How did the Middle East get into such a mess that Israel may be on the verge of annexing about 30% of the West Bank captured in the 1967 War? Despite how controversial the action is viewed everywhere, except the Trump and Netanyahu governments, it appears to be moving forward. Annexation seems motivated by a combination of the Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century,” Netanyahu’s desire to establish himself as a great hero in Israel and extricate himself from the pending criminal trial against him, as well as the Palestinian alienation from both the United States and Israel.
Most analysts believe Netanyahu will proceed with some form of annexation, and a super-crisis will follow. Yes, when the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and accepted Israeli control over the Golan Heights, the reactions were much calmer than anticipated. But this is a very different action, cutting Palestinian potential future control over the West Bank by almost a third, and creating a host of problems for Israel inside the West Bank and for Israel’s military, as well as for Israel’s relations (old and emerging) with friends and foes at the price of ending chances for a two-state solution.
How can annexation be prevented? It’s probably too late to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu to change his mind. Personal politics and interests, and the support of roughly half the Israeli public have slowly managed to overcome national interests, the views of the Israeli security establishment, and the vehement international opposition required to overcome the nearing crisis.
Therefore, we need a new arrangement, a deal that will permit Netanyahu to delay and ultimately cancel annexation, and declare victory. If the Israeli government achieves a number of long-sought gains, the Prime Minister will have a justification for delaying or even abandoning annexation.
Here are some of the concessions Israel might achieve:
- The Palestinians would withdraw their case at the International Criminal Court against Israel. The Court is in the controversial process of potentially trying Israelis for a variety of actions the Palestinians claim were war crimes committed in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. This effort creates a gargantuan headache for Israel, and to be rid of the problem as part of a package deal (including the additional items listed below) would mean it would be well worth cancelling the hugely controversial annexation.
- The small territories between Jordan and Israel that had been leased to Israeli farmers for the past 25 years near Naharayim (Baqura) in the north and Tzofar (Ghamr) in the south would be returned to Israel for another 20 years, allowing Israeli farmers to continue working their fields. Other disputes between Israel and Jordan would be resolved as part of Israel’s move away from annexation.
- Some Arab countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and/or the UAE would establish arrangements with Israel that would result in a form of diplomatic relations and representatives of some sort in major embassies, but not yet formal status with Ambassadors, etc.
- The European powers, most of whom are deeply opposed to annexation while standing as Israel’s largest trading partner, could well sweeten the deal with new and more positive arrangements, such as ending the labeling requirement for Israeli settlement goods.
- The UN Human Rights Council could drop the Blacklist against Israel it announced three months ago.
- A long shot, but as part of a secret exchange of “deals and compromises” the Palestinians might renew talks with the United States and Israel. The Palestinian counteroffer earlier this week represented a positive first step in that direction.
These are just some examples of a deal that could be made to delay and eventually cancel annexation, with enough benefits to allow the Israeli leadership to convince its public that the arrangement as a whole represents a win for Israel. Since roughly half of Israelis favor annexation but do not want increased conflict, and since the far right does not believe the much-discussed annexation plan goes far enough, Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular could conclude this kind of arrangement would be superior to Israel in the long run rather than annexation.
With the United States overwhelmed with a plethora of crises, other countries might well take charge of these discussions. Egypt, Jordan and/or one of the Gulf States could all play significant roles in brokering a deal. Israel would gain from this deal, and the risky annexation gambit would be deferred and eventually abandoned altogether.
Why should the other governments in the area, including the Palestinians, make this kind of deal? Because all of them will suffer from annexation, with difficulties and crises affecting each of them. Every country in the region, and the Middle East as a whole, would be better off with this kind of deal – a deal that prevents an Israeli annexation that will only bring trouble for all parties.
Better some concessions for everyone than a new Middle East mess with dangerous consequences for all. With a deal of some kind, all will gain. Without, all will suffer.
So why not at least try to pull off some kind of international deal where everyone gains?