their allies have tried to erase Jewish heritage from Judea and Samaria. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, for example, has denied any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) lists several sites in Judea and Samaria as World Heritage Sites in “Palestine,” though they are primarily Jewish sites. While the Palestinians and UNESCO can deny Judea and Samaria’s Jewish and Christian heritage, they can’t change history.
However, here’s good news: The Land of Israel is large enough to share: While some 2.5 million Palestinians live in Judea and Samaria, about 90% live on only 40% of this land. Almost all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are located in areas in which Palestinians are the minority population, leaving almost 60% of this ancient territory unpopulated or underpopulated.
Surely it will be possible to create a land-sharing peace in which most ancient Jewish lands can remain Jewish and protected, while giving the Palestinians sovereignty. But of course, this will only be possible when the Palestinians finally accept the Jewish state and agree to share the land—which they have for 75 years refused to do.
The State of Israel has both a moral and legal claim to sovereignty over the Land of Israel that supersedes that of any other entity. Nevertheless, Israel has shown its willingness to share this land in exchange for peace. Unfortunately, the Palestinians have always declined. Having rejected every offer, they surely have no right to dictate how Israel should appear on a map. Indeed, Netanyahu’s map simply reflects the reality on the ground, past and present.