Annexing Area C: An open letter to Naftali Bennett by Martin Sherman
From our past exchanges, it is clear that we have broadly similar opinions on – or at least, a broadly similar approach to – several major issues on the national agenda, particularly those relating to security and foreign policy.
It is in the spirit of over-arching like-mindedness that I would urge you to rethink the position you have taken on the Palestinian issue – and in particular, your proposal to annex Area C.
Shared point of departure
Let me say from the outset that I fully concur with your explicit negation of the notion of Palestinian statehood, both in terms of its feasibility and its desirability.
Likewise, I agree with your caveat that the government, by formally embracing, or at least formally acceding to, the establishment of Palestinian state, while being compelled to undertake measures on the ground that, prime facie, appear inconsistent with such a goal, is sending out mixed – indeed, self-contradictory – messages to the world.
Thus, it is undermining its credibility, playing into the hands of those less charitable souls who seek to depict it as a duplicitous double-dealer, whose professions of peaceful intent should be dismissed as no more than the disingenuous declarations of a forked-tongued swindler.
It thus seems that we are in complete agreement as to what should not be done. However, when it comes to what should be done, we appear to differ – and differ sharply.
For regrettably I find the approach you have chosen to adopt, i.e. the partial annexation of Judea-Samaria and confining the extension of Israeli sovereignty to Area C, an ill-considered initiative which is not only likely to prove largely unproductive, but to a great degree counter-productive.
I strongly urge you to reconsider persisting in its promotion.
True, you have admitted you are not proposing your partial annexation plan as comprehensive, utopian solution, but even as a temporary, intermediate measure, it is demonstrably detrimental.
So while I have little argument regarding the factual accuracy of the empirical material you present as the basis for your proposal, I do take issue with its political pertinence and the validity of the policy-related inferences that you draw from it.
As I will show, it is a fatally flawed formula in that – even if it were fully implemented – would alleviate virtually none of the grave problems confronting Israel today on the Palestinians front, whether in the diplomatic, security or administrative spheres. It would, however, almost inevitably exacerbate many of them.
But before elaborating on the reservations I have regarding your proposal, allow me to offer my readers a brutally condensed synopsis of it – at least as I have come to understand it from a perusal of the material recently put out by you and on your behalf.
In a nutshell…
Your proposal rests on the current division of Judea-Samaria into three areas, A, B and C, which while distinct functionally, are interspersed and intermingled geographically.
Area A is under full civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority, and comprises about 18 percent of the territory. Approximately 55% of the Palestinian population resides in Area A which includes all the major Palestinian cities and their immediate environs, but no Jewish settlements.
Area B is under Palestinian civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control, and comprises about 21% of the territory.
Approximately 41% of the Palestinian population resides in Area B which includes numerous smaller Palestinian towns and villages, but no Israeli settlements.
Area C, which you designate for annexation, comprises about 61% of Judea-Samaria and includes all the Jewish settlements and 3 to 4% of the Palestinian population.
The numerical estimates of the Palestinian population in Area C vary from around 50,000 (your estimate) to about 150,000 (the UN’s).
But even without engaging the difficulties of arriving at a reliable estimate of the Area C population – which includes a significant nomadic component – it can, in general terms, be conceded that your major contention that the Palestinian presence in this area is relatively small is correct.
Drawing on this data, the partial-annexation proposal prescribes unilaterally extending Israeli sovereignty over Area C in which all the 300,000-400,000 Jewish settlers reside and – to counter any charges of apartheid – offering full citizenship to the far smaller Arab population which, whatever its precise size, would have minor impact on Israel’s demographic balance.
In the remaining Areas A and B, comprising less than 40% of the area but including around 97% of the Arab population, you propose some form of autonomous Palestinian self-rule, which you designate “full PA autonomy,” but to the best of my knowledge, do not specify which activities will be included (and excluded) from the authority of this envisioned autonomous body.
Partial annexation: The perils
This is one of the crucial omissions of the proposal. For as will soon become clear, once an attempt is made to designate what autonomous powers should (or should not) be conferred on a Palestinian self-governing body, it quickly becomes apparent that the entire scheme is unworkable.
But before we engage the impediments to autonomy, let’s focus on those of geography.
A cursory glance at any map of the region will reveal how impractical such partial annexation would be for Israel, implying borders for the country’s sovereign territory that are impossibly torturous and lengthy. For just like Areas A and B, Area C is a crazy quilted patchwork of enclaves, corridors and access roads, with an outer contour well in excess of 1,000 km.
Is this meant to designate Israel’s final sovereign frontiers? If so, how are they to be secured, and at what cost – operationally, financially and diplomatically? If not, what are these final frontiers to be and how are they to be determined? This is no trivial matter – for any country that deems certain territory to be under its sovereignty must demarcate the frontiers of that territory and be ready to secure them against infiltration and attack.
Indeed, if Israel does not demarcate and secure the boundaries of its sovereign territory, how would it prevent the influx of residents from Areas A and B into it – with all the attendant security and demographic ramifications? Given the massive outlay required for the existing 400- to 450-km.-long security barrier, imagine the monetary and manpower resources needed to construct a similar one, well over 1,000-km.-long, to demarcate and secure the contours of Area C.
But apart from what I see as the insurmountable problem of demarcating and securing Israel’s sovereign territory, there remains the status of the remaining Areas A and B in which over 95% of the Palestinian population would reside, on less than 40% of the territory, spread over a myriad of disconnected enclaves, scattered from Hebron in the south to Jenin in the north; and from Jericho in the east to Kalkilya in the west.
Even given your yet-to-be-realized vision of a bewildering array of yetto- be-constructed (at what cost?) highways interchanges that would provide what you designate as “transportational continuity,” allowing any Arab-Palestinian to travel from anywhere to anywhere in Area A and B “without encountering a single IDF checkpoint,” this collection of helter-skelter mini-territorial patches is clearly incapable of being forged into any sustainable collective entity.
If by annexing Area C, you permanently forgo sovereignty in Areas B and C, what is the rationale for the long-term presence of the Israeli military there? What would be the envisioned rationale for withdrawing it? If you do not forgo such sovereignty, what is to be the status of the inhabitants? It is unthinkable that the current PA leadership, or any conceivable alternative, would accept responsibility for the administration of such an emasculated entity.
What then would be the alternative administration? If none could be found, what would this mean and how would it be presented to the world? What is the envisioned long-term future for the residents of these areas? How are accusations regarding the creation of ethnically delineated discriminatory – and defenseless – Bantustans (or rather Arabstans) to be countered?\
Autonomy: Conundrums and contradictions
This brings us to the nature of the autonomy to be granted the Palestinians.
In principle there in nothing essentially flawed in the idea of autonomy – provided that the autonomous entity (which by definition has its authority limited by some sovereign entity) recognizes the legitimacy of the sovereign entity to limit its authority.
However, when the rationale for granting autonomy does not reflect acceptance but rather rejection of the legitimacy of the sovereign (as in the case of the Palestinians and Israel), the entire endeavor is devoid of internal logic and doomed to failure.
So when you state that you propose giving the self-governing Palestinian entity “full autonomy,” what does that include? One would assume it would exclude external defense and foreign policy, but in every other area, potential for confusion, dissension and worse abounds.
Even putting aside difficulties that might arise with regard to law enforcement and what legal system would apply where, particularly given the difficulty in delineating frontiers, there are a plethora of thorny issues in other, more “banal,” civilian spheres that make Israeli intervention in routine daily issues inevitable – hence virtually emptying the notion of Palestinian self-government of any significant substance.
Conundrums and contradictions (cont.)
For example, would Israel allow the Palestinian autonomous entity to determine the location of charcoal production, which emits carcinogenic smoke, induces respiratory diseases and (according to Haaretz) has in some areas reduced life expectancy to 40?
Would Israel intervene to deal with sewage pollution emanating fron Palestinian population centers that threaten Israeli water sources? Would it monitor, and enforce limits on, water extraction from the shared Mountain Aquifer?
Would Israel enforce road-worthiness standards for motor vehicles that travel on the envisioned shared highway system to ensure safety? If not, what would the consequences be – both legally and physically? With regard to preventative health measures, would Israel enforce, for example, the inoculations of household pets against rabies?
Clearly, if Israel does not control and ensure the implementation of these (and many other) activities, the ramifications for it citizens might well be severe. If, on the other hand, it does control them there is precious little left of the intended “full autonomy.”
In for a penny...
From the foregoing analysis it should be clear that as long as the perceived need to maintain an autonomous – and inherently adversarial – Arab collective entity between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea remains the cornerstone of the Israeli approach to the Palestinian question, we will continue to be drawn into futile and wasteful attempts to resolve it.
This is why I have repeatedly advocated focusing efforts on the Palestinian individual, rather the Palestinian collective, on the humanitarian rather than the political aspects of the problem; on dissolving the problem rather than resolving it.
Partial annexation would not only solve little and exacerbate much on the ground, the diplomatic outrage it would precipitate would be no less than if Israel were to annex the entire “West Bank” – as I have suggested on numerous occasions in previous columns.
But as opposed to your proposal, which would encase virtually the entire Arab-Palestinian population in an indefinite and directionless state of political limbo, my alternative suggestion would offer individual Palestinian breadwinners tangible hope for a better future for themselves and their families.
Naftali, I am sure that we both agree that between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, there can – and eventually will – prevail either exclusive Jewish sovereignty, or exclusive Arab sovereignty.
Given the recognition of this political truth, why adhere to a partial non-solution rather than adopt a comprehensive paradigm for permanent dissipation of the predicament – particularly if the political pain entailed in the latter is unlikely to greater than that involved in the former.
In conclusion, Naftali, the polls have been kind to you and predict an impressive achievement for your Bayit Yehudi Party in the coming elections. Accordingly, you are likely to have a chance to significantly impact the policy of the next government.
I would urge you to press home to your future colleagues that any policy based on perpetuating the presence of a large Arab population in Judea-Samaria is incompatible with the long-term survival of the Israel as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people.
This calls for you to rethink your partial-annexation initiative and to throw your weight behind the more far-reaching policy option I have proposed in the Humanitarian Alternative, which entails extending Israeli sovereignty over all of Judea-Samaria while helping individual Arab-Palestinians currently resident there prosper elsewhere.
After all, you can’t make omelettes without cracking eggs.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.