Israel, US should beware of consequences of West Bank annexation
Calls for the annexation of the occupied West Bank are gaining momentum in both Tel Aviv and Washington, but Israel and its American allies should be careful what they wish for. Annexing the Palestinian Territories will only reinforce the current rethink of the Palestinian strategy, as opposed to solving Israel’s self-induced problems.
Encouraged by the Donald Trump administration’s decisionto move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Israeli government officials feel that the time for annexing the entirety of the West Bank is now. In fact, “there is no better time than now” was the exact phrase usedby former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked as she promoted annexation at a recent New York conference.
Certainly, it is election season in Israel again, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failedto form a government following the last elections in April. So much saber-rattling happens during such political campaigns, as candidates talk tough in the name of “security,” fighting terrorism and so on. But Shaked’s comments cannot be dismissed as fleeting election kerfuffle. They represent so much more, if understood within the larger political context.
Indeed, since Trump’s advent to the White House, Israel has never — and I mean never — had it so easy. It is as if the right-wing government’s most radical agenda became a wish list for Israel’s allies in Washington. This list includes the US recognition of Israel’s illegal annexationof East Jerusalem, of the occupied Golan Heights, and the dismissalof the Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
But that is not all. Statements made by influential US officials indicate initial interest in the outright annexation of the West Bank or, at least, large parts of it. The latest such call was made by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. “Israel has the right to retain some... of the West Bank,” Friedman saidin an interview, cited in the New York Times on June 8.
Friedman is deeply involved in the so-called “deal of the century,” a political gambit championed mostly by Trump’s top adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. The apparent idea behind this “deal” is to dismiss the core demands of the Palestinians, while reassuring Israel regarding its quest for demographic majority and “security” concerns.
Other US officials driving Washington’s efforts on behalf of Israel include Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt and former Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley. In a recent interview with the Israeli right-wing newspaper Israel Hayom, Haley saidthat the Israeli government “should not be worried” regarding the details of the “deal of the century.” Knowing Haley’s love affair with — and brazen defense of — Israel at the UN, it should not be too difficult to fathom the obvious meaning of her words.
Political grandstanding aside, the Israeli leaders understand that they are no longer in the driver’s seat.
This is why Shaked’s call for the annexation of the West Bank cannot be dismissed as typical election season talk. But can Israel annex the West Bank? Practically speaking, yes, it can. True, it would be a flagrant violation of international law, but such a notion has never irked Israel in the past or stopped it from annexing Palestinian or Arab territories. For example, it annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1980 and 1981, respectively.
Moreover, the political mood in Israel is increasingly receptive to such a step. A poll conducted by the newspaper Haaretz in March revealedthat 42 percent of Israelis backed West Bank annexation. This number is expected to rise in the coming months as Israel continues to move to the right.
It is also important to note that several steps have already been taken in that direction, including the Israeli Knesset’s decision to applythe same civil laws to illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank as to those living in Israel.
But that is where Israel faces its greatest dilemma. According to a joint pollconducted by Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in August 2018, more than 50 percent of Palestinians realize that a so-called two-state solution is no longer tenable. Moreover, a growing number of Palestinians also believethat co-existence in a single state, where Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs (Muslims and Christians alike) live side by side, is the only possible formula for a better future.
The dichotomy for Israeli officials, who are keen on maintaining Jewish demographic majority and the marginalization of Palestinian rights, is that they no longer have good options.
First, they understand that the indefinite occupation of Palestinian territories cannot be sustained. Ongoing Palestinian resistance at home and the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement abroad is challenging Israel’s political legitimacy across the world.
Second, they must also be aware of the fact that, from an Israeli Jewish leaders’ point of view, annexing the West Bank, along with millions of Palestinians, will multiply the very “demographic threat” that they have been dreading for many years.
Third, the ethnic cleansing of whole Palestinian communities — the so-called “transfer” option — as Israel did upon its founding in 1948 and again in 1967, is no longer possible. Arab countries would not open their borders to accommodate Israel’s convenient genocides and Palestinians would refuse to leave, however high the price. The fact that Gazans have stayed put, despite years of siege and brutal wars, is a case in point.
Political grandstanding aside, the Israeli leaders understand that they are no longer in the driver’s seat and, despite their military and political advantage over Palestinians, it is becoming clear that firepower and Washington’s blind support are no longer enough to determine the future of the Palestinian people.
It is also clear that the Palestinians are not, and never were, passive actors in their own fate. If Israel maintains its 52-year old occupation, the Palestinians will continue to resist. That resistance will not be weakened or quelled by any decision to annex the West Bank, in part or in full, the same way that Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem has not ceased since its illegal annexation by Tel Aviv four decades ago.
Finally, the illegal annexation of the West Bank could only contribute to the irreversible awareness among Palestinians that their fight for freedom, human rights, justice and equality will be better served through a civil rights struggle within the borders of a single democratic state.
In their blind arrogance, Shaked and her right-wing ilk are only accelerating the demise of Israel as an ethnic, racist state, while opening up the stage for better possibilities than perpetual violence and apartheid.
- Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is “The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story” (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud