Yossi Klein Halevi embodies, as he himself acknowledges, the centrism of Israel today. In his recent article, A plea to Gantz, Ashkenazi: Israel and its friends need you to block annexation, Halevi states candidly, “As a centrist, I believe that all of the land between the river and the sea belongs by right to the Jewish people; reality, though, leaves us no choice but to partition the land.” This statement is likely shared in some measures by all the Israeli voters who chose Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, which was supposed to be the archetypal party of today’s Israeli centrism.
Notwithstanding this position, Halevi goes on to argue that Israel ought not to annex any parts of Judea and Samaria unilaterally. While Halevi finds himself in the uncomfortable position of being aligned with the radical “faux pro Israel” group J Street, Halevi’s position comes from a far more authentic and pro Israel position. However, Halevi is wrong to argue against annexation. While annexation is no doubt a decision with far-reaching possible outcomes, Israel needs to annex the Jordan Valley, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumin, and the Gush Etzion Bloc of settlements. And this should be done well before the US November election.
Halevi’s first argument is one that is eminently perplexing. To paraphrase, Halevi argues that Israel’s Hasbara war for its reputation, waged by those like Halevi in various forums, is all but undone by annexation. However, the legitimacy that Halevi has argued for, and that many pro-Israel advocates have advocated for, is to convey the narrative that Israel is not a colonial occupier, but that it is has the legal and historical right to settle in Judea and Samaria. Thus, applying sovereignty to the various areas Israel advocates have been saying all along belong to Israel reinforces, rather than undermines, that message. Any Israel advocate who has based his or her advocacy on two states literally along 1967 lines (a category Halevi himself does not fall into) has little understanding of either the history or the practical realities. Annexation is not a betrayal of Israel advocates in the Diaspora; it is a validation of everything we have been fighting for.
Halevi then argues that annexation will betray Israel’s friends. It would take a novel to summarize how much Israel’s so-called friends or allies have let it down over the years. Does he mean Jordan constantly undermining Israeli policy in media and international forums? Does he mean the European Union’s even-handedness during a time when innocent Israelis were targeted and blown up in suicide bombings? Even the concern about the Palestinian reaction in light of their alleged cooperation is misplaced. The Palestinians have provided some cooperation to Israel, but in the meantime, have continued their “pay to slay” policy, demonized Israel in international forums, and refused to negotiate. Israel should not needlessly provoke its friends, but annexation is not needless: it is the fulfillment of 3000 years of history on the one hand, and the achievement of the security and national goals started by the Labour government after 1967 on the other.
Contrary to Halevi’s fears, in no world is Israel moving towards a bi-national state by annexing some 30% of Judea and Samaria, mostly inhabited by Jews. In no world will Israel ever govern, as citizens, all the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Limited annexation does not change that.
To the extent that Halevi is arguing that annexation will inch towards unequal rights for Palestinians and Israelis in the annexed areas, I agree. The Palestinians in the areas annexed by Israel should, subject to security concerns for individuals, be offered Israeli citizenships. This will alleviate any concern about differential treatment and the Palestinians in those areas do not present any demographic threat to Israel. This is all part of a broader policy I advocate of trying to integrate 50,000 – 250,000 Palestinians into Israel by providing them citizenship and access to Israeli services. Unfortunately, the policy of separation, while providing security benefits, is not a long term solution to peace between neighbours. While the Arab Israelis have elected awful, Israel-hating Knesset members, on a grass roots basis they have been relatively peaceful and benefited from being Israeli.
Finally, while the Oslo Accords were Israel’s commitment to negotiate a resolution to the conflict, this was premised on good faith from both sides. Israel tacitly considers the Terror War of the 2000s a complete repudiation of the spirit underlying the Oslo Accords. Moreover, Israel embarked on a unilateral campaign to withdraw from Gaza, and the international community did not urge Israel to stop because the move was not negotiated. Of course, negotiations are ideal; even the Trump Administration acknowledges that. But with a defiant and oppositional enemy, Israel cannot seriously be faulted for unilateral action.
In 2020, the news cycle moves fast, with the US Jerusalem Embassy move being a good road-test for annexation. Before the embassy move, dire warnings and pleas came from across the world to President Trump to stop this move. Undoubtedly, he also had to fight back members of his own administration warning against the consequences. After all the hoopla, what was the result? Not much. The world kept spinning as normal and everyone, even Israel’s haters, moved on to other issues more concerning to them. The news cycle moved on and, critically, Joe Biden says that even if he wins the next election, he will not undo the Jerusalem Embassy move.
Finally, to quote the famous rabbi, Hillel: “If not now, when?” This is the question Halevi really has to address. It has been 53 years since 1967; are we any closer to peace? The Palestinians refuse to negotiate. There is still no mainstream Palestinian leader that has acknowledged Israel’s right to a Jewish state, or indeed, any Jewish historical claims to the land. As the liberal, feminist, atheist Zionist Einat Wilf has pointed out in her new book, The War of Return: How Western Indulgence of the Palestinian Dream Has Obstructed the Path to Peace, the West still indulges Palestinian fantasies of return to places like Haifa and Jaffa.
The Palestinians could not be further from a positive seismic shift in their acceptance of Israel. On the other hand, Israel has an opportunity to apply Israeli law to areas she will never, ever give up, and to do so with the approval of the world’s largest superpower. This is a generational opportunity. Gantz and Ashkenazi understand this. Let’s hope they have the willpower to see it through.