What if a desperate Netanyahu embraces West Bank annexation?

What if a desperate Netanyahu embraces West Bank annexation?

Such a move would undermine any credible pursuit of peace and threaten Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

Now that Israel Attorney General Mandelblit has announced his intention to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli leader’s objective to retain his office at any cost – as already indicated by promising the most extreme racist party a place in his next government and control of some key government ministries – will intensify. Israelis are headed towards an election in which he evidently views re-election as a path not only to his political survival but a way to avoid or at least postpone jail time.

Netanyahu’s next desperate move may be to embrace West Bank annexation legislation that far-right wing Knesset members sought to advance last summer. He halted it then, but it is possible that, to ensure continued support from his far-right partners, and his own political survival, Netanyahu will no longer stand in the way.

West Bank annexation is a very real threat that would have a disastrous impact on Israel, and Israel’s advocates in the United States must take notice and respond, as they did when Netanyahu embraced the Kahanist party.

Officially integrating all or part of the West Bank into Israel could generate severe consequences, recently documented in a report from the Commanders for Israel’s Security, a network of more than 280 retired Israeli generals. The study demonstrates that any form of West Bank annexation would trigger a process that could propel Israel toward violence and ultimately lead to the end of Israel as both a Jewish and a democratic state.

[What Netanyahu] is saying to Americans in English is not what he has been saying to Israelis in Hebrew.

Partial or total annexation of the West Bank will not be accepted by the Palestinians, thus dooming the ongoing, successful Israel-Palestinian Authority security cooperation, and forcing Israel into retaking full control of the entire West Bank. Assuming responsibility for millions of new residents formerly living under PA administration will impose a severe budgetary burden on the state of Israel. Failing to provide annexed Palestinians with Israeli citizenship would mean the formalization of a non-democratic regime in Israel. Alternatively, combining citizenship with annexation would mean that neither Jews nor Palestinians will be able to exercise self-determination in their own independent and sovereign states.

The mainstreaming of annexation in Israel has taken place on Netanyahu’s watch, within his own party. In the lead-up to the Likud primaries, 28 of 29 incumbent Likud MKs seeking re-election signed pledges affirming their support for annexation, many on behalf of pro-annexation groups such as Ribonut (“the Sovereignty Movement”). This group was also instrumental in lobbying the Likud Central Committee to endorse the application of Israeli civilian law to Area C, which translates into de facto annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank.

The goal of annexation advocates is to legitimize annexation on Israel’s national agenda, something that even right-wing governments have been loathe to do in the past. But circumstances have changed dramatically. The Israeli far right has been emboldened by the Trump Administration’s policy of cutting all support for the Palestinians while refraining from criticizing any Israeli policies, such as continued settlement building even outside of the blocs. The goal of a two-state solution is no longer advocated by the White House and is completely absent from Israel’s political discourse.

In a few weeks, Netanyahu will appear at the AIPAC Policy Conference amidst an unprecedented wave of discontent with his recent actions and deep concern about the trajectory of US-Israel and Israel-Diaspora relations among Israel’s advocates in the American Jewish community. When he spoke to AIPAC members at last year’s Policy Conference, he stated that “Israel is committed to achieving peace with all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” and he will undoubtedly reaffirm similar sentiments when he returns to the stage in a few weeks. But what he is saying to Americans in English is not what he has been saying to Israelis in Hebrew. Two weeks ago, in a bid to paint his political opponents as “weak leftists,” he told Israelis that the new political party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would create a Palestinian state that would threaten Israel’s future. He has repeatedly signaled to settler leaders his commitment to strengthening their enterprise.

When Netanyahu visits Washington, policymakers and Jewish community leaders will have an opportunity to question him directly on the shameful alliance he has encouraged with Kahanists, but we must also press him for enabling a surge of support for dangerous annexationist proposals within his own political party.

Israeli voters will determine the outcome of the upcoming election. They will be voting on annexation, whether or not they realize it. But proud Zionists and longtime supporters of Israel in the American Jewish community are also stakeholders in the Jewish state’s future. The actions of the state of Israel will shape the story of the Jewish people, of which we are all a part.

We are proud that our community condemned the recent abhorrent political maneuver that could give racists a platform in the Knesset. We should similarly denounce West Bank annexation that would undermine any credible pursuit to seek peace, threaten Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and dangerously erode Israel’s alliance with the United States and with American Jewry.

Susie Gelman is board chair and David Halperin, executive director, of Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan US organization founded in 1993 that supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consistent with Israel’s security and long-term future as a Jewish and democratic state.

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