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Flu season may be upon us, but it appears that Mahmoud Abbas has come down with a far more serious ailment. Based on his peculiar behavior of late, the Palestinian leader is clearly suffering from political schizophrenia.
Just a few weeks after threatening to resign from his post as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas has now indicated that he intends to pursue a unilateral declaration of statehood.
"The Palestinian leadership calls on the world to support this step," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Monday, as Abbas left for Egypt before heading off on a tour of South America to drum up international backing for the move.
And so, the man who barely a month ago was ready to throw in the towel has now decided to throw down the gauntlet. First he vows to sail off into retirement, and then he tries to crown himself president of an independent state, in the process tossing aside any chance of a negotiated peace.
Abbas's volatile and unstable behavior should put to rest once and for all the notion that he is a viable partner with whom Israel can reach a lasting agreement. Despite being 74 years old, he still hasn't decided what he wants to be when he grows up, let alone figured out where he is going.
But the chairman's volatility is more than just a quirky personality issue or an unruly psychological phenomenon. It is a potent and dangerous reminder of the ease with which the Palestinians can generate international pressure on Israel in an attempt to squeeze out further concessions.
Indeed, the Palestinian leader's zigzag has had the effect of casting the spotlight sharply on the contentious issue of the fate of Judea and Samaria. If Abbas succeeds in winning United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it will further upgrade the perceived illegality of the settlements to an entirely new level in the eyes of the world.
Furthermore, it will mark the end of the peace process as we know it, which has been predicated on the basic assumption that the two sides would negotiate the final outcome with each other rather than predetermine it.
Abbas's attempt to vault towards statehood on his own, with utter disregard for Israel and its position, is a sure enough sign that he wishes to bury any chance of returning to talks.
For far too long, Israel has been overly vulnerable to such machinations and games. By leaving the status of Judea and Samaria open for discussion, the Jewish state has given the Palestinians too much leeway for mischief-making and malice, which they have only been more than happy to exploit.
In light of Abbas's latest charade, it is clear that Israel needs to put an end to this farce, once and for all.
We need to send a clear message to our foes, one that will put them on the defensive and strengthen Israel's hand. And there is no better place to start than with our own unilateral measures, chief among them the annexation of all the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
OVER THE past 16 years, nothing has been gained by keeping the settlements issue on the table. Nor has dangling the possibility of expelling masses of Jews from their homes along the lines of Gush Katif brought the Palestinians any closer to making a deal.
Instead, it has only served to whet the Palestinian appetite for more land, and subjected hundreds of thousands of Israelis to intolerable uncertainty regarding their future.
Hence, Israel should move ahead with steps to formally and legally incorporate all of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria into the Jewish state. This will serve as a tangible and reasonable response to the Palestinian attempts to circumvent the bilateral negotiating process.
More importantly, it will at last delineate the Israeli stance on the final disposition of these communities. This will effectively close off the troublesome debate within Israeli society over the future of the settlements, which has bred so much division and disunity, and ultimately enable us to present a more unified stance vis-à-vis the rest of the world.
In recent days, a number of leading Israeli politicians have thankfully begun to voice such proposals. The talented and articulate environment minister, Gilad Erdan of the Likud, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that if the Palestinians adopt a unilateral stance, then Israel should also consider "passing a law to annex some of the settlements."
Likewise, Likud MK Danny Danon called for annexing all of Judea and Samaria with the exception of the Arab-inhabited cities.
Of course, annexation should not merely be viewed as a tit-for-tat response to unilateral Palestinian moves, for that casts it in a negative light, presenting it as merely a punitive or retaliatory measure.
In reality, annexation is justified for the simple reason that this land belongs to us, and to nobody else. The act of asserting Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria would mark the closing of a historic circle, reviving our formal dominion over these areas after an interlude of nearly 2,000 years.
These areas are ours by Divine right, and we should not shy away from asserting as much. The Palestinians do not hesitate to invoke their beliefs, so why on earth should we? Just think how refreshing it would be to hear an Israeli leader stand up and declare this most elementary of truths to the world: that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel because the God of Israel said so.
Who knows - maybe if we finally stand on principle and start affirming our faith, then perhaps we will at last begin to earn the respect and support that we so rightly deserve.
Editor's Addendum: The Israeli Initiative asks:
"Should we annex?" This appeared in Update Number 25, December 27,
2009 and is archived on their website:
|At a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya last
Sunday, MK Zippi Hotobeli (Likud) suggested that Israel stop being
ambiguous when it comes to sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and annex
the area. Arab residents of Judea and Samaria will have to become
Israeli citizens, through a gradual process and under certain
The Israeli Initiative supports the idea of stopping the ambiguity and working towards sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, especially as an alternative to two-state solutions that plan to establish a Palestinian State that will cause instability in the region and threaten the State of Israel's existence. However, the issues are much more complicated than Hotobeli described them.
Even if we accept the most optimistic approach to the demographic issue, annexing the Arab population of Judea and Samaria is a strategic attack on Israel. The Israeli Initiative opposes and continues to oppose such a plan, as do most Israelis, who want to keep Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
In order to deal with this problem carefully, The Israeli Initiative presents a plan that deals with all of its aspects.
First, the Initiative aims to reduce the Arab population in Judea and Samaria by continuing the process of population exchange that began in the War of Independence, by having the refugees rehabilitated in third countries. This process's success will decrease the Arab population in the area by about 25%, allowing most of the hostile elements out.
The rest of the population will not be granted automatic, comprehensive Israeli citizenship: Since there already is a Palestinian state east of the Jordan River, which residents of Judea and Samaria had been citizens of, The Initiative proposes to involve Jordan in a regional solution that will return Jordanian citizenship to these residents. They can continue to be residents of Israel and enjoy the rights of all residents, but their political rights will come from Amman. This is not a simple solution, but the problem is not simple either, and requires a complex and creative solution.
Only when Israel focuses on these two issues rehabilitating the refugees and returning Jordanian citizenship to the Arabs in Judea and Samaria will the final step of the process, annexing Judea and Samaria with full Israeli sovereignty, be possible. Until then, we can take a significant step to reinforce Israel's status in Judea and Samaria, by passing a law to apply Israeli law to Israeli municipalities in Judea and Samaria, as we explained in previous updates. We call up MK Hotobeli and her colleagues to promote this law, thus contributing to the prevention of the establishment of a Palestinian State in these territories. Now, when Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to balance out the building freeze - this proposed bill is an excellent political opportunity for him.
Michael Freund writes the Fundamentally Freund column for the
Jerusalem Post. He served as deputy director of communications &
policy planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office under
Benjamin Netanyahu from 1996 to 1999. He is founder and chairman
of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which reaches out and assists
"lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.
This article appeared November 18, 2009 in the Jerusalem Post
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