Israel’s defence minister has just revealed that he favours a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank. It is unlikely to happen in the near future, but if and when it does happen, what will happen to the Jewish settlements?
A withdrawal of troops would probably result in the forced evacuation of some settlements, especially if they are nowhere near the Green Line.
The Israeli government will be reluctant to leave any settlers in the West Bank if they are not protected by troops. But following the unpleasant Gaza disengagement in 2005, any attempt to dismantle or abandon the settlements is likely to stimulate a wave of violence.
But if the settlers were to remain in the West Bank, how would they fare under a Palestinian government? PA president Mahmoud Abbas has already said that not a single Israeli (i.e. Jew) would be allowed to live in an independent Palestine.
The creation of a Judean state
Another alternative to either Israeli or Palestinian rule in the West Bank is the creation of an independent State of Judea.
In January 1989, several hundred activists announced their intention to create an halachic State of Judea if Israel withdrew. The most prominent activist was Michael Ben-Horin, a member of the New York-based Kach movement, headed by Rabbi Mei Kahane.
Ben-Horin, declared: “We will not allow the heart to be torn from the body of the Land of Israel.” Judea and Samaria, he said, “will always remain Jewish,” before adding: “No Israeli state will ever be permitted to expel Jews from their homes or their land.”
Above: two competing designs for a State of Judea flag
The idea of a Judean state was revived following the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which resulted in the forcible withdrawal of Jewish settlers.
And in 2007, Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo called on his supporters to make preparations to secede from the State of Israel in the event of Israeli withdrawal. Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Wolpo said: “Why should we wait until soldiers come to people’s homes.”
Of course, the threat to create a State of Judea may just be a way of frightening the Israeli government into annexing the West Bank and creating a unified country. But there is evidence that some settlers believe the State of Judea is already a political reality.
In 2011, Israel Today reported that some of the younger settlers do not see themselves as Israeli. An unnamed source told the magazine: “More and more [settlers] understand that they are here despite the Israeli establishment, and they see more and more differences between themselves and the Israelis.”
The Palestinians, too, see the creation of a Judean state as a burgeoning reality. Earlier this year, PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo opined that Israel is seeking to create a “settler state” in Judea and Samaria.
He claimed that Israel was continuing to build in settlements “so that it could establish a state for settlers, and not for Palestinians, in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”
Is an independent State of Judea viable?
For a start, separating Israel and Judea would enable secular Jews to enjoy life in Israel, while those who want to live according to halachic law would have the option of moving to Judea.
Indeed, the two states would provide very different types of experience. According to a 2008 survey by Ariel University Center, 92.3 per cent of Jewish settlers are satisfied with their lives, compared with 83 per cent in the State of Israel. The standard of living and quality of life was also reported to be better in the settlements.
The survey also revealed that the income of a family living in the settlements is about 10 per cent higher than the national average. At the time of the study, unemployment was less of an issue in Judea than it was in Israel.
On the downside, the crime rate in Judea was 22 per cent higher than in Israel proper. This may be explained by hostilities between Jews and Arabs.
Establishing a viable Jewish state in Judea and Samaria has precedent. Ancient Israel comprised two kingdoms, also called Israel and Judea.
Most religious Jews will agree that Judea is the biblical and spiritual heartland of Eretz Israel. Hebron, home to the Cave of the Patriarchs, is the second holiest Jewish city. It would be a travesty if there was a repeat of the ethnic cleansing that took place in 1929. Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem is the third most important Jewish holy site. Jericho, the place of the Israelites’ return from slavery in Egypt, is also a crucial location and is home to some historic synagogues.
To give up Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho and the Jordan Valley would be an absurd act of cultural suicide. If the State of Israel is not prepared to annex the West Bank, then perhaps the settlers should declare independence.
Under Jordanian rule, the Arabs went to great efforts to erase Jewish history. Despite the fact that Jews had lived in Judea and Samaria for centuries, Jordan pursued a Judenrein policy by changing the name of the territory from Judea and Samaria to the “West Bank.” After 1948, Jews were not allowed to pray at the Western Wall. The Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives was desecrated and all but one of the thirty five synagogues in the Old City were destroyed.
It is clear that abandoning Judea and Samaria to the Arabs is not an option.
But would a Judean state be able to live alongside an Israeli state? After all, the Hebrew scriptures are full of stories about the love-hate relationship between the two kingdoms. To prevent a repeat of biblical hostilities, some kind of Davidic federation would have to be established to loosely unite the two nations. After all, both Israel and Judea would have the same enemies and would need to cooperate in terms of security. Trade and labour agreements would have to be worked out, too.
There is one major flaw in the concept of a Judean state and that is the Jewish settlers form a minority. There are two million Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank (about 80 per cent of the population). Only half a million Jewish live in the West Bank, nearly half of whom live in East Jerusalem. Although East Jerusalem forms an important of the Judean geography, it is unlikely that the State of Israel would relinquish the East Jerusalem settlements, as this would divide the city.
As things stand, much of the area of the West Bank closest to Jerusalem has already been incorporated into the Jerusalem District and is under Israeli civilian rule. It is excluded from the administrative structure that is the Judea and Samaria Area.
By subtracting East Jerusalem from the equation, there would be a mere 300,000 Jews left to face the wrath of two million Palestinian Arabs. But the numbers could be even worse if Israel withdraws from the West Bank but annexes small amounts of territory around the Green Line. This would dramatically reduce the number of disenfranchised settlers to around 80,000.
Would the State of Israel leave the Judeans and the Palestinians to fight a civil war, or would it provide arms and/or troops to the settlers? Would neighbouring Arab states come to the assistance of the Palestinians? One thing’s for sure, even if the settlers did win a civil war, they would receive no international recognition, possibly not even from Israel itself. And how would 80,00 (or 300,000) Jews rule over two million Palestinians? You would end up with a South African scenario and accusations of apartheid would be substantial.
So, are there other options?
It is possible that PA president Abbas changes his mind and agrees to a single binational state in which Palestinians and Israelis share full political rights. At the very least, settlers might be able stay on the West Bank at the discretion of the Palestinian government but without any citizenship rights.
One possibility that might work is the establishment of “parallel states,” within the West Bank in which Arabs and Jews share the territory but owe their allegiance to separate parliaments. But it is unlikely the Palestinians would agree to a further division of territory.
The truth is, the creation of a Judean or Palestinian state next to Israel is not realistic or feasible. The only credible option is for Israel to annex the West Bank and recognise Jordan as the de facto Palestinian state.
Jordan is Palestine
The main obstacle to solving the Israeli-Arab conflict is the persistent claim that the Palestinians are a nation without a land. The Palestinian Arabs were actually given their own state decades ago. In 1922, Transjordan (Jordan) was carved out of land earmarked for the Jewish state.
Above: division of Eretz Israel in 1922
Israel, the US and the EU must press for the recognition of Jordan as the Palestinian state. After all, Jordan’s population is already 70 per cent Palestinian. Removing the ruling Hashemite dynasty and developing democratic institutions in Jordan would greatly benefit the majority. Once the groundwork for democracy is laid down, the Palestinians would, by right, have the greatest say in how the country is governed. No longer would be they be discriminated against by the Bedouin minority.
Once this has been achieved, Israel can formally annex the West Bank and give the Palestinian Arabs living there the option of either swearing an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state or giving them Jordanian citizenship. Those Palestinians that wish to leave the West Bank would be free to move to Jordan. Those who want to stay in their homes on the West Bank but nevertheless wish to hold Jordanian citizenship should be allowed to do so. Once Israel is in full control of the West Bank, non-Jewish immigration must be halted in order to prevent the return of Arabs who claim refugee status.
Developing democratic institutions in Jordan and uniting the land of Israel under Jerusalem would not only ensure Israel’s security and demographic advantage, it would enable the Palestinians to establish sovereignty in the heart of the Middle East and put an end to this decades-old conflict over the status of the so-called occupied territories.