Illustration: Newborn Baby by Vera Kratochvil (publicdomainpictures.net) [CC0 - Public Domain] via needpix.com
After years of buildup, U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled his "deal of the century" to great fanfare. Yet just as its predecessors have done, the lengthy text of the would-be peace deal manages to deftly avoid addressing the crux of the bloody conflict — who owns the land of Israel?
Holding the fundamental flaw of the plan aside for the moment, the devil in its details shows critical dangers to the Jewish state on the most practical of levels. The only substantial benefit Israel obtains is sovereignty over a small fraction of Judea and Samaria already under full Israeli control — which could have already been applied unilaterally if Israel had proper conviction of its ownership.
A far from exhaustive list shows the benefits to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) through its Oslo-established governing body, the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PLO would achieve a sovereign state in most of Judea and Samaria, two additional large areas in the Negev equivalent in size to the territory Israel would annex, and Gaza, as well as the possibility of receiving the Israeli Arab Triangle area through negotiations. Jordan would
maintain "status quo" control of the Temple Mount where it has banned Jewish prayer; the PA would keep its armed security forces that were instrumental in starting the Second Intifada.
At least 15 Jewish "enclaves" would become sitting ducks surrounded by a hostile foreign state; Jerusalem territory within the municipal boundaries but over the security wall would be divided from Jerusalem and made into a Palestinian capital. The PLO would receive vast amounts of stimulus money; a network of tunnels and roads would be built to connect the various parts of the Palestinian state including Gaza; millions of "Palestinian refugees" as defined by UNRWA would be allowed into the Palestinian state; and Israel would be pressured not to violate that state's sovereignty by conducting military or policing activity there.
Dwarfing these flaws and the many others contained within the plan, the fact remains that it demands Jews divide their land.
Ever since the bloody massacres perpetrated by Arabs in the 1930s to "defend Al-Aqsa," the conflict has revolved around the key question of ownership. The PA understands this keenly, as it shows with its recurring false claims of being Jebusite Cana'anites who have owned the land for the past 5,000 to 10,000 years, depending on their mood.
How does one settle a dispute over ownership? Fortunately we have precedent in a judgement of King Solomon, blessed with a “wise and discerning mind,” who was forced to adjudicate a question of ownership of a baby between two mothers.
Solomon employed a decisive test whose core kernel of truth — eminently applicable today — was posed as follows: Which mother was willing to physically divide the baby?
Which would say that the baby was “neither yours nor mine” but would be willing to have it bodily split between them; and which would be so filled with emotional “compassion” for the infant that she pleaded “only don’t kill it”? Which calculatingly viewed the baby as spoils to be scavenged to the extent that opportunity presented, disregarding its welfare and future; and which viewed it as an indivisible sanctified whole to be protected, cherished, and kept alive even at the ultimate cost of endangering one's possession over it?
For the real mother standing before Solomon, the endangerment to her possession entailed offering to let another take her child out of considerations of pikuach nefesh, saving her baby's life. But for the Jewish nation living in Israel in our times, this endangerment to possession in order to assert our ownership must logically take a different form: conquering and annexing the entire Land promised to us by G-d, even though doing so risks negative actions against us by the nations of the world who may seek to physically dispossess us. Following the calculus of milchemet mitzvah, a war of commandment to conquer the land as codified by the great Ramban, this action certainly overrides pikuach nefesh, since war inherently contains a risk of death yet nevertheless G-d specifically commanded it.
Regardless of the different response required from the true owner between Solomon's case and modern Israel's, the core of the test for ownership remains unchanged: Whoever thinks ownership is divisible is not a true owner, but rather is trying to gain as much as possible without recognizing the legitimacy of ownership. Just as in Solomon’s test of the true mother's empathy for her baby, the standard for Israel's empathy for her Land is proven by the one who is most passionate to own and take care of it.
While the Jews are the indigenous owners of Israel, the State of Israel has consistently and tragically acted like non-owners, being willing to divide the Land and give it to foreigners at every turn. It has sought to appease its rival by offering to split the baby and has instead reaped only more strife. This is precisely as promised by the Torah in numerous passages — that by not exerting ownership, Israel will only distance peace. Indeed, we are told that enemies claiming our land whom we do not “dispossess” will be “thorns in our sides,” and we are enjoined not to make covenants — and deals — with them.
But perhaps even more troubling than the deal's actual demands that Israel undermine its ownership, is the rapacity and fervor shown by many supporters of Israel who are calling for immediate implementation and adoption of its framework.
Trump has been an unparalleled ally of Israel in many ways, and likely genuinely believes what he said in announcing the plan: that he wanted to protect Israel's interests and felt his plan is an "obligation to humanity."
However, Trump and all those supporting his plan would do well to recall G-d's warning to Laban as he pursued Ya'akov, telling him “beware of speaking with Ya’akov from good to bad.” Why warn him against speaking “good?” We can learn from this that non-Jews — even if they are the father and father-in-law of Jews as Laban was and Trump is — must be extremely cautious in how they influence the Jews, for even what appears to them as "good" for the Jews may be catastrophic in misleading them from their mission. This is all the more so for non-Jews who have been close to and supportive of the Jewish people.
It is thus a tragedy that while the Arabs and leftists have rejected Trump's plan, ostensibly right-wing Jews have been its biggest supporters. They have clamored to start annexing small areas of Judea and Samaria, as if Trump's approval were necessary to assert even limited Jewish rights of ownership.
Those justifying this move claim Israel can annex through the deal's framework without officially committing to said framework and its promise of a Palestinian state. This is a nonsensical and two-faced approach that will certainly not garner international acceptance, nor spare Israel de facto commitment to the framework and abandonment of claims to the non-annexed regions — nor will it stand the test of time when administrations change. Indeed, the Trump administration has already walked back its statements welcoming unilateral Israeli annexation as a start for the plan.
In short, annexation in the framework of this deal places Israel on the path to establishing a Palestinian state — which is something Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has committed to do ever since his 2009 Bar Ilan speech. Now, however, that position is official; and one key takeaway from this deal is that both Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz support it.
This bipartisan backing clearly proves that the upcoming Israeli elections on March 2 are effectively moot. For all Netanyahu's posturing in his campaign ads that Gantz is "left" and "weak,” and Gantz's accusations of Netanyahu siding with "extremists," both of them have publicly accepted the same plan of relinquishing ownership and establishing a Palestinian state. This renders such artificial boundaries of "right" and "left" between the two sides as absolutely meaningless.
Furthermore, even Netanyahu’s supposedly "right-wing religious" traditional partners in Yamina — the latest reiteration of Naftali Bennett's re-formed Jewish Home — support acting according to the plan by annexing limited areas. Even though Bennett has loudly called to modify the deal to give the PLO an "autonomy" and not a state, this is mere semantics given that his own plan calls for a "Palestinian state" in the remaining areas, as his political partner Ayelet Shaked revealed in a rare moment of candor on TV in 2014.
In fact the only party rejecting the plan entirely and demanding full annexation is Otzma Yehudit, which has asserted that Israel could have obtained a better deal from Trump given the Trump administration's support for Israel. Trump has said in the past that he was open to a one-state solution, indicating full Israeli annexation. Likewise the new Pompeo Doctrine, affirming that the "settlements" are not illegal, should have been more than enough for Israel to have already begun annexation, even if it was concerned about America's opinion — which should have no bearing, given that Israel is an independent and sovereign state.
In the final analysis, the fact that the demand for the Jews to divide the Land comes from an ally like Trump makes the danger of Israel falling for it all the more keen. The willingness of Israeli leaders on both sides of the aisle to accede shows that the supposed political divide in the upcoming elections is a scam. Additionally, the ideological bankruptcy of the ruling right-wing parties is clearly exposed.
Israel’s only salvation from the deal appears to be that the Arabs have already rejected it and Trump is already backtracking its immediate implementation — a perhaps unsurprising development given how this plan counters G-d’s plan for the Jewish state.