The historic and legal arguments employed to advocate for Sovereignty and in contrast, the criticism prophesying dire outcomes if it is applied to the 30% of Area C** in Judea and Samaria (aka Yesha for short) in Trump’s plan, both miss a major issue – what Sovereignty means to the everyday lives of the Israelis who made their homes there.
Applying Sovereignty in the historic Jewish biblical heartland is certainly most meaningful, but along with the lists of reasons for leaving things as they are penned by Jewish liberals, leftists and genuine pro-Israel worriers, and the nasty threats from international quarters (even Bernie Sanders added his name to AOC’s letter), none of the above deal with the practical need for this step. They all turn Sovereignty into something symbolic, moral, transcendental, colonialist, earthshaking or larger than life.
So let’s come down to earth for a while. The half million Israelis living in Judea and Samaria just want to lead normal lives – and that is what Sovereignty, which in simple words means applying Israeli law to the area, translates to on the ground.
Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria have been protesting for years that they are treated like second class citizens, although they pay taxes to Israel and serve in the IDF. And they are right.
We usually think of the difficulties the “settlers” face in terms of danger, security and safety, and sadly, that is true enough. But it is a little known fact that Israelis living west of the pre-Six Day War Armistice Lines (known as the Green Line) have rights that are denied or partly denied to those to the east of it, that is, those living in Judea and Samaria. Their lives are run by an IDF entity that was granted jurisdiction over civilian life.
There is not even an organized list of the laws passed by the Knesset that apply or do not apply or partially apply to Judea and Samaria. This often only becomes clarified during antagonistic lawsuits.
Every law, up to now, that is passed in the Knesset has to undergo a legal overhaul in order to check its suitability for application in Judea and Samaria. Today, only the IDF Major General commanding Israel’s central region has the authority to sign the adjusted law to have it actually apply over the Green Line. As you can imagine, he has a few other things on his mind, and this process can take years.
Sometimes only parts of the law are deemed applicable. Take innocuous labor laws, for example – half of them are not in force in Judea and Samaria, including the law protecting youngsters in the workplace and listing their rights. Or the law making discrimination against women in the workplace illegal, proposed by former MK Shuli Mualem of Yamina and enforced within the Green Line.
The difference comes into play when purchasing a home, applying for a mortgage, even when applying for a permit to add a few meters to one’s porch. I will never forget driving to a wedding during the Yesha buiding freeze period with my son, legal advisor to several regional councils/authorities in Yesha, who received a phone call from a council head (which I could not hear) and said: “Wait. Don’t let anyone build even a patio now – there are small aircraft sent by leftist groups and flying overhead to make sure nothing is built anywhere.” (Who funded these aerial forays is another question, and beyond the scope of this article).
The right to drive on well-maintained roads, to have appliances serviced by leading manufacturers, find an internet provider, or have running water and working electricity cannot be taken for granted in Judea and Samaria’s Israeli communities.
Mayor Oded Revivi, Head of the Efrat Municipal Council and Chief Foreign Envoy, Yesha Council supports the application of Sovereignty, explaining the benefits his constituents would enjoy: “Israel passed a law encouraging people to create alternate forms of energy. One of the ways to do this was to install solar panels on house rooftops. Anyone who did so received economic stimulus benefits from the state. It took three years and much pressure from council heads until that law became applicable in Judea and Samaria – and by then the stimulus had gone down to about a tenth of its original sum.”
When it comes to real estate, he says, the inequality is palpable: “In order not to discriminate between communities populated by Israeli citizens and the Arab villages, everything concerning real estate is still being decided according to Ottoman Empire Laws, which at best were passed 150 years ago and at worst, 500 years ago (!!). It hardly needs saying that these laws are totally unsuited to today’s market realities.”
One of the biggest headaches is the fact that all land registration in Judea and Samaria is Classified Information (initially to protect Arabs who sold land to Jews). There is no land registry office and the only way to prove the right of an owner to sell his property is through the construction company who sold it to him. Buyers sign a contract renting the land from the state, as all Israelis do, but their rights are not recorded in the Tabu (land registry) as are those of people in Tel Aviv or Haifa. “Several years ago,” adds Revivi, “one of the building companies sued the state claiming that it is not legal to force a company to be in charge of land ownership and land rights for generations – what if the company folds? The litigants reached a compromise under which a land registry office finally would be established in Judea and Samaria – but, to no one’s surprise, we are still waiting…”
Every zoning change in Yesha requires government approval. Someone who lives in Raanana and wants to build apartments on land zoned as farmland turns to the local planning committee and goes through an organized, set process. Anyone doing that in Samaria turns to the IDF civil administration’s central planning department, upon which his request is passed on to various government echelons in at least five steps, in order to analyze the possible political repercussions. This can take an inordinate amount of time, but once Sovereignty is achieved and Israeli law is applied, there will be a set process (not that the famed Israeli bureaucracy will be totally avoided). “There were zoning changes in this area that necessitated seven or eight different signatures by the Defense Minister, each one a process in itself,” Revivi recalled.
Entrepeneurs who might want to build in Yesha do not know how long it is going to take to obtain the zoning change they require (although there are instances where it goes faster than on the other side of the Armistice Line, and that is part of the problem. Residents who never know what to expect feel like stepchildren). West of the Green Line, there is a timetable for this process. The relevant committees are in charge and they meet at regular dates.
Today, there is no parcelization of plots of land in Judea and Samaria, as there is everywhere else in Israel. Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked says that this would have saved the ill fated homes in Netiv Haavot which were destroyed because a narrow patch of disputed land ran through some of them. She says emphatically that citizens are not supposed to be governed by an army’s civil administration, under which their requests go to an IDF officer in charge of land issues – they should fall under the Israeli Housing Authority like everyone else. When Sovereignty is applied, they will.
The most painful issue for Israelis in Yesha has been the fate of homes found to be unintentionally standing on privately owned or questionable land. This occurred because the government erred in allowing (and often encouraging) the construction or because recent resurveying changed the status of the sites. Where Israeli law is applicable – up to now only west of the Green Line – these problems are settled by what is called “the market bylaw” for private citizens or by “eminent domain” for the government, both involving financial compensation or alternate land swaps rather than the destruction of longstanding homes.
Getting a bank loan is another problem in Yesha Up to now, banks did not want to grant mortgages in Judea and Samaria due to the uncertain future of the area. Once Israeli law applies, banks will know that the government is the guarantor of the land’s ownership and everything will run smoother –perhaps leading to the lowering of current interest rates on the east side of the soon-to-be erased Green Line.
Once Sovereignty is applied, Israel will invest in Yesha infrastructure as it does west of the Green line – that means an end to the constant electricity stoppages and blackouts, internet problems and intermittent water supply. According to former MK Orit Struk, intrepid fighter for Jewish civil rights in Judea and Samaria, the plans for modernizing infrastructure are ready and have even been budgeted.
Even the Finance Ministry will ease its parsimonious attitude towards Judea and Samaria once the insecurity about the area’s status comes to an end. After all, why should a country with so many pressing needs finance roads if they might one day be given over to the PA? Revivi adds: “We will finally begin to bring communities that were founded with 100 famiiies and mushroomed to over 1000 the infrastructure that they need today, just like in the rest of Israel.”
It has always been amusing as well as infuriating to me when leftists complained about money spent on “settlers” – forgetting that those “settlers” are half a million tax-paying citizens who would have the right to roads and homes, health clinics and schools, streets and utilities even if they lived within the Green Line. Once Israeli law is applied, they will not be able to be singled out any more than Israelis living in Eilat.
And a crucial aspect of life on the entire globe will certainly benefit from the application of Israeli law in Yesha, and that is the environment. Hopefully, it is not too little too late. At present, without Sovereignty, the Israeli councils have limited jurisdiction outside the boundaries of their communities, and therefore find it difficult to enforce the laws against Arab-owned factories polluting air and water, or disposing of waste products in water resources and setting up illegal dumping grounds. That will still be far from optimal even after Sovereignty is applied, because of what goes on in Areas A and B. Ramallah and El-bira, for example, located in Area A, pour their sewage unhindered into once-beautiful Wadi Kelt and pollute the aquifers while blaming Israel for their water shortages (after refusing Israel’s offer, unnoticed by the world, to build the infrastructure for supplying water). The earth, then, will benefit as much as Israeli citizens in Yesha will, from the application of Sovereignty – or in layman’s terms, the application of Israeli law in 30% of Judea and Samaria.
If Israeli law is applied as planned, the change in status will not take place overnight, there will be a transition period with relevant bylaws, the way there was in Ramat Hagolan and Jerusalem, but “eventually life will be normal,” says Orit Struk.
Let’s not waste a minute making sure this normalization process begins.
**Reminder: The Oslo Accord granted Israel full control of Area C where all the Jewish communities and about 4% of the Palestinian Arabs are to be found while A and B are under full PA control except for security in Area B
Rochel Sylvetsky is Op-ed and Judaism editor of Arutz Sheva’s English site. She was Chairperson of Emunah Israel (1996-2001), CEO/Director of Kfar Hanoar Hadati Youth Village, member of the Emek Zevulun Regional Council and the Religious Education Council of Israel’s Education Ministry as well as managing editor of Arutz Sheva (2008-2013). Today she serves on the boards of the Knesset Channel and Orot Yisrael College. Her degrees are in Mathematics and Jewish Education.
This article is based in part on a Hebrew article on the topic by Ayelet Kahana in June 9th’ Makor Rishon newspaper in which former Justice Minister MK Ayelet Shaked, Efrat Mayor Revivi and former MK Orit Struk were quoted.