The second possibility for contending with the disputed territory is for Israel to pick up its marbles and go home; to simply disengage, and depart with the Jews and the IDF in tow. This is the policy Sharon adopted in Gaza, and hoped to implement in Judea and Samaria after the 2006 elections.
Whereas it took seven years for the full dimensions of the failure of the negotiated solution to become evident to most Israelis, it took less than six months for the failure of the unilateral withdrawal policy to become obvious. Hamas’s January 2006 victory in the Palestinian elections demonstrated that the critics of the unilateral withdrawal policy had been right.
In the months and years following Israel’s withdrawal, Gaza was transformed. Hamas terrorists, controlling territory within striking distance of Israel’s population centers, turned what had been a tactical nuisance into a strategic threat.
In less than a year, the number of Israelis within range of rockets, missiles and mortars from Gaza rose from 25,000 to a million. By 2012, the number of Israelis living within range of Gaza’s missiles topped 3.5 million.
With control over the border with Egypt, Hamas turned Gaza into a hub for global jihadists. And according to Egyptian prosecutors, Hamas played a key role in elevating the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt and effectively remilitarizing the Sinai, thus undermining the key component of Israel’s peace deal with Egypt. It was only the swift action of the Egyptian military in toppling the Brotherhood government that stemmed – for now – the seemingly inevitable demise of the peace between the two countries.
By the time Hezbollah launched its attack on Israel in July 2006, Sharon’s policy of unilateral withdrawal was dead in the water.
And so we are left with one last option: for Israel to remain in Judea and Samaria indefinitely, and end its self-destructive embrace of the PLO .
There are two ways to pursue this last option. Israel can openly assert authority and apply its laws, as it has done in formerly Jordanian-occupied parts of Jerusalem.
Or it can maintain the status quo of partial PLO rule and partial Israeli military administration.
The past 20 years of shared rule with the PLO have shown that the so-called status quo weakens Israel, to the PLO ’s benefit. With each passing year, Israel’s failure to assert its legal right to sovereignty over the areas causes the false Palestinian narrative of indigenous rights to the cradle of Jewish civilization to become more and more ingrained in the international psyche.
The price for Israel of asserting its sovereign rights and applying its laws to Judea and Samaria is a change of 13 to 14 percent in the proportion of Palestinian Arabs entitled to the legal status of permanent residents – citizens and otherwise – in Israel. In particular, the Muslim population of Israel would rise from about 18% today to roughly 32% if all the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are accorded permanent residency status with the right to apply for Israeli citizenship.
My colleague at The Jerusalem Post, Martin Sherman, argues that if Israel grants permanent residency status to the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria, we will be overwhelmed by ungovernable Muslims who will transform the Jewish state into an incoherent morass of crime and unsustainable welfare, along the lines of Sweden and Norway.
That could happen. But it is far from clear why it would happen.
Were Israel to grant permanent residency status to the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria – and offer them the right to apply for citizenship – it would not increase the Muslim population west of the Jordan. Israel would only change their legal status. And along the way, Israel would safeguard its Jewish majority by preventing the immigration of millions of foreign- born Muslims to a future Palestinian state.
In the past, Sherman rightly noted that if Israel applies its laws to Area C only, as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett recommends, significant numbers of Palestinians will move to Area C to live under Israeli jurisdiction, just as thousands of Palestinians have moved to Jerusalem over the years.
But if everyone in Judea and Samaria enjoys permanent residency rights, far fewer people will feel motivated to move west. They can stay at home and enjoy the same status.
Until Sharon adopted the unilateral withdrawal policy, he always said that two things protect Israel – Jewish settlement and the IDF. The failures of both the negotiated settlement policy and the unilateral withdrawal policy proved him right.
Sharon’s true legacy is that he left only the path of Israeli sovereignty untried. And so, his last act on the public stage was to pave the way for Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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