The common argument among opponents of the plan is that the annexation/disengagement/sovereignty act would damage the peace treaty with Jordan and could lead to a third Palestinian intifada.
Knesset meeting to pass bills to create coalition government on May 6, 2020 / (photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN)
The State of Israel stands at a historic crossroads. This July, the Knesset is expected to decide on the course of applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the West Bank settlement blocs, thus determining the boundaries of the Jewish state. However, while the imminent step is gaining consensus among the Israeli public, which most of it supports, there are voices among the political system and former senior officials in the defense echelon against an Israeli unilateral move.
The common argument among opponents of the plan is that the annexation/disengagement/sovereignty act would damage the peace treaty with Jordan and could lead to a third Palestinian intifada. Historically, the situation in which Israel faces important decisions is no stranger to it. Since the establishment of Israel, the Israeli leadership needed to decide about the fate of the Jewish state. This was the case before previous major events in the history of Israel, such as the declaration of statehood in 1948, the Six Day War in 1967 and the Oslo Accords in 1993-1995. In each of these cases, voices were heard claiming that the move posed a serious security threat and should therefore be avoided.
Although today there is a consensus that the decision to declare the establishment of Israel was a sagacious move, this was not the case among the leadership of the Yishuv before the May 1948 declaration. The dire military situation in which the Jewish military forces prevailed, the American pressure against the upcoming declaration and the danger of invasion by Arab armies led many among the Jewish leadership to contemplate whether the declaration of establishing a Jewish state was the right act at that time. While David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and others endorsed the declaration of the establishment of a Jewish state at the end of the British Mandate, there were other voices who opposed the move.
The US government also urged the Yishuv leadership to postpone or even suspend the declaration of the state and, alternatively, to sign a truce to end the war between Jews and Arabs. Thus, at the Mapai senior leadership were those who rejected the declaration announcement on the expiry of the British Mandate, including Yosef Shprintsak, Eliezer Kaplan, David Remez and Pinchas Lavon. They contended that under the current conditions, the Yishuv leadership would be better off postponing the declaration of the establishment of a Jewish state. Alternatively, they suggested that the Yishuv should accept the American proposal for a truce with the Arabs. Shprintsak even claimed that the declaration would be an irresponsible step, warning that it would lead to the destruction of the entire Yishuv. Eventually, as we know, despite the many risks, the Yishuv leadership decided to declare the establishment of a Jewish state in May 1948, and the State of Israel became an existing fact.
EVEN BEFORE the decision to go to the Six Day War, there were those among the Israeli leadership who warned against launching a preemptive strike against Egypt. In the eyes of the IDF’s senior command headed by then chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Nasser’s announcement regarding the blockade of the straits was perceived as a declaration of war against Israel, which requires an immediate military response. However, while the IDF senior command supported the launch of a preemptive strike against the Egyptian military forces concentrated in the Sinai desert, most government ministers opposed the war.
Their main argument was that Israel should not enter into a military campaign without the backing of the US government. Some of the ministers even warned that launching a war alone would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state. This argument was the result of the Sinai War of 1956, followed by a severe crisis between Israel and the Eisenhower government, and hence the Israeli conclusion was that they should not be involved in any military initiative against the Arabs without securing the support of the American administration. Even in the above case, despite all the risks, Israel decided to launch a preemptive attack against the Egyptian army, a move that resulted in the great victory of the Six Day War.
A similar situation also occurred before and during the Oslo Accords. Although the main goal of Rabin’s government was to separate Israelis and Palestinians and thus prevent a situation of a binational state, there were voices claiming that the agreements with the PLO posed a great risk. The opponents of the Oslo process, headed by then Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and current prime minister, claimed that the agreements with Arafat would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian terrorist state within the 1967 borders, which would jeopardize the security of Israeli citizens. Like the two cases mentioned above, the Israeli government had decided to act in spite of the risks, and the Oslo Accords have become a definite fact. Eventually, although the agreements did not include a Palestinian Israeli peace agreement, they achieved a de facto separation between the two peoples and significantly removed the danger of the binational state.
In conclusion, history demonstrates that before any fateful decision regarding the future of the State of Israel, the views among its leadership were divided. In this context, it can only be determined retrospectively whether the move was right or wrong. However, history shows us that by being at an important crossroads, it was better for the Jewish people to take the initiative and decide for themselves about their own fate and not leave the decision to others. Even today, Israel is at a crossroads and the danger of a binational state is on the horizon. Therefore, since there is no Palestinian partner for peace, Israel must take control of its own fate and unilaterally shape its borders while maintaining its security interests.
The writer is a doctoral candidate and research assistant at the International Centre for Policing and Security at the University of South Wales, and is a member of the team of experts of the MirYam Institute.