The agreement brokered between Israel and the United Arab Emirates by the United States last week has some Jews elated. Others, not so much. Among other reasons, this latter group objects to Israel having committed not to annex any part of the West Bank in the near future to secure the deal.

The Jewish Press recently spoke to two major settler leaders to get their opinion: Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, who served as the international spokesman for Yesha Council until it came out against the Trump plan, and Yehudit Katzover, co-founder of the “Sovereignty Now” movements in Israel. One of the original settlers of Kiryat Arba in 1971, she also was one of the 13 women who lived in Beit Hadassah in Hevron in 1979, leading the way to the reestablishment of a Jewish presence in the city.


The Jewish Press: Were you surprised when Netanyahu announced the agreement with the UAE and the suspension of he sovereignty plan?

Revivi: Surprised and not surprised. Although we had no warning, I said in an interview several months ago that Netanyahu’s backing for sovereignty over Yesha and the Jordan Valley might be a smokescreen – a bargaining chip – for an alternate deal including a number of Arab states. That has always been one of his ambitions.

When the prime minister made the announcement, he emphasized that he wasn’t any canceling sovereignty plans, but merely putting them aside for now and that he ultimately intends to carry them through. Do you believe him?

I really don’t know. In the world of politics, statements are a part of overall strategies. They can be true or not true depending on how situations develop. Netanyahu is a master of strategies. He is always keeping options open and different channels warm on the stove.

I believe in January when we were in Washington, DC, together, he was serious about applying Israeli law to the communities in Yesha. It hit a quagmire because of issues in Washington, because of Israeli politics, and because of the hard-line policy of the Israeli right.

It became so complicated and entangled that it simply got stuck. In the meantime, the opportunity to make a deal with the UAE crystallized.

Do you anticipate any problems in a free commerce agreement in which the UAE can come to Israel with all of its billions and start buying up businesses and property to its heart’s content?    

At the end of the day, economic development is one of the ways you can tear down fences and fears. Greater Arab investment in Israel will be a blessing for both Israelis and Palestinians alike. It is something tangible that can be seen almost immediately.

When both sides experience the advantages of economic cooperation and peace, in my opinion, it will be a big incentive for the Arabs to abandon the sword.

Some people fear an open economic agreement with a large part of the Arab world could lead Israel into becoming more of a pan-international state and less of a Jewish state.

The Jewishness of the Jewish state is something that we have to strengthen from within, with more extensive Jewish education, and by placing more value on Jewish heritage and tradition.

We have to address the battle we face in making Judaism attractive to our young people, who are so easily pulled after the glitter of the modern world and after the superficial liberal platitudes of Western society.

When we become sovereign over our own Jewish Culture, then we will become sovereign over the Land.

* * * * *

The Jewish Press: What is your reaction to the new peace treaty?

Katzover: I can’t say Bibi’s latest magic act caught us by complete surprise. After all, in the past he has reneged on important national matters. But the cynical way he did it, saying one thing and doing another, leading his supporters and voters on a path of false hope – this is a shameful thing and a source of great pain for all lovers of Eretz Yisrael.

During his press conference, in answer to a journalist, Netanyahu insisted that he was not abandoning his intention to place Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty, rather putting the plan aside until a more propitious time.  

In January, in Washington, Netanyahu said Israel would place Yesha under its official sovereignty, and then Jared Kushner came out and said Israeli sovereignty was not a definite part of the plan.

Now again, Bibi maintains that he is merely setting the sovereignty issue to the side, and Kushner responds that Israel agreed to shelve the plan entirely. In effect, Bibi has agreed to the two-state solution. He’s adopted the position of the Left, which he embraced back in his Bar-Ilan speech several years ago.

The time has come for the Right to open its eyes and understand that Netanyahu will not be the leader to impose sovereignty over the settlements. He is motivated by his private judicial troubles and lacks the inner resolve to stand up in the face of all opposition and take the historic step of officially incorporating Yesha into Israel proper.

During Sharon’s campaign to destroy Gush Katif, Knesset Member Zvi Hendel said that the depth of the withdrawal would parallel the depth of Sharon’s legal troubles. I am afraid that the same equation may be true here as well. Netanyahu is like a hunted and threatened animal who has been backed into a corner. To escape, he will agree to form a Palestinian state to save his own hide. This to me is the most dangerous thing.

Do you think when the details of the new peace agreement are publicized, Israel’s consent to a Palestinian state will be one of them?  

That’s what Kushner says. I believe him more than I believe Bibi.

Besides the danger of a Palestinian state and Israel’s abandonment or postponement of the sovereignty issue, do you foresee other dangers in Israel’s agreement with the UAE?

There exists the very real possibility that Har HaBayit will become “Mecca 2” with millions of Arabs flocking to the site to pray. Our already shaky control of the mount will be weakened even more. In effect, Netanyahu has surrendered control over the Temple Mount.


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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.