Calev Ben-Dor, deputy editor of Fathom, the British online publication on Israel-related subjects, has written a broad examination of the prospect for Israel’s annexation of large swathes of the West Bank, officially open for government consideration on July 1. Ben-Dor discusses a range of rightwing views, more moderate and center-left perspectives, and historical opinions going back to 1967. (Our thanks to TTN colleague Cary Nelson for bringing this valuable article to our attention; photo by Haim Zach/GPO.)
. . . In their book, Be Strong and of Good Courage, How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky describe how amongst the ministers gathered around the Cabinet table, ‘an overall consensus emerged on the importance of the Jordan River serving as Israel’s eastern border, although whether as a “security border” or a “political border” was a dramatic and historical point of debate.’ The minutes detail how some suggested that a withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, if linked to peace with Jordan, could assuage demographic concerns by shifting responsibility for the Arab-Palestinian residents of the West Bank onto the Hashemite Kingdom. Minister without portfolio Menachem Begin said that the Jewish state should declare that the entirety of ‘Western Eretz Yisrael’ (the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean) belonged to Israel. In response, Justice Minister Yaakov Shimshon Shapiro warned that, if that course were followed, ‘in the not too distant future, we will become a binational state.’ Prime Minister Eshkol – who famously said that Israel had ‘been given a good dowry, but it comes with a bride we don’t like’ – also worried that annexing the land would ultimately lead to the Jews being a minority in the country.
Begin countered with what today remains a radical idea – that Israel offer residency to the territory’s Arab-Palestinian residents, who would then be eligible to gain citizenship after seven years. A decade later, when he himself was Prime Minister and was discussing a potential framework for peace with Egypt that envisaged autonomy for Palestinians, Begin reintroduced the idea. In a Knesset speech, he suggested a ‘free choice of citizenship, including Israeli citizenship’ and ‘total equality of rights’ for the West Bank population, citing ‘fairness’, and adding that Israel ‘never wanted to be like Rhodesia.’ . . .
THE SUPPORTERS OF ANNEXATION: INSIDE THE SOVEREIGNTY MOVEMENT’S BROAD TENT
First, we should note that there remain some (although not many) who see themselves as Begin’s heirs – those who support Israeli control over the West Bank and are willing to grant the option of citizenship to all its inhabitants. Numbered in this (ever dwindling) group are former Likud MK and Minister Benny Begin, President Rivlin (who since becoming President has been less outspoken on this controversial topic), and the late Moshe Arens, the former Defence Minister and Foreign Minister. Arens wrote in Haaretz in 2010 that ‘Adding another 1.5 million Muslims, the population of Judea and Samaria, to Israel’s Muslim population would of course make the situation considerably more difficult. Would a 30 per cent Muslim minority in Israel create a challenge that would be impossible for Israeli society to meet? That is a question that Israeli politicians, and all Israelis – Jews and Arabs alike – need to ponder.’ Arens adds that this option ‘would not be the end of the State of Israel, nor would it mean the end of democratic governance in Israel. It would, however, pose a serious challenge to Israeli society. But that is equally true for the other options being suggested for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’ Arens and Co never shied away from that challenge. Instead they argued that it wasn’t significantly more difficult than implementing partition.
Debating the numbers
One common denominator between Arens and many others in the Sovereignty Movement is the questioning of the ‘official’ numbers of Palestinians in the West Bank. The best known of these advocates is former Israel diplomat Yoram Ettinger, who argues that a Jewish majority of 66 per cent exists within Israel and the West Bank. Ettinger and others believe the demographers have miscounted – that Palestinian statisticians include Palestinians living abroad in their figures; disregard Palestinian emigration (averaging 18,000 people per year), and ‘double count’ both East Jerusalamites and Palestinians who married Israeli citizens. Ettinger also points to the changing trends in both Jewish and Arab fertility, concluding that ‘This [current two-thirds Jewish] majority will become a demographic tailwind, stemming from the surge in Jewish fertility, especially among secular Jews, compared with the collapse of Muslim fertility, stemming from various aspects of modernisation.‘ Amazingly, the numbers can sometimes differ by as much as 1 million. The same day I met Nadia who referred to 1.8 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria, a representative from Peace Now talked to me of 2.7 million Palestinians in the same area. In the aftermath of Disengagement, Gaza and its 2 million residents are also excluded from the demographic calculus.
[This section concludes with additional details under these italicized subheads: “The Dream of Mass Jewish immigration,” “Residency with Conditional Citizenship,” “Sovereignty over parts – rather than all – of the West Bank.”]
THE OPPONENTS OF ANNEXATION: DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL
The Battle-Hardened Domestic Opponents
For those opposing annexation – led in Israel by former security officials – obsessing about the differences between partial and full annexation is hair splitting. The consequences of either, as they see it, will be disastrous. Organisations such as Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) and the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) argue that any partial annexation moves may trigger a chain reaction that would lead to the termination of Palestinian security coordination (which Abbas announced in late May) and the possible collapse of the Palestinian Authority, with Hamas subsequently exploiting the chaos, and the IDF being pulled back into the Palestinian cities they left in the 1990s.
As Amnon Reshef of CIS writes, ‘I fear that a unilateral annexation would thus oblige the IDF to deploy its forces in the streets of Nablus and Qalqilya and the alleyways of the casbah, bringing back the “good old days” of the Civil Administration during which Israel managed and financed the needs of the Palestinian population of the territories.’ Amos Yadlin, head of the INSS, describes annexation as an ‘anti-Zionist course of action that will prevent the future possibility of separating from the Palestinians and of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a state that is both safe and moral.’ He adds that it will also undermine the battle to stop Iranian progress toward nuclear weapons and cut off any chances for normalisation with the pragmatic, anti-Iran Sunni world.
Both organisations believe such moves would undermine the peace treaty with Jordan which provides Israel with strategic depth vis-a-vis Iran and might also weaken military coordination with Egypt in fighting terrorist elements operating in and from Sinai. Senior economists who contributed to a CIS report estimated that the financial cost of Israel being forced into retaking control over the entirety of the West Bank (following the collapse of the Palestinian Authority) would come to NIS 52 billion per year.
In addition to the scenarios described by CIS and INSS, Amos Gilad, former Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Defence Ministry, predicts a diplomatic nightmare should annexation take place. ‘Diplomatically, Israel is liable to find itself opening a gratuitous front against important European countries. That will have economic repercussions.’ Veteran Arab affairs journalist Ehud Yaari described annexation as a ‘gratuitous adventure that will produce conflict without any real need’ and warns it constitutes ‘a serious breach of international law’ that could open Israel up to investigations by the International Criminal Court. . . .
The Arab World
. . . When asked whether Jordan could suspend the peace treaty following annexation, King Abdullah II reiterated that he didn’t ‘want to make threats and create an atmosphere of loggerheads, but we are considering all options,’ adding that such an Israeli policy ‘would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’.
United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed also expressed his concern, saying Israeli annexation was ‘illegal, undermines chances for peace and contradicts all efforts made by the international community to reach a lasting political solution in accordance with relevant international resolutions.’ Bin Zayed also rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that the Arab countries would accept it, saying the policy ‘contradict[s] the reality of the Arab position, as the Arab consensus is declared and fixed in the decisions issued by the League of Arab States and confirmed in many Arab ministerial meetings.’
The Palestinian Authority – which doesn’t have many cards up its sleeve – announced the suspension of security cooperation with Israel in late May, with Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki describing the move as a pre-emptive strike against annexation and an attempt to enlist the international community. The significance of this decision shouldn’t be understated. For years Abbas held back from making it, despite public pressure to the contrary. The PA is clearly signalling. But it remains unclear as to whether anyone will listen or care enough.
There is much more in Ben-Dor’s article, including his speculation on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s motivations and likely actions. Click here to read the entire piece online. Also consider reading other informative articles featured at Fathom’s website.