A Centrist’s View on Annexation

As a confirmed Zionist, I support a two-state solution – that is, two states for two peoples. Yet I have come to the conclusion that the time has come to agree that Israel can appropriately take the step of a unilateral – and limited – annexation of certain parts of the West Bank.

As I’ve written before, international law is irrefutable that Israel – and only Israel – has the legal right to sovereignty in the entire former British Mandate west of the Jordan River, which includes 100% of the West Bank, 100% of Jerusalem, and 100% of Gaza, what BDS activists chant as “from the river to the sea.” Nonetheless, for Israel’s own sake, for the sake of my Israeli family, my Israeli granddaughter, my Israeli machatunim, and every Israeli family that prays that they can move towards an end of the existential threat, so that they no longer have to face mandatory military service, so that they can live in peace without people who hate them just for being Jews living among them as a fifth column – and because I acknowledge that the Palestinians have also lived in the land for centuries and have rights too, albeit not a right to sovereignty, I long for a true peace and a true two-state solution. From what I’ve read, the vast majority of Israelis feel the same.

But the reason that there is no peace and no two-state solution is not, as too many pundits claim, because of Bibi Netanyahu, the settlers, a “right-wing” Israeli government, or the failure of the international community – or the United States alone – to put more and more pressure on Israel to make more and more concessions. As Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf explain so well in their newly-translated-into-English book (originally published in Hebrew in May 2018), The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream has Obstructed the Path to Peace, the ONLY reason that there is no two-state solution, and no peace is because the Palestinians have always rejected and continue to reject a two-state solution, insisting at all times and in every forum on an unqualified right of return for all persons that they designate as “refugees.”

As they describe themselves:

We both come from the political left in Israel. Einat was a Member of Parliament on behalf of the Labor Party and advised and worked closely with some of Israel’s most well-known leaders from the peace camp . . . . Adi worked as a journalist for a decade for Israel’s well-known progressive daily Haaretz and identified with Israeli left-wing politics.

Both of us have been very strong proponents of the two-state solution and we have supported all major efforts to reach peace based on this formula.

The War of Return painstakingly chronicles, with extensive citation to Jewish and Palestinian sources – the bibliography alone is evidence of their thoroughness – the Palestinian’s time after time after time rejection of all peace overtures made by Israel, proposed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, and proposed by the international community. And on each occasion, citing contemporary sources of the time, the authors highlight that the reason for failure was not Israeli settlement activity, Israeli right-wing policy, or Israeli refusal to make concessions for peace. Instead, each and every time, the well documented sole reason is that the Palestinian side refused to reach a true final resolution, insisting that the issue of “return” would never be resolved, and reserving it as part of the ultimate goal to deny the right of Jews to self-determination, to have a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state. This remains the official policy not only of Hamas, but of the Palestinian Authority as well.

In one of my earlier articles, I asserted that the Palestinians had never made an offer of their own, but merely rejected every proposal presented to them. A very smart Israeli whom I know to be well-read and, for whom I have great respect, suggested that the Palestinians had indeed made an offer, and pointed me towards The Palestine Papers, “some 1,700 original documents from the office of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and published online by Al Jazeera” (according to The War of Return) in early 2011. But Schwartz and Wilf review these documents in detail, and these members of the Israeli left confirm that, far from ever making their own peace proposal, the Palestinian side insisted at all times on the full and undiluted “right of return” that they knew Israel could never accept, thereby deliberately and with aforethought dooming any possible peace negotiations.

It is in this context that I have come to agree that unilateral annexation of at least the settlement blocs that everyone agrees will become part of Israel in any two-state solution. Note, I do not include the Jordan Valley in this, because there is no consensus that the Jordan Valley would be part of Israel as part of a two-state solution – but there is no disagreement anywhere among those who espouse a two-state solution that settlement blocs along the Green Line, and perhaps stretching out limbs to include settlements such as Ariel, will be part of Israel.

Pick, for example, any of the three maps in David Makovsky’s 2011 article in the New York Times: http://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/12/opinion/mapping-mideast-peace.html?_r=2, which is currently available as well on J Street’s website. None of the blocs shown on these maps do any damage whatever to a two-state solution; none prevent a contiguous Palestinian State in the West Bank. Should Israel unilaterally annex these settlements, applying Israeli law to them as it has the right to do anyway under international law, a two-state solution is not impaired in the slightest.

But, some might argue, Israel should not act unilaterally; this should be negotiated. Unfortunately, as Schwartz and Wilf detail so well, there is no one with whom to negotiate, and the Palestinians have made it clear that they simply refuse to negotiate on this issue to reach a final peace. And while the Oslo Accords specify that neither party should take unilateral action, the Palestinians have not upheld their end of that bargain for even one second, acting in the U.N., in U.N. committees, and in the International Criminal Court in direct violation of their commitments in the Accords. It is clear that Israel’s own forbearance of unilateral action has brought them no closer to peace nor to international approval.

It is further in this context that, whatever else one thinks of President Trump, his administration is to be applauded for, in nearly the first time in history, breaking with the failed resolution paradigm of generations of U.S. Presidents of both parties and their administrations putting pressure solely on Israel. The Hebrew version of The War of Return was published in May, 2018, and called for the defunding  and dismantling of UNRWA because it has strayed so very far from its original mission and is one of the principal reasons that the Palestinians continue to reject a true two-state solution – and educate their children to do the same. This was before President Trump eventually ended U.S. funding of UNRWA a few months later in August, 2018. In doing so, he acted in accord with positions across the Israeli political spectrum.

This, along with recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, was a first good step. The time is long since past for the international community to heed the advice of true peace activists who advocate for a real two-state solution. The repeatedly failed paradigm of criticizing and putting pressure on Israel, while never demanding concessions from the Palestinians must end. The Palestinians must be told that they will no longer be given a pass – that they must stop teaching hate and that the “right of return” is not supported by international law (as The War of Return explains in great detail) and an unjustifiable fantasy that will never occur.

International approval of a limited unilateral annexation of settlement blocs that will be part of Israel in any two-state solution is another step. It tells the Palestinians that there is a price to be paid for repeated rejectionism and their  own unilateral actions in violation of their own agreements. It does no harm in any way to an eventual two-state solution. As much as I – and many others – would prefer a negotiated final peace agreement and still pray that it will occur, I cannot fault Israel if it chooses to take its own limited unilateral action. The Palestinians own actions and inactions justify it.

About the Author
David H. Levitt practices intellectual property and commercial litigation law in Chicago, and is a pro-Israel activist.
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