In a characteristically passionate and eloquent post, Yossi Halevi pleads with the leaders of Blue and White, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, to block the planned annexation. Halevi appeals to Israel’s moral character: Israel has always been able to hold its head up high by demonstrating its flexibility and willingness to negotiate disputed territory. By unilaterally annexing any land, argues Halevi, Israel cedes its moral credibility.
But the truth is, annexation is a step forward on the elusive path to Middle East peace. The lands which are up for annexation — and at this point the precise areas are anything but certain — are consensus lands. That is, under any foreseeable agreement with the Palestinians Efrat and Gush Etzion will be part of Israel. Maale Adumim has never been on the negotiating table. At no point in Israel’s decades-long on and off negotiations with the Palestinian Authority have Ariel and even the Jordan Valley been under serious consideration for transferal to Palestinian or Jordanian domain.
Peace can only be achieved when there is clarity. The limited annexation being advanced will clarify what is negotiable and what is nonnegotiable, and allow the parties to move ahead with realistic expectations. Rather than imperiling Israel’s legitimacy, as Halevi fears, annexation will clear the playing field. By carving out limited land holdings, Israel is also calling attention to lands which will be a part of a future Palestinian state.
Domestically, annexation will assign a permanent status to these lands, extending civilian law and administration to the area. Until annexation, the Israeli military will continue to find itself involved in civilian bureaucracy such as issuing building permits and directing traffic, tasks for which it is ill-suited.
Instead of impeding progress by waiting for Palestinians to come to the negotiating table and rehash the same issues discussed for decades, annexing universally recognized Israeli lands will be a demonstration of Israel’s sovereignty, and at long last be a step toward a peaceful settlement in the Middle East. Its people, both Jews and Arabs, deserve no less.