As Israel mulls the possibility of unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank, a process that was short-sightedly sanctioned by President Donald Trump under his misbegotten Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Israel’s friends in the United States are warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he should seriously reconsider the matter.
A few days ago, three of its most prominent allies in the U.S. Senate, Charles Schumer of New York, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, all Democrats, released a statement expressing alarm at the prospect of unilateral annexation, which may begin as early as July 1.
“A sustainable peace deal that ensures the long-term security of Israel and self-determination for Palestinians must be negotiated directly between the two parties,” it said. “Unilateral annexation runs counter to these long-standing policies and could undermine regional stability and broader U.S. national security interests in the region.”
Their unambiguous message represents the tip of an iceberg. Last month, 19 Democratic senators sent a letter to the Israeli government warning that annexation would “fray” Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party.
Democrats in the House of Representatives are similarly concerned by the spectre of annexation, judging by a letter signed so far by more than 120 lawmakers, including Steny Hoyer, the majority leader.
Earlier this month, the Union of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued what is probably one of the most cogent and eloquent arguments against annexation.
As the two organizations put it, “Whether referred to as ‘annexation’ or, euphemistically, the ‘extension of Israeli sovereignty,’ we believe any such act outside the context of a broader peace accord to be a fundamentally flawed idea that would cause significant damage to the State of Israel, to the special relationship between our countries, and to Israel-Diaspora relations.”
In general terms, they reiterated their support for a two-state solution, voiced deep opposition to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and expressed concern about Israel’s “oppressive treatment” of the West Bank’s Palestinian Arab population.
Then, in point form, they outlined their objections to annexation.
Annexation would place yet more Palestinians under Israel’s direct control while denying them Israeli citizenship, leading to an unpalatable situation: “Israel moral standing depends on its commitment to ensuring that Palestinians do not live as second-class citizens without the full democratic rights its Jewish citizens enjoy.”
Annexation would strengthen the hand of Palestinian rejectionists like Hamas, stoke further violence, and increase calls for a one-state solution, which would undermine Israel’s status as Jewish state.
Annexation runs the risk of isolating Israel in the international community and undercutting Israel’s current campaign of forging relations with Arab Gulf countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or even Saudi Arabia.
Annexation would provide fodder for advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which is gaining ground at American universities and in U.S. intellectual circles.
Annexation could well weaken Israel’s potential partner in peace, the Palestinian Authority, which recently ended its beneficial policy of security cooperation with Israel.
Annexation could well damage or destroy Israel’s existing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, leading to greater regional instability.
Annexation would jeopardize the bipartisan support Israel enjoys in the Democratic and Republican parties and could restrict the scope of its annual aid packages.
Annexation would further strain ties between Israel and the American Jewish community, the majority of whose members endorse a two-state solution. As Congressman Ted Deutsch, one of Israel’s strongest supporters, has said, “A directly negotiated two-state solution is a mainstream position …”
In conclusion, the Union of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis contend that annexation would be inconsistent with the serious pursuit of a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and would jeopardize Israel’s “commitment to its future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
These words may fall on deaf ears in the Israeli government, which seems intent on incrementally annexing the settlements in the West Bank, as well as the Jordan Valley.
But if prudence prevails, Israel, backed by the Trump administration, will reconsider the whole wretched notion of annexation and focus its efforts on resuming direct talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Israel cannot afford to be a Spartan garrison state in perpetual conflict with its Arab neighbors.