Netanyahu is barreling ahead with annexation, promising to bring it to a vote in the Knesset as early as July 1st of this year. While the date is rapidly approaching, the government has been particularly mum on how exactly it intends to carry it out. Annexation is a monumental step. It will forever change Israel and the Middle East. If it is to be done, it needs to be done right and not rushed.
This will take meticulous planning, coordination and negotiation. Politically, Netanyahu has much to gain by carrying out a rushed annexation, but Israel will surely lose in the process. A premature annexation will create violence and chaos in the West Bank, divide the Israeli people and leave Israel isolated and vulnerable dealing with the repercussions. Netanyahu and Gantz must recognize the enormity of this decision, throw politics aside and do what is in Israel’s best interest. While Israel’s finalized border will of course address its security needs and apply sovereignty to large Jewish communities in the West Bank, it must also preserve the possibility of Palestinian statehood. If it plays it cards just right, Israel’s unity government has a unique opportunity to bring its divided people closer together and make actual strives towards a lasting peace. However, Israel is walking a tight rope with annexation, one false step could be disastrous.
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, is currently hard at work campaigning for a rapid annexation of parts the West Bank while Trump is still in office. A rapid annexation in the final days of the Trump administration’s first term will be an epic mistake and a giant missed opportunity. Especially when considering the current state of affairs in the United States following the murder of George Floyd, there simply could not be a worse time to pursue a hasty annexation. Americans are taking to the streets to oppose systemic racism and high ranking military leaders are uniting across party lines against Donald Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof. It would be downright foolish to presume Israel will be dealing with another Trump administration after the 2020 election.
Prematurely annexing the West Bank will not only invoke the fury of Israel’s European and Middle Eastern allies, it will further alienate the pro-Israel wing of the Democratic party and box Joe Biden into a corner if he is elected president. Such a move will severely jeopardize Israel’s international standing. At such a sensitive moment in America, Netanyahu should think twice about pulling a fast one on Joe Biden before he potentially takes office. Israel could be left dealing with the international blowback without the support of its closest ally. Instead, Israel needs to slow down this process and do it right if it is to do it at all. It should use this time to carefully formulate borders that can unite Israelis and create the right conditions for peace. However, there is no question that Israel must hold off taking any action until after the next US presidential election.
Delaying until after the American presidential election will allow the next US administration and European allies enough time to comprehend Israel’s position and address specific concerns rather than outright rejecting the move on its face. Applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank is an extraordinary step that needs to be meticulously coordinated with Israel’s allies as well as the Palestinians. But, as of right now, Netanyahu has not even cued in Israel’s own security services. Recent reports have shockingly indicated that the IDF and the Shin Bet have been excluded from the mapping process. Keeping the IDF and Shin Bet in the dark is illogical and dangerous as they best understand Israel’s security needs and will be tasked with dealing with the repercussions of annexation.
Delaying any moves until after the election will also allow the Palestinians enough time to come to terms with the evolving situation and return to the negotiating table if they choose to do so. Finalized maps coordinated with the international community might be enough for the Palestinians to stop their rejectionist approach to peace talks and start negotiating seriously. If the Palestinians come to the table, it will give both sides a clear launching point to begin negotiations. If the Palestinians utterly refuse to negotiate, unilateral action will be more justified and will likely generate a tamer international response. If Israel is to act unilaterally, it is essential it take Palestinian national aspirations into account, even if the Palestinians are not at the table.
Make no mistake about it, a two-state solution is the only viable outcome for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the only way to ensure a Jewish and democratic state for Israel and give the two and half million Palestinians in the West Bank a national homeland and the rights they deserve. While a two-state solution may be beyond our reach for the moment, any unilateral moves Israel takes must preserve the possibility for the future. The benefits of a two-state solution for Israel are abundant: overwhelming bipartisan support in the US, open ties with Arab Gulf states and increased standing in Europe all of which will boost the Israeli economy to unbelievable heights. Therefore, Israel’s finalized West Bank border needs to maintain the land integrity of a future Palestinian state. In order to do so, Israel simply must dismantle remote outposts and other settlements built to prevent a continuous Palestinian state.
Finalizing Israel’s border, in a way that brings Israelis together and closer to peace with the Palestinians will take tremendous compromise. Resistance on both sides of the aisle will be stiff. But if Netanyahu and Gantz actually work together, they have the political strength to make it happen. Settler leaders will bitterly oppose dismantling any settlements, however, down the road when the dust settles, their constituents will celebrate sovereignty being applied to large-scale Jewish communities in West Bank thus ending decades of ambiguity. Israelis opposed to unilateral action will ultimately be able to live with a border that preserves the possibility of a two-state solution and makes a lasting peace more achievable. In the end, both sides can claim a political victory and that is what political compromise is all about.
The ability to make this happen ultimately boils down to whether Netanyahu is prepared to do this the right way and for the right reasons. A rushed annexation in the final days of Trump’s first term, will further divide Israel and leave it internationally isolated to deal with the repercussions. It will be a political show rather than an actual stride towards peace. Will Netanyahu slow down and carefully craft a border that brings Israelis together and makes peace more obtainable or will he squander the opportunity?