Elie Pieprz is Director of External Affairs for the YESHA Council, an umbrella governing organization of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. He is also the founder of IvoteIsrael. He was born in the United States and made Aliya (moved to Israel) in 2010. He currently lives in Neve Aliza (Samaria).
I would say that the two-state solution is an international foreign policy goal that has been an abject failure. Any foreign policy observer needs to recognize that this has been a failure and we need something else. It has been on the books as a goal of the international community for 100 years, since a little after the Balfour Declaration. Almost an entire century has passed and it has been a complete failure. All top diplomats tried their best and it has been a failure. The idea of creating a border on this side of the Jordan river is not realistic and it shouldn’t be a goal of the international community. I think there is a situation that can be created where there can be peace without drawing borders. Once we understand that the two-state solution is a failure, we can start moving beyond it. And that should be a focus in the think tank world. In fact, we have moved farther away from a solution since the two-state solution has been pushed.
Pre-Oslo Accords, there was a tremendous amount of interaction and neighborly relations. The Israeli community of Ofra has an adjacent Palestinian village. Before the Oslo Accords, the majority of Israelis had money in the banks of that Palestinian village. The idea now of the people in Ofra having banking ties there is completely unthinkable. People from Gush Etzion went and shopped in Bethlehem all the time. There were a lot of positive aspects in society before Oslo that could have led to peace. But, this narrative of getting along can’t be talked about because that goes against the narrative of Israel harming Palestinians.
There is a laser-like messianic focus on the two-state solution. There was a time that two-state solution was linked with peace. But now, it isn’t. Kerry pressured a two-state solution where pieces of paper would be signed, but it wouldn’t lead to peace. The two-state solution has been separated from actual peace. Whether it is good or not isn’t the issue because it is reality. We should stop this hopeful thinking. The more that people think in reality, the quicker we will find a solution. The think tank world hasn’t focused on it and there could be a lot of benefits from them and foreign policy experts.
With regards to remaining democratic and Jewish, there have always been people saying things will happen that don’t end up happening. People said Israel wouldn’t survive—we did. Now people are saying we will fall apart demographically and Israel won’t be Jewish. I just don’t think that is going to happen. That being said, I don’t play Russian roulette with my future. I think Israel should be talking now, rather than later, about a pathway to citizenship. What will it take? Do you do what they do in the US where you have to memorize Presidents and Supreme Court Justices? Or something else? I would imagine that to become a citizen it is required to join the IDF, which is a national commitment. When a commander in the IDF feels comfortable having someone in their unit, they should be a citizen. The Arab public has been demonizing the IDF for so long; the idea that a significant number of Palestinians will put on a uniform is unrealistic.
If they recognize this is their future and pathway to a good life, being a proud member of the IDF is something they should want to do. That is the secret to how there can be peace without taking away their rights and dignities. If there is a discussion of how to turn the pride of serving in the IDF into a legislative bill of what it takes to become a citizen, it would be very helpful. Being a citizen has benefits, but has obligations. One of those benefits is voting. It is not unrealistic—many countries have populations with certain aspects of citizenship, but without the right to vote (Puerto Ricans in the US for one). Is Puerto Rico a perfect example? No. But the idea is that there are many different countries with populations that don’t have complete rights. This is a scenario in which Palestinians will be given the opportunity, but if they choose not to, that is their choice. They could still stay in Israel, but wouldn’t get all of the benefits.
I am not a lawyer, but there are plenty of legal scholars with evidence that Jews have the strongest legal claim to Judea and Samaria. With regards to settlements and settlers remaining [in Judea and Samaria] if Israel withdrew, this “if” is a very unrealistic scenario. Every Israeli politician, from the right wing to mainstream left, seeks support from the settlements. For example, Issac Herzog was campaigning with the Gush Etzion mayor. Israel is the only country to relocate its citizens. It happened in Gaza, Sinai, and Samaria (during the Gaza pullout, but it didn’t get any press). It is not realistic for Israel to move any more of its people. Look at the trauma of Ofra. It is very different than the surrendering land with no Israelis living there.
The idea that there would be a Palestinian state that would allow Jews to live within it, maintain their security, and treat them evenly and fairly is a complete myth. So, would Jews and Settlements stay in a Palestinian state? In a real resolution to the conflict there would have to be a scenario in which Palestinians would welcome Israelis/Jews and give them the option to stay. With anything short of that, you are dealing with something that is not peace. Besides, the fact that the Palestinians have rejected numerous agreements with 95-98 percent of what they want, demonstrates they are just posturing and not serious about peace. If they were, then today they would be building synagogues in Nablus and Ramallah. These synagogues would show that Jews are welcome. How unrealistic this scenario is also demonstrates how far we are from peace. Until something like this is realistic, where Jews are not only tolerated, but welcomed, peace is not near. Currently, the leadership proudly shows they are anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-IDF. Until the leadership changes, no chance. Things won’t change because Mahmoud Abbas signed a piece of paper. If there is a genuine peace, Jews should be able to stay and to feel comfortable. Judea and Samaria are a place of significant historical meaning. Most Jews would probably still root for Israelis in the Olympics, but there is Jewish history here—much more so than in Tel Aviv—so I think whether they are paying taxes to Israel or the PA, it wouldn’t matter.
The PA could consider things like making Hebrew a national language like Arabic is in Israel. These are things you can’t even contemplate right now. If these were discussions Palestinians were actually having, they would be setting up their population for a scenario of peace. Currently, they are setting up their people for a scenario of continued conflict. A good number of Palestinians are done with the way things are being run, and that is why Abbas hasn’t held elections.
There isn’t much that needs to be said. From 1949-1967, we didn’t have security. There was a war in 1867 because that didn’t happen. The fact that Israel won a miraculous war in six days is amazing and everything, but, that doesn’t negate the fact that Israel was in mortal danger for 20 years before. The distance from Netanya to the Green Line is 9 miles; from Ben Gurion airport to the hills of Samaria it is even less than that. It would be very easy to shoot down a plane and it is close enough so that planes wouldn’t even be able to fly in. When Hamas shot missiles from Gaza in the last war, the US shut down authority for planes to fly into Israel. Judea and Samaria (specifically Samaria) would be used as leverage in that they would be able to attack Israel whenever they want. The goal of the Palestinians has never been to create a country just in the West Bank. It is clear that is not the case. Whenever there are terror attacks in Tel Aviv, Tel Avivians are referred to as settlers. The terrorist elements will continue fighting, and the idea that they would be able to threaten Ben Gurion Airport is unacceptable. The idea that a Palestinian state would give Israel any kind of security is very unlikely. The idea of an international presence is a joke. And it’s a bad joke. We tried that in Egypt and it led to war. We tried that in Lebanon and it led to war. We have tried International peacekeepers. The idea to try that is, again, laughable. The idea that it can be suggested with a straight face shows how out of touch the international community is.
If Israel vacates Judea and Samaria and the army can’t go in for their anti-terror activities, we would all not be safe. Kfar Saba, and Ra’anana are on the border of the green line. Microsoft headquarters are in Ra’anana. Not only the people, but businesses too, would be affected.
The experiment of trying to divide Jerusalem into East and West was completely unsuccessful, so the idea of going back to something like that doesn’t make much sense either. From 1949 -1967, Jerusalem was divided, and there wasn’t any semblance of peace. There wasn’t any kind of ability for Jews to visit any of the holy sites. It was not at all friendly. It was not at all cordial. And the notion that it could somehow be an end game that is superior or an improvement from where we are now is very hard to imagine. It belies history.
With regards to the Temple Mount, I think the idea that Jews should not be allowed to pray in the place that is most significant to them is outrageous—something you wouldn’t suggest in any part of the world. The idea that the international community is not up in arms is also outrageous. Particularly, we have a scenario in which there was an area that was liberated by Israel in a defensive war after the Arabs had attacked us, and we said this is significant to you, you can control it. Israel then generously let the losers of the war still maintain a certain level of control out of deference to their religious sensitivities. But, in 50 years we haven’t seen any kind of similar benevolence in terms of our own religious sensitivities.
There aren’t other places in the world where Jews aren’t able to pray with someone else. We have our areas of significance and they have theirs. There should be a way for both of us to pray there without it being problematic. With Muslims in control, this has not been the case. When Jews are in charge, they go out of their way to allow for sensitivities—whether in Jerusalem or in other places.
Anybody who has a personal title or some sort of demonstration that they had personal land should be able to gain compensation or return to their land if possible. That can happen today. It doesn’t need to happen later on.
The idea is one of the demonstrations that the Palestinians are not interested in peace. They have this notion in which they are keeping people in abject poverty and outrageous situations so they won’t be able to accept anything but half a million Arabs moving into Jaffa. The idea right now that there are Palestinians living in refugee camps and that even the PA refuses to allow Palestinian refugees to buy houses in other Palestinian areas is ridiculous. The fact that they are kept in refugee camps is all propaganda. The UN is complicit in its continuation and it is to their disgrace. Many left by their own choice. Fair enough, they thought Israel would be wiped out and then would return. Also, there are a few cases in which Israel went over the top, but this happens in every single war. If Israel wants to go above and beyond, when we were the ones attacked, and make amends with those who have titles, great. But, it is not about justice—it is about holding leverage over Israel. We need to see how many people have titles to land. There are many Arabs who have been able to claim a house or property in Israel. Whatever the legal process, Israel has demonstrated that you don’t need much to prove actual ownership. Israeli courts have been very sympathetic to Arab claims of land ownership. Arabs are not doing it now because not many have claims, or from a political perspective it is better to hold out for later.
The people who suffer are the Palestinians. Rawabi is a city being built in the West Bank where tens of thousands of Palestinians will live. But, if you are a refugee, you can’t live or rent there. That is a Palestinian law. And that’s the real problem. If UNRWA or the PA genuinely wanted to help, either one could say this is ridiculous. The blame is on both of them. I could easily imagine a significant fundraising campaign by Jews worldwide to help resettle Palestinian refugees into Rawabi and other such places, but that is not even on the table of discussions. I do not support the descendants having refugee status. These are the only people in history where you can transfer refugee status to generations! Now the 4th generation has refugee status.
I think that the Palestinian narrative has changed a lot over the years to accommodate political whims of the time. I don’t mean that if you say things a certain number of times that they will become a reality, but that is what happened here. Zionism has been present for thousands of years. You see Jews coming back from all over the world. It is not inconsistent with Palestinians wanting to live in Israel. I have no problem calling Arabs here Palestinians. When I lived in Seattle I was from the Pacific Northwest, but I was not trying to create a new state. You can become Palestinian without having a Palestinian state.
The idea that there has been a Palestinian people with the desire for a state for a long time is just not true. Comparing Zionism with the Palestinian desire for a state is not even apples and oranges. The latter was created over the last few decades. There are significant differences between the two.
Nakba is a propaganda term that can be used on college campuses to rile people up. It is much more attractive to be a victim. It is an easy term to recognize and understand, so it has taken off. The idea that the Palestinians and the Arab world teamed up on Israel and failed was a humiliation. In that sense it was a military disaster, or Nakba.
Anything more than that is a sham. You attacked us and lost a war. Be done with it. Each year they try to make it more difficult and double down on the narrative. They have been rewriting history in the 20th century as well as a couple millennia ago claiming that Jerusalem was nothing Jewish, and that the Temple Mount was nothing Jewish. Israel has a desire to make peace. But with Palestinians and the Arab world, time is very much on their side. Look at talks of negotiations and who has to be bribed: the Palestinians. How many terrorists will Israel let go for them to negotiate? This is not the behavior of someone who lost the war, it is the behavior of someone with time on their side. It is much more about propaganda than anything practical. It is more about getting rid of Israel. This is why Netanyahu focuses on recognition of Israel—not only in a technical way, but something that is robustly shown. Recognition is key to any long term solution. When Mahmoud Abbas says he has recognized, that is not real recognition.
I think it is outrageous, but I think what has been heartwarming is that Israel as a whole (Israelis in Tel Aviv and the left) have seen BDS not as an attack on Judea and Samaria, but an attack on Israel. This has been unifying. In many cases these boycott movements end up backfiring and I think this is a perfect example. Firstly, BDS is not about peace, but just about harming Israel, and people see that. Secondly, it has resulted in a general warming up to of Judea and Samaria throughout general politics of Israel. In those senses it has been a failure and backfired. In scenarios where they claim success (SodaStream), it is actually not success at all. SodaStream was becoming successful and was having trouble expanding where it was. Since there is a strong campaign to increase development in the Negev desert, when the campaign to expand got negativity, they said, well, we might as well leave. The people who suffered were the Palestinians who worked there and the families who benefited from the trickle down business affect. In fact, the other areas and other factories in Judea and Samaria have seen business increase. The reasons are twofold. 1) Sympathetic pro-Israel people rally around Judea and Samaria and these people make an extra effort to buy from these businesses in order to show solidarity.
2) From a competitive perspective, if you are selling something like generic toilet seats or chairs, you have to make it slightly better since there is a liability from a political perspective. Thus, there is an “I have to up my game” mentality. In most cases, companies have seen revenues increase since they have innovated and “upped their game.”
Those who use the term apartheid demonstrate that they have never been to Israel—including areas of Judea and Samaria. You can’t say there are apartheid roads. There are Palestinian cars throughout Judea and Samaria. Highway 60, often referred to as “apartheid road” (the main north-south highway that goes from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem to Nablus and then north), is just completely devoid of reality. People from the New York Times and the UN take it, everyone takes it. The idea that they say Israel in the West Bank is in some way segregated is absurd because they drive on it all the time. You can’t help but see the Palestinian mansions right along Highway 60. In fact, that this is not reported (the benefits of living amongst Israelis), and only the horrors of the occupation are reported, demonstrates that reporting has not been accurate, and has not been about getting out the truth. It has just been very political. If roads are closed, it is for security reasons, just like Champs Elysees in France after their attack, and like roads in Boston during the Boston Marathon bombing. When there are significant terrorist attacks, this is what happens. In fact, there are more roads off limits to Jews than to Arabs.
There is nothing remotely like apartheid. But, I will leave it to my friends from South Africa who suffered under apartheid to say how disgraceful it is to claim that Judea and Samaria is anything like Apartheid South Africa.