Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he sees a “historic opportunity,” with an empathetic Trump administration, to begin unilaterally extending Israeli law starting next week to all 132 settlements and the Jordan Valley — the 30 percent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump “Peace to Prosperity” proposal.
It could cause an upsurge in violence on the ground; perhaps, Israel’s security agencies fear, a resumption of intifada-style terrorism.
It may cause the collapse of our peace treaty with Jordan, whose king has called unilateral annexation unacceptable and is indicating that he will withdraw his ambassador and downgrade relations, at the very least.
It will slow and possibly halt the gradual warming of relations between Israel and others in the region that share a common interest in facing down Iran.
It will hugely complicate our relations with the European Union.
It will alienate a growing proportion of the Democratic Party in the US, which would almost certainly reverse any Trump administration recognition of the move if it regains the White House.
It will delight the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement, which will resonantly depict Israel as an apartheid regime imposing two sets of laws on the Israeli and Palestinian populations under its overall West Bank control, and will enjoy far greater success in its efforts to isolate Israel diplomatically, economically and culturally. (In contrast to the Golan Heights, where Israel applied its law in 1981 in a move that was endorsed by the Trump administration last year, Netanyahu says he will not offer citizenship to Palestinians in the areas to be annexed; they will remain in enclaves under overall Israeli security control. Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war, similarly, it has formally offered the possibility of Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians there, albeit via a complex and protracted process.)
It will delight our most dangerous enemies, notably the Iranians, who will do everything to capitalize on Israel’s increasing pariah status.
It will alienate a growing swath of Diaspora Jewry.
But its most devastating impact will be on Israel — what we stand for, and how we see ourselves.
Domestic confidence in our cause and legitimacy
This country was revived by international mandate 72 years ago in the belated righting of a historical wrong — belated because the restoration of sovereignty to the historic Jewish homeland came too late for modern Israel to save millions of European Jews from the Nazis.
It was revived on the basis of a two-state solution — the return of the historic Jewish state, and a first ever independent state for the Arab residents of this area. Israel’s Zionist pioneers were deeply unhappy with the division of British mandatory Palestine, but reluctantly accepted their allocation. Those in the region around the nascent modern Israel, by contrast, refused to countenance the revival of Jewish sovereignty, and many of them have sought to destroy this country ever since.
Many in the international community, too lazy or ideologically blinded to distinguish between cause and effect, have castigated Israel through the decades for the ostensible crime of defending itself against those who have sought our destruction, when the most cursory of inspections would confirm that the “Middle East conflict” would end if the aggression against Israel were to halt.
But Israel itself has known the truth. Its very resilience — its capacity not merely to survive but to thrive through decades of warfare, terrorism, and efforts to demonize it — is the greatest testament to that domestic confidence in our cause and legitimacy.
Unilaterally extending Israeli rule into the West Bank — preempting the Trump administration’s declared effort to foster a negotiated accord, with a land grab that turns Israel into the rejectionist party — marks the very opposite of our national interest. It not only damages the way we are perceived around the world, it remakes the way we present and see ourselves.
The Palestinian Authority rejected the Trump plan before it was even unveiled. It routinely incites against Israel, and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, in incendiary speeches designed to foster intolerance and intransigence, repeatedly seeks to separate modern Israel from its historic Jewish heritage. We cannot safely relinquish territory to this Palestinian leadership, not in the toxic climate it has helped create. We are also, of course, mindful of the devastating consequences of having relinquished adjacent territory to the north (the South Lebanon “security zone” in 2000) and south (the Gaza Strip in 2005), where in both cases terrorist organizations filled the vacuum, sparked wars and conflict, and pose ongoing danger.
But neither should we subvert our own long-term goals, the foundational principles of our own Declaration of Independence — to flourish as a Jewish and a democratic state ready and willing to defend itself against its enemies, and with its hand stretched out in peace to those neighbors who truly wish to live in tranquility alongside it.
Why Netanyahu purports to see a “historic opportunity” in the declarative extension of Israeli sovereignty to disputed parts of the West Bank, deepening Israel’s entanglement among the hostile Palestinians and ceding the moral high ground that is central to Israel’s own resilience and self-confidence, is hard to fathom. He was previously wary of the dangers of a bi-national state between Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea in which Israel would either lose its Jewish majority or have to subvert its democracy.
But he has said he will only go ahead with the approval of the US, our most important, trusted and closest ally. And so it falls to the Trump administration, now deliberating whether to green light Netanyahu’s gambit, to just say no.
In January, US President Donald Trump unveiled a proposal avowedly designed “for the benefit of Palestinians, Israelis and the region as a whole” as a recommended basis for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiation on a “realistic two-state solution.”
Let’s stick with that.