Imminent annexation represents a reckoning for the UK Jewish community

A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish  (Jewish News AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A Palestinian boy looks behind a wall separating Jewish (Jewish News AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Benny Gantz’s vision for Israel is better defined by what it opposed, rather than what it stood for. Even more precisely, who it stood against: Israel’s longest-standing incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu. The dismay was therefore palpable among his voters when Gantz decided to abandon the only mainstay of his political messaging and join a unity government headed by his unrelenting foil: A Prime Minister facing three criminal charges who has overseen the most rightward and anti-democratic shifts in Israel’s short history. 

To anybody following Gantz’s election campaigns, however, it should hardly come as a surprise that annexation of large portions of the West Bank was a key pillar of this agreement. In the build-up to the September 2019 election, when Netanyahu announced that he would annex the Jordan Valley, the former Chief of Staff complained that the premier has stolen his idea. In the next election cycle, he went a step further, incorporating the vow into his own programme, and endorsing Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, which denatures and dismembers the West Bank beyond any feasibility for Palestinian statehood.

This week’s coalition agreement pledged to begin the process of annexation of significant portions of the West Bank by 1 July. This would bring most of Area C, comprising 60% of the West Bank, 400,000 Jewish settlers and the strategic and arable Jordan Valley, under official Israeli sovereignty. 

Although this is subject to US approval, this is not likely to stand in the way. With Trump’s economic-focussed campaign under threat from the Covid-19 and oil prices plummeting, foreign policy might have to take on more prominence in his re-election bid. While pressure from his international allies might stand in the way, Israel’s proposed unilateral steps represent nothing other than the fulfilment of the Trump administration’s plan. 

The only potential positive about annexation is that it would no longer allow people to live under the promises and pretences of the two-state solution. Israel is no longer pretending, and neither should our community. 

In the last three elections, the two-state solution was scarcely mentioned at all. Even the ailing Labor Party – the party of Yitzchak Rabin –  have signed up to annexation, emphatically putting to rest any rose-tinted invocations of the Oslo accords. In the current Knesset, just 19 out of 120 MKs oppose annexation, and just 5 of them are Jewish. 

Regardless of the area’s legal status, Israel has enjoyed de facto sovereignty over this increasingly fragmented and Judaized territory for a long time. At this stage, a change to the de jure status of this territory would involve little more than signing some documents. The two-state solution has been slowly bulldozed and excavated out of viability, as Israel’s settlement enterprise has become irreversibly entrenched. 

Organisations advocating for the two-state solution in the USA, including J Street and the New Israel Fund, are said to be already reconsidering their positions and approaches. 

The British Jewish community must follow suit: we must place our commitment to principles of democracy, international law, and human rights over unconditional support for Israel’s agenda in the West Bank. However, the early signs are not promising. The Board of Deputies and The Jewish Leadership Council claimed that the ‘Deal of the Century’ was a workable basis, and they are yet to release a response to this new government. The Jewish Labour Movement expressed serious concern about recent developments, but reiterated their commitment to the very same two-state solution which annexation jeopardises.   

Our own community’s loud and long-standing commitment to the two-state solution therefore needs to be rethought. Against the backdrop of this changing reality, our support is serving as a fig leaf for a status quo of occupation, dispossession, and daily human rights violations. The two-state solution, in the most optimistic reading, has been comatose for a long time, at least in its Westphalian form. Annexation would represent a final and decisive nail in its dilapidated coffin. The question, therefore, should no longer be whether this ideal is dead, but where we go from here. 

About the Author
Jonathan Shamir is a writer and editor based in Haifa. He previously worked for NGOs dealing with Israel-Palestine.