Respect Israel’s Sovereignty


U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and President Donald Trump’s assurances that he will not impose terms on the parties are well-received by Israel. However, though Israel doubtless understands that Trump is carefully  assessing approaches to an “ultimate deal” in a volatile negotiating context, his pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” could be questioned as interventionism. 

For example, researcher Nadav Shragai blames EU and U.S. pressure for the recent freeze on previously approved construction in Givat haMatos, which would protect Jerusalem’s strategic southern flank from division by Palestinians intent on linking Bethlehem and Beit Safafa. The dearth of apartments in Jerusalem is also causing the flight of its Jewish occupants.

Nations that value their sovereignty should apply the standard equitably—and not challenge Israel’s sovereignty. Israel is the only U.N. member state denied its U.N. Charter-guaranteed right of “sovereign equality.” Other state actors also meddle in Israel’s affairs and try to dictate policies. But interventionists—benign or not—should first consider their own history.

Modern Israel’s challenges have remarkable parallels to 19th-century America. Before addressing claims that Israel “occupies” Palestinian land, or disputing Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem or the Golan, we must attribute the U.S. annexations of West Florida (1810); Oregon County (1818); Texas (1845) and Hawaii (1893) in part to the grit, patriotism and perseverance of American settlers –similar in some ways, to Israelis in Judea and Samaria.

Editor John O’Sullivan first mentioned the idea of “Manifest Destiny” in an 1845 article on annexing Texas. O’Sullivan protested European meddling in American affairs as “thwarting our policy, hampering our power, limiting our greatness, and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent.”

More practically, concerns over defense, demography, and economic / political stability or advantage drove U.S.annexations. Of Texas’ annexation, BBC’s Alistair Cooke said the Mexicans “protested for years over their undeniable legal claim to their own country.” Ultimately, Mexico was “forced” to sign a peace treaty surrendering not just Texas, but lands that became California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah—“what was then one half of Mexico.” Of America’s $15 million payment, Cooke comments: “There can’t have been in modern history any harsher price to pay for one country’s daring to object to its illegal settlement by foreigners.”

Likewise, in Hawaii a small, elite group of foreign residents and businessmen, mostly U.S. citizens, supported by American troops, overthrew the queen in 1893, according to The Congressional Record. The group’s goal was U.S. annexation; Hawaii—and Pearl Harbor—were considered vital for the defense of the U.S. West Coast. Hawaii was annexed in 1898. President Clinton and the U.S. Congress apologized 100 years later. 

Europe’s “scramble for Africa” in 1884-1885 was no less self-serving. Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Portugal convened to “safeguard commercial interests,” and carved up the continent, giving no say to native Africans, according to Oxford Reference. By 1900, Europe claimed nearly 90 percent of Africa.

Now these interventionist escapades happened long ago, and have been swept neatly under the rug of history. There’s no intent to assign blame, but rather to provide a historical perspective. Before you judge an Indian, wrote poetess Mary Lathrap, “walk a mile in his moccasins.”

Following a defensive war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, and the Golan Heights in 1981 after years of Syrian artillery pounding northern Israel disrupting lives and destroying property. The heights provide a buffer against military threats from Syria or Iranian proxies, namely Hezbollah, and is a key source of water.

International law expert Alan Baker said the term “Palestinian territories” has no legal or political basis. There has never been a Palestinian state, and no international agreement defines the territories as Palestinian; therefore, they never belonged to Palestinians. No foreign sovereign power possesses the West Bank—which legally means it can’t be “occupied.” Even the Palestinians agreed in the Oslo Accords that the West Bank is considered “disputed territory.” Are the settlement freezes an attempt to appease the Palestinians, who have rejected US mediation, and sit across the table planning Israel’s destruction?

Even if one disagrees with Israel’s actions, those who support Israel should accept its democratically elected government’s decisions. Israel’s government answers to its own electorate and taxpayers—who rightfully serve as squeaky wheels. 

America and Israel share not only friendship, but a history of seeking to establish secure borders. In America’s case, these initiatives were primarily based on economic and political advantage and, of course, defense. For Israel today, they are a matter of survival.