Last week’s Knesset vote repealing parts of the 2005 Gaza Disengagement Law reflects the ruling coalition’s intoxication with power and jeopardizes the stability of the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel.
Moreover, rescinding the clauses in the law that prohibit Israelis from returning to the area of four northern Samaria settlements evacuated along with Israel’s pullout from Gaza is bad for Israel since it further diminishes prospects of a two-state solution. This is obviously the intent of its instigators and its greatest threat but not the only one.
Rolling back the law also rewards those who built on private Palestinian land in violation of precedent-setting High Court rulings, making a mockery of the law by returning periodically to the scene of their crime over the years and endangering the soldiers tasked with protecting them. The Palestinians, obviously, pay the highest price by having the fabric of their life undermined by Israeli troops protecting lawbreaking settlers.
The inclusion of northern Samaria in the Gaza Strip pullout law was part of a quid pro quo deal between the Sharon government and the Bush Administration, which sought to strengthen Palestinian territorial contiguity by removing the four isolated Israeli settlements.
In exchange for agreeing to evacuate northern Samaria, prime minister Ariel Sharon received a written commitment from President George Bush, which recognized that a future Israeli-Palestinian agreement would keep settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty and prevent a significant return of Palestinian refugees to Israel’s sovereign territory. The letter also affirmed the US recognition of Israel’s right to defensible borders.
Two of these principles are vital to ensuring Israel’s survival and the third guarantees the viability of West Bank settlement groupings in exchange for compensating the Palestinians with land swaps. Bush’s letter to Sharon constitutes a governmental commitment by the US to Israel, a commitment it made in exchange for an Israeli commitment that has now been violated with the repeal of the northern Samaria pullout.
A country that reneges on its commitments also frees the other side from adhering to those commitments. The current bill not only violates the commitment of an Israeli prime minister to a US president but also casts heavy doubt on all Israeli government commitments and proves they can no longer be trusted because domestic political pressure outweighs external commitments.
US criticism is growing
Even as US criticism of the regime coup is growing, the Knesset, with government backing, chose to further fuel the fire by breaching a formal commitment to the Americans. At times, this government seems to be acting independently of Israel’s existential interests, as is the case of repealing the disengagement law and of Diaspora Affairs Minister Chikli’s suggestion that US Ambassador Tom Nides mind his own business.
But Israel’s business is intertwined with that of the US, for decades it’s greatest and closest ally and friend. In addition to the withdrawal from northern Samaria, Israel more recently committed to refrain from annexing parts of the West Bank in return for the landmark Abraham Accords engineered by the Trump administration.
THE US and the Arab signatories to the agreements will no longer have reason to believe that the Israeli government can be trusted to repel domestic political pressure and adhere to this commitment, either.
Ambassador Michael Herzog’s unusual rebuke by the deputy secretary of state attests to the severity with which the Americans view the disengagement law repeal.
What is more, coming on the eve of Ramadan, the move sends a dangerous message to the countries with which we have normalization agreements. The message is clear: commitments by previous governments and the state are not binding and therefore, Israel can no longer be trusted.
The message signals that the Israeli government is an agent of instability in a region desperate for stability and calm. The decision also renders irrelevant the recent Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian-Egyptian security agreements reached at meetings in Aqaba and Sharm e-Sheikh.
Signs of mistrust have already emerged in the distancing of the Emirati government, the delay of security cooperation and indefinite postponement of Netanyahu’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, as well as the widening rift with Jordan following Ben-Gvir’s ascent to the al-Aqsa compound. The fear of renewed annexation measures could further undermine relations with our Arab neighbors and the Palestinian Authority, given the sense on the Palestinian street that security cooperation with Israel only yields unilateral Israeli measures and a record number of fatalities.
Europe, too, is eyeing us suspiciously, with Israel’s repeal of its commitment further undermining already unstable relations. Every president and prime minister who has hosted Netanyahu in recent weeks has made a point of publicly expressing European concerns about the anti-democratic direction in which his government is heading.
This will now be compounded by criticism of the government’s political conduct, or more correctly, misconduct, criticism that is liable to undermine security cooperation with the West, including moves to stop Iran’s nuclear program.
We must not forget. Israel needs a strategic alliance with the US. Ze’ev Snir, until recently head of the Atomic Energy Commission, recently told Yediot Ahronot columnist Nadav Eyal, “Without American backing, the State of Israel will find it very difficult to exist, to say the least.” Now, in order to satisfy the political lust of the extreme Right, the Israeli government continues to sabotage this alliance – an alliance on which the existence of Israel depends.
The damage to the alliance with the Americans comes against the backdrop of growing concern about flare-ups fueled by the extremist rhetoric and other provocative moves of the new government on the eve of Ramadan. Israel will soon have to ask the Americans for a renewed stock of Iron Dome missile interceptors and backing in the Security Council and The Hague against anti-Israel votes.
The time has come to restore the helm of the state to people committed to national responsibility and to prevent the agents of chaos from critically risking our national security.
This article is from “The Jerusalem Post“, from March 27, 2023.