June 25, 2020 — Washington, D.C.
This piece originally appeared in Times of Israel.
If the new Israeli government, despite nearly universal objections from governments near and far and the warnings of many of Israel’s supporters in the Diaspora, follows the path promised by Prime Minister Netanyahu and in the coming weeks applies Israeli sovereignty unilaterally to a portion of the West Bank, AJC will do what it has always done: explain Israel to the wider world.
We will make the point that Jews have lived in the West Bank – biblical Judea and Samaria – for thousands of years, and that applying Israeli law to settlement lands isn’t technically “annexation,” a term that would be appropriate were the territory in dispute previously under another nation’s sovereignty. Jordan, we will note, which attacked nascent Israel in 1948 and held the West Bank until it was beaten back in 1967, was never internationally recognized as sovereign in the territory.
We will reflect on the Palestinian leadership’s multiple opportunities over the decades, all squandered, to negotiate a peaceful resolution of its people’s dispute with Israel and establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We will ask why the rights and status of hundreds of thousands of Israelis must be held in limbo until Ramallah faces the reality that Israel isn’t going anywhere, and that only a compromise – mutually, if grudgingly, acceptable – will end the conflict.
We will suggest that it is still possible to make a deal – that if Palestinian leaders escape their fantasy world, resolve the power struggle between rival factions, accept the Jewish people’s historic legitimacy in the land, and commit to negotiations, even annexation along the lines endorsed by President Trump’s “vision for peace” need not stand in the way of a two-state solution.
We will push back against critics who say that Israel, rather than embed its presence in the West Bank, should leave it entirely – recalling the military experts who have described Israel’s 1967 armistice line as indefensible were it to define the border with a potentially hostile state. No country as little as nine miles wide in its heavily populated center, and with an international airport four miles from the boundary, would take such a risk.
We will decry the unfairness – indeed, the hypocrisy – of the international censure directed at Israel, noting the human rights abuses committed continuously and egregiously by other states, but largely ignored by UN bodies, NGO watchdogs, and the world media.
We will remind members of Congress and our interlocutors in other world capitals that Israel’s value as a reliable strategic partner in a critical and volatile region will in no way be diminished by a decision to apply its own laws to its own citizens, most of whom policy-makers have long assumed ultimately would be included in any feasible territorial agreement.
My colleagues and I are prepared to make these arguments. If annexation – the application of Israeli law unilaterally over portions of the West Bank – comes to pass, we will make the strongest possible case for a decision reached by an elected Israeli government and supported by Israel’s (and anyone’s) most powerful partner, the United States.
I expect we will find those, in Washington and abroad, who will agree with us fully. I expect there are others who will disagree with annexation in principle but agree that, given the near hopelessness of relying on a negotiating breakthrough, it will hardly change the status quo.
What I also expect is that annexation, should it come, will exact a price – in spite of Israel’s, and our, most compelling arguments.
The price will be borne by Israelis whose neighbors, long misgoverned in the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority or cruelly subjugated by the Hamas terrorists in Gaza, react in unpredictable ways to what they and most of the world will see as the diminished prospect of achieving statehood. Israeli security is already preparing for what may come, on both sides of the Green Line – as are Israeli diplomats in foreign capitals and in international bodies.
The price will be borne in the trajectory of Israel’s relations with Arab states – the two with which it has enjoyed peace for decades, Egypt and Jordan, and the dozen or more others with which it has sought to establish and maintain quiet, mutually beneficial, contact. Confronting common threats from extremism and Iranian aggression, discreet security cooperation is likely to continue – but the hoped-for breakthrough toward open cooperation and full relations, a goal AJC has pursued with some success across the region for a quarter century, will be set back.
The price will be borne, of course, by the Palestinians themselves, their opportunities and movement perpetually restricted, consigned to citizenship of no land.
The price will be borne in the erosion of Israel’s longstanding claims against Palestinian unilateralism, in breach of Oslo Accords promises, and in increasing cynicism in multiple constituencies – including within our own community – about Israel’s commitment to peace.
It is not for the ardent friends and supporters of Israel, comfortable in our homes thousands of miles away, to tell the democratically elected Israeli government what to do. We will never abandon the Zionist vision of a Jewish and democratic state in our people’s native land, and we will never forsake our brethren. We will always be their advocates and share in the joy of their successes. And we will always share our concerns when we see dangers ahead.
Jason Isaacson is Chief Policy and Political Affairs Officer of the American Jewish Committee.