The next few months will be of vast historical significance for Israel. At the forefront is the question of whether we will take advantage the unique opportunities presented to us by U.S. President Donald Trump.
As an observant Jew, I see West Bank settlement as Israel exercising its right to return to the land of our forefathers, and as such I also see that we must seize every opportunity to do so.
The Mideast peace plan drawn up by the Trump administration is good for Israel, and even though Israeli sovereignty cannot be applied across the entire West Bank, it is still imperative to do everything in our power to implement it wherever possible.
At the very least, Israeli sovereignty must be applied in the Jordan Valley, which must now be connected to the center of the country via a proper road system.
To understand this opportunity and how to take advantage of it, we need to be clear where we stand at the moment but also where we stand if the plan is not implemented.
Today, the West Bank is officially divided into 60% under Israeli control and 40% under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
In practice though, after years of turning a blind eye to an illegal takeover of the territory, the balance sheet has reversed and Israel controls only 40% of the area.
On the surface, it seems that Donald Trump's self-styled "deal of the century" has worsened our situation. Israeli control will shrink to just 30% and the Palestinians will ultimately be able to establish a state on the remaining 70%.
But Trump’s plan does not simply deal with the division of land, but also with legal status: The territories under Israeli control will, for the first time, become territories under full and recognized Israeli sovereignty.
There are those who support the plan, on the condition that several changes are made.
1. Every single community in Judea and Samaria must be brought under Israeli sovereignty (under the current plan, a handful are left out)
2. Clear agreement on construction in non-populated areas
3. Agreement on the crossings into Jordan and guaranteeing the IDF freedom of operation in the area
If all of the above changes are indeed introduced, in practical terms Israel will have actually given up another 10% of the West Bank, but in return will have full sovereignty over the remainder, as well as strategic advantages.
While all of this is true, this approach omits an important truth: Sovereignty without governance is worthless.
Israeli sovereignty in the Negev and the Galilee is undisputed, but the eradication of state institutions in these areas only harms the State of Israel, and in the long run can undermine its sovereignty there.
If Israel does indeed apply sovereignty in the West Bank but does nothing to actively govern in the area, this historic opportunity will be missed.
The previous defense minister, Naftali Bennett, wanted to make me responsible for implementing Israeli rule in the West Bank.
For this task, I prepared a plan with the following main points:
1. The law must be effectively enforced when it comes to illegal Palestinian construction, including introducing legislation in order to do so
2. Israel must stop the Palestinian Authority takeover of large swathes of Area C while simultaneously approving Palestinian construction plans in a precise and informed manner.
3. Israel must support the creation of trade and industrial centers that will provide employment for both Palestinians and Israelis and improve local infrastructure
There is one place where Israel can begin to apply both sovereignty and governance - the Jordan Valley.
Israel has a strategic interest in preserving this area as a demographic border (the Palestinian population is sparse here) and - importantly - as a first line of defense in any future conflict with Arab nations.
This plan does not need to rely on the actual implementation of Trump’s plan, or full agreement on every single element of it. This plan has received a legal stamp of approval from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has acknowledged the legality of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
This is a good starting point that improves the existing situation, and if such a move is promoted without actual relying on Trump’s plan, it can also torpedo the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The leadership of the settlement movement and the right-wing bloc should carefully study the details of Trump’s plan and the implications of Pompeo’s declaration.
The public discourse must be grounded in familiarity with the legal situation and the situation on the ground, rather than dealing in percentages that mean little or empty slogans that mean nothing at all.
One thing is clear. Now is the time to apply Israeli sovereignty in the area and over the Jordan Valley at the very least.
Kobi Eliraz was the advisor on settlement affairs for defense ministers Moshe Ya'alon, Avigdor Liberman and Benjamin Netanyahu, and an advisor to the Defense Ministry on the West Bank