July 1 has passed without the promised move by Netanyahu to annex areas in the West Bank. Whether this was due to the outburst of criticism and warnings to Israel regarding annexation, or because of hesitation in Washington to risk another domestic issue in an elections period, we do not know. However, in the absence of the more dramatic move touted by Netanyahu, unofficial, creeping annexation continues. Moreover, it is indeed possible that there will soon be a more modest Israeli plan, namely annexation only of the settlements close to Jerusalem: Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion. In terms of public opinion at least within Israel, such an act might pass relatively quietly. Most Israelis already look upon at least Maale Adumim as part of greater Jerusalem. Indeed most Jewish Israelis have no idea where the green line is or ever was; certainly it disappeared from maps in school rooms many years ago (notwithstanding an effort by former education minister Yuli Tamir to return it).
In support of plans to annex these areas, some might argue that even the Geneva Initiative foresaw these “settlement blocs” as part of a new map of Israel. Certainly there was discussion at Camp David in 2000 and later (Olmert-Abbas talks) of Israel holding onto settlement blocs, and borders were proposed by Barak and others that would accommodate as many as 88% of settlers to remain in place, under Israeli rule of the settlement blocs.
However – these proposals were not proposed annexations but, rather, components of a complex system of trade-offs or swaps to be made in the context of a two state solution. The PLO, under Arafat, proposed the two state solution in 1988 when it abandoned its demand for all of mandated Palestine, and instead, called for a state only in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This was the mini-state option, in PLO terms, with recognition of Israel’s right to exist “within secure and recognized borders” (the wording of UN Security Council resolution 242).
One may assume this concession of 78% of the land in favor of a state on only 22% was not an act of charity. Rather it was pragmatism born of a cold analysis of the situation in 1988: Gorbachev in Moscow no longer gave full political backing to the maximum Palestinian demands; the Soviet leader was even talking about a balance of interests between the Arabs and Israel. The Arab states had been unable to defeat Israel and return lands to the Palestinians in the past; indeed they did nothing to help the besieged PLO in the 1982 war in Lebanon and could not be expected to help the Palestinians much in the future. The PLO itself was divided between sometimes warring factions, and those who had long advocated pragmatism were gaining in strength. Thus the state of Palestine, to be created on the post 1967 lines, was declared in November 1988 by the PLO.
Although Israel was slow to respond, when it did – under Prime Minister Rabin – it did not agree to the mini-state idea but, rather, began negotiating the size of the Palestinians’ 22%, beyond the green line. And that became the model for subsequent negotiations: how much of the 22% Israel would keep in order to accommodate as many settlers as possible, and perhaps serve other, security interests of Israel.
At Camp David and subsequently these annexations were to be compensated by swaps, that is, some land in Israel was to be given in exchange to the Palestinians. Not necessarily equal in size or quantity, but at least an exchange of some sort. The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 called for two states along the 1967 lines but in 2013 it too added the idea of agreed upon swaps. Presumably the main settlement blocs might thus be accommodated in exchange for uninhabited Israeli areas south of Gaza or south of Jerusalem. Swaps might be a part of a negotiated peace agreement for two states along but not exactly the green line. Not a one-sided land grab, not a reduction of the land intended for a Palestinian state, and not a unilateral creation of an area to be part of Israel but without citizenship for its Palestinian inhabitants.
So let there be no mistake. Annexation even of “only” Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion is not the same as the more generally accepted land swaps proposed as part of a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and also supported by the Arab world.
Annexation, even of small bits of land presumably supported by an Israeli consensus, is not the same as negotiated land swaps. Unilateral annexation is just that, unilateral expansion otherwise known as a land grab. And it would be a land grab that would effectively cut the West Bank in two, preventing the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state, and as a recent Ir Amim report clearly demonstrated, place hundreds of thousands more Palestinians and their lands under Israeli rule – without the rights enjoyed by citizens of the country. Thus apartheid would be introduced in “Israel proper” similar to that existing elsewhere in the West Bank.