Now is not the time to Annex the West Bank

In a striking Op-Ed in its tone and intention, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba, warned that Israel stands to lose all its favor in the Middle East if it annexes the Jordan Valley.

The man was in the room when the Trump peace deal of the century was unveiled, he did not actively oppose its elements even after it became clear that Israel may gain portions of current West Bank. His opinion piece, the first of its kind from a UAE official, talks of security cooperation with Israel, business and financial ties, including opening a “gateway” for Israelis to the region. The link, as mentioned in the following OpEd from the Times of Israel, openly reveals for the first time, the flowering of ties between the Gulf and Israel, with or without the Palestinians. As long as Israel maintains the status quo, Israel will develop flowering ties with many Arab countries.

As the world has fallen into an economic shadow due to Coronavirus and with riots striking the United States, Israel has come out of it relatively unscathed. While many businesses here are seething in the prospect of economic ruin, there is virtually no disorder. There is no Palestinian rioting, even after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that he will halt security cooperation with Israel due to the Israeli government’s intent to annex parts of the West Bank. The only news of disorder lately had to do with the tragic shooting of a Palestinian with Autism outside the Lions Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City and a drive by shooting in Ramle. Israel’s strongest ally may be burning in racial strife yet Israel is in a form of a peachy daydream.

As such, despite my previous Op-Ed arguing for Jewish rights to the West Bank, now is not the time to annex portions of the West Bank. Israel’s ties with the region are growing, there is quiet in the streets, and the rage of racial strife have largely passed us by.

Annexing parts of the West Bank is ideologically and religiously dangerous for it adds support to dividing biblical Israel and puts Bibi in the same camp as Ariel Sharon whom withdrew from Gaza in 2005 (except the land Trump’s plan wishes to relinquish are much more significant historically). The status quo also leaves the corrupt PA as the authority to speak for West Bank Palestinians instead of a new reality which largely creates a no win ideological, religious, and political mess.

History has shown that moves by Israel often lead to a major international outcry. For a change compared to past crises, such a move is entirely in Israel’s court, be it, annexing the West Bank is hardly defensive. The Israeli army already controls the region, and likely will for the foreseeable future. Israeli communities in the region are growing and the world has largely accepted this interim, as long as there is pretence of discussion for a Palestinian State.

To change the status quo now, is not only unwise, it is dangerous. To do so in the middle of a global civil society movement attacking racial inequality will almost certainly shift the global attitude away from race, toward the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The support of the USA for such a drastic move is also lukewarm at best. The civil society underneath is already heavily critical, to the point that the Jewish lobby AIPAC explicitly allowed Congress members to criticize annexation.

We here in Israel only hope that Benjamin Netanyahu is an excellent poker player. For timing is everything when one knows when to go “all in” or to fold until the next turn.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and public relations professional in Israel.