Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman has issued a warning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be wise to heed.
In an appearance before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee a few days ago, Liberman warned that Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would spark a crisis with the United States, its chief benefactor and ally. “I am saying it as clearly as possible,” he declared. “We received a direct message from the United States saying that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank would mean an immediate crisis with the new (Trump) administration.”
Lieberman, who conferred with U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis, in Washington, D.C., yesterday, urged Netanyahu to “clarify very clearly” that Israel has no intention of annexing the West Bank, which is inhabited by 2.7 million Palestinian Arabs and some 400,000 Jewish settlers.
No dove by any stretch of the imagination, Liberman delivered these sobering comments after Likud parliamentarian Miki Zohar, a member of Netanyahu’s party, piously proclaimed the end of the two-state solution to resolve Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. Interviewed on Israeli television, Zohar said, “The two-state solution is dead. What is left is a one-state solution.”
Under Zohar’s annexationist plan, the Palestinians of the West Bank would be granted civil rights within the broad framework of autonomy, but not “full citizenship.” As such, they would not be allowed to vote in Israeli elections and thus would be second-class citizens, like the non-whites of apartheid South Africa.
Rejecting Zohar’s dangerous scheme, Liberman — a West Bank settler who believes that Israel must “separate” itself from the Palestinians if it is to survive as a Jewish state — warned, “The decision to annex Judea and Samaria would mean the integration of 2.7 million Palestinians in Israel.”
As Liberman is acutely aware, the inclusion of countless more Arabs into Israel would be disastrous in terms of its future status as a Jewish democratic state. At present, upwards of two million Arabs live in Israel as citizens. Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would add nearly three more million Arabs to its population. Since the Arab birthrate is considerably higher than the Jewish birthrate, the demographic consequences of annexation should be obvious. With the passage of time, Israel would either morph into a binational state, which would spell finis to the Zionist dream, or be transformed into an undemocratic Jewish state that denies a hefty chunk of its Arab residents full equality.
This nightmare scenario would alienate and drive away many of Israel’s supporters, consign Israel to pariah status in the international community of nations and trigger yet more tensions in the region. What decent person could possibly support a state that deliberately relegates millions of people to the margins of society?
It’s crystal clear, however, that right-wing Israeli nationalists like Zohar would have absolutely no problem adjusting to this new reality. Unfortunately, the Israeli political scene is filled to the brim with such messianic types.
Emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, Education Minister Naftali Bennett has called for the annexation of Area C of the West Bank, which comprises of 60 percent of its territory. Bennett’s colleague, Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Netanyahu’s close confidant, has proposed a similar plan. Posted on his Facebook page, it envisages the annexation of most Israeli settlements around Jerusalem. “This is a needed first diplomatic step in the era of President Trump,” he wrote, suggesting that the Trump administration will be staunchly pro-Israel.
Israeli Science Minister Ofir Akunis concurs with their sentiments. As the Knesset prepared to vote for a bill last month to legalize the status of Israeli outposts and settlements in the West Bank on private Palestinian land, Akunis said, “All of the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people … these rights are eternal and can’t be challenged.”
Endorsing Akunis’ position, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “We need to tell the American administration what we want and not wait for orders from it.”
No less a person than Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, supports annexation as well. As he put it in February, “I, Rubi Rivlin, believe that Zion is entirely ours. I believe the sovereignty of the State of Israel must be in all the blocs,” he said, referring to the settlement blocs in the West Bank that Israel covets and wishes to annex one day.
Although Netanyahu thinks that the West Bank is an integral component of Israel, he seems to have applied the brakes to such loose, irresponsible talk. During his recent trip to Washington, D.C., he said that while he will never relinquish security control of the West Bank, he does not want to “annex” the Palestinians there.
Since Netanyahu was referring to people rather than land, can one assume he endorses annexation in principle? Time will tell. Certainly, Netanyahu wants to keep the majority of West Bank settlements in Israel’s possession.
Trump’s position on this issue is hazy.
During the presidential campaign, Trump left the impression that he would adopt a lenient attitude toward settlements. But of late, he has backtracked.
Before Netanyahu’s recent visit, Trump told Israel Hayom, a pro-Netanyahu daily, “I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace. Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”
During his joint press conference with Netanyahu in the White House, Trump asked him to “hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Trump may be more tolerant of the settlements than his predecessor, Barack Obama, but he realizes he will not be able to break the political impasse between Israel and the Palestinians unless that pivotal issue is definitively resolved.
So far, Israel has not reached an agreement with the United States regarding the construction of new homes in West Bank settlements, Netanyahu recently disclosed. But as Liberman’s warning unequivocally indicates, Netanyahu should be under no illusions where the Trump administration would stand should Israel decide to annex even parts of the West Bank.