As much as Israelis have spoken about the imminence of sovereignty, a domestic issue of legal, political and social significance, the international perspective is wide and diverse. U.S. officials have walked back and even contradicted one another, from saying that it will support Israel unconditionally to suggesting Israel hold back and not giving a full green light. It indicates a lack of clarity as an essential variable in Israel’s decision.
In addition to support from the Trump administration, other international factors weigh on the decision regarding if and how to go forward. This includes impacting budding relationships with relatively moderate Arab states, possible sanctions from the European Union, becoming a politically divisive partisan wedge in the upcoming U.S. election, using this as an excuse for a new wave of Palestinian Arab terror, and more.
Bipartisan U.S. support of Israel is and has always been important and something that could be relied upon. Recently, U.S. Democrats have initiated a letter critical of Israel for considering extending sovereignty, with hints of losing Democratic support. Ironically, if the extending of sovereignty does go forward, it will be under one of the most bipartisan and broad-based Israeli governments Israel has had in decades, underscoring that it's less a right and left issue and more one that reflects the will of the Israeli people. Critics in the U.S. of Prime Minister Netanyahu will have a hard time making a case that this is just another problem being inflicted on the Middle East by him, when a majority of the diverse government and Knesset, not to mention the Israeli people, support it.
Israel has not typically expected support on such political and diplomatic issued from most of the EU countries. Now would not be different. There are a range of voices expressing disapproval of applying Israeli sovereignty, from a modest “it would be unhelpful to peace” to a more strident position of doing so would be “illegal.” What the actual impact of Israel doing so within the EU is hard to project but would not likely be uniform.
Relating to the Palestinian Arabs and their rejection of the Trump plan, it's important to note that they have always rejected any plan that would resolve the conflict and legitimize Israel. In the case of the Trump plan, 97 percent of Palestinian Arabs (in the West Bank) would live in contiguous territory that would be the foundation of a Palestinian state. The remainder would live in enclaves that are within contiguous Israeli territory, but which would be part of a Palestinian state, whose residents would become citizens of that state. (The same is true of some Israeli communities that would become officially part of Israel, but existing as islands within contiguous Palestinian land. In addition, “Palestine” would include Gaza, an area with no Jews that’s currently under control of the terrorist organization Hamas, and a land bridge scores of kilometers long connecting the two.
The Trump Plan states, “This vision is the most realistic solution to a problem that has plagued the region for far too long. It creates a path to prosperity, security, and dignity for all involved. If the parties can agree on this framework as a basis for negotiations, the potential for both the Israelis and the Palestinians and the region is unlimited.”
Sadly, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the plan before it was presented, and today threaten violence as a consequence. This is their typical modus operandi: rejection and threats rather than negotiations and peace. They did so after Israel offered wide territorial compromises at Camp David in 2000, igniting the Second Intifada and thousands dead. They did so regarding moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, yet there was no major backlash. Understanding that their well being is linked to peaceful coexistence with Israel, many openly espouse support for Israel and their desire to benefit from that relationship as in this video.
One of the most significant and understated things to come out of the U.S. moving its embassy, other than simply doing what’s right, is that the threat of broad Arab violence didn’t pan out. That’s not saying that it might not happen this time, and Israel needs to be ready and factor that into its decision. However, it underscores the illogic of being held hostage and avoiding doing things that are right and in one’s interest, because of the threat of violence. That just gives in to another form of terrorism.
Ultimately, Israeli and Israelis need to decide what’s good for Israel. With no partner to negotiate a viable settlement anywhere in sight, the decision to make a unilateral move (as Israel did in withdrawing from Gaza in 2005) could be considered its only move. In the context of the Trump Plan that does call for negotiated resolution and a Palestinian state, one hope is that maybe it would force the Palestinian Arabs’ hands to a resolution rather than more of the same rejection coupled with threats and violence. Otherwise, the “answer” is just more of the same.
To those who question whether "now-is-a-good-time," others counter that this has been a concern throughout Jewish history. When the British left “Palestine” there was a debate whether Israel should declare independence right away, fearing that doing so would trigger Arab hostilities or an all-out war. Had Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion not pushed to declare independence then, accepting territory far less than the Biblical Land of Israel, and much less than what the British had promised, who knows if there would have ever been that opportunity. Yes, there was a war and the odds were heavily stacked against Israel. Israel was attacked by five Arab armies and suffered huge losses, and yet survived and thrived.
“Now is not a good time" can be countered by the words of the sage Hillel, “If not now, when?”
One thing is certain in Israeli’s calculation. Israel’s critics will find and invent every reason to blame it for all ills of the Palestinian Arabs and broader Middle East. Since much of the world recognizes that Palestinian Arab intransigence and incitement is the main obstacle to peace, there’s a concern that a unilateral Israeli action could trigger accusations that Israel is to blame. But factoring in Israel being blamed when its detractors do so daily anyway may not be a decisive factor.
Romeo and Juliette famously ended their lives in suicide, thinking that they had no alternatives. Let’s pray that the outcome in Israel, with or without sovereignty, is not death and violence, but a mutually beneficial and prosperous future.