Extending Israeli Sovereignty Promotes Regional Stability | Opinion

The Middle East is an unstable mess that's not going to stabilize any time soon. Still, that's no excuse for avoiding constructive steps necessary for stability. Right now, Israel—working with the United States to begin implementation of the Trump administration's proposed peace plan—has a rare opportunity to move things in a positive direction.

As with everything positive Israel considers, the weight of world opinion will condemn it. Israel should act anyway—for the sake of its own citizens, for the sake of its Arab neighbors and for the cause of regional stability.

While instability can arise for many reasons, there are two ways to guarantee it: disputed territory and a sizable permanently displace population. The global community has exerted herculean efforts to ensure that both conditions persist in and around Israel.

In terms of territory, Judea and Samaria (i.e., the West Bank) have not been parts of any sovereign state since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Israel, which has controlled those territories since 1967, possesses the only strong claim to sovereignty—but it has never actually claimed that sovereignty. That could change as soon as next month. Under the Trump plan, which Israel has accepted, Israel can and should declare its sovereignty, and extend its civilian law, over the portions of Judea and Samaria it's capable of governing effectively and efficiently without military support.

By acting in accordance with the Trump plan, Israel will reduce the disputed territory, thereby moving away from one of the region's longest-standing causes of instability. As to the rest of the territory, the Trump plan calls for a concerted four-year effort to lay the groundwork for peaceful, prosperous self-governance. At the end of four years, the U.S., Israel and the Arab states should assess progress towards that goal and make a new round of decisions that reduce the disputed territories still further.

The Trump plan also addresses the second guarantor of instability—the longstanding displaced/stateless population—but the solutions to that problem are largely beyond the control of either Israel or the U.S. The problem persists—shockingly to many—because the United Nations (U.N.) went out of its way to create it.

In 1948, when five Arab militaries invaded the newly independent Jewish state, hundreds of thousands of Arabs found themselves displaced. Rather than following standard protocol to resettle the refugees among neighboring populations who shared their culture, the U.N. created a class of multi-generation "Palestine refugees" to include the descendants of any non-Jews with ancestors living between 1947 and 1949 in the territory of Mandatory Palestine. The U.N. then created a new bureaucratic agency—UNRWA—whose entire existence and budget was contingent upon ensuring that they remain refugees.

The 20-plus Arab states, who should have welcomed their Arab brethren, chose to weaponize them instead.

The 1964 Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization—a creation of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Pan-Arabist Egypt and the Soviet Union—is quite clear: The Palestininan refugees are an integral and indivisible part of the broader Arab nation. Two losing wars later, in 1974, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced its phased plan—wrest territory from Israel piecemeal until the Jewish state and its people are eradicated. It has never deviated from that plan.

The Hamas Charter of 1988 rejected even the PLO. As part of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas is adamant that there are no distinct nationalities within Islam. It is Hamas doctrine that it is simply the duty of Muslims to stand against Jewish self-determination.

Dead Sea, Israel
Dead Sea, Israel Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Neither the PLO nor Hamas has ever placed the welfare of the people it claims to represent above the extermination of the Jews. The Trump plan is perhaps the first serious attempt to address the intentional weaponization and immiseration of the (now perhaps five million) Palestinian refugees that UNRWA continues to mollycoddle as maintain as refugees.

If the time comes for Israel to extend its sovereignty further, residents unhappy to live as loyal minority citizens of the Jewish state should not be forced to become Israeli citizens. The Trump plan calls on the world's 50-plus Muslim states to offer them citizenship. Some may wish to remain in Israel as law-abiding foreign nationals. As for the others, the Trump plan calls for the Arab and Islamic states to help them relocate and integrate—with considerable financial help from donors around the world.

None of these moves will solve the region's problems. Life today in Judea and Samaria is far better, and far more stable, than is life in Lebanon, Syria or Iraq. Unlike those failed, anarchic states, however, the uncertain status of Judea, Samaria and the Palestinian refugees is structurally unstable. Stability is impossible until that structure changes.

Unlike all previous plans, the Trump plan takes this structural instability seriously, and outlines steps toward appropriate restructuring. Israel's imminent extension of its sovereignty into those territories is an important first step in the right direction. Anyone interested in the causes of stability, coexistence, human rights and self-determination should cheer the move.

Bruce Abramson, Ph.D. J.D., is a senior fellow and director at ACEK Fund and the author of American Restoration: Winning America's Second Civil War.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.