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To 'Annex' West Bank Land or Not to 'Annex': The Hour Draws Near

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Israel, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. (Abir Sultan /Pool photo via AP)

July 1, which is fast approaching, is the day on which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been saying Israel will start the process of applying sovereignty to the strategically vital Jordan Valley and the Israeli communities throughout the West Bank.

The issue remains fraught with controversy. The Trump administration, which seemed to green-light the move with its “Peace to Prosperity” plan, is still giving mixed signals and has a lot else on its plate. Rumors are flying about whether and what Netanyahu plans to “annex” (a convenient misnomer since the lands in question were not part of a recognized sovereign state before Israel regained them in the 1967 war).

The Trump plan is not, of course, just a plan for an Israeli application of sovereignty. It envisions Israel taking permanent control of about 30 percent of the West Bank (historically known as Judea and Samaria) while the other 70 percent would go to a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Not only are the Israeli right and left divided (predictably) on the merits of the plan, but there’s sharp disagreement even within the Israeli right.

For its more ideological wing, any talk of a Palestinian state is heresy. For its more pragmatic wing, a prospective demilitarized Palestinian entity (a “state minus” as Netanyahu calls it) would make sense because Israel cannot and should not annex over two million Palestinians to itself.

More significant, though, is the heated right-left dispute on the issue.

The Israeli left (which these days means mainly the left-of-center; the left still exists but is very small) and says applying sovereignty would jeopardize Israel’s peaceful, mostly behind-the-scenes cooperative ties with Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf states (while avoiding any mention of the fact that those ties have flourished under Netanyahu as prime minister); enrage the Palestinians and spark a wave of anti-Israeli violence; seriously damage Israel’s relations with Europe; and ruin its chances of being supported by the U.S. Democratic Party.

The more-pragmatic right counters that those Arab states are too dependent on Israel in the security and (in some cases) economic spheres and don’t really care that much about the Palestinians; that the Palestinian Authority, too, is dependent on Israel, while its population is mainly concerned with the struggle to make a living and not in the mood for attacking Israel; that the European countries make noise but also value their security, intelligence, economic, and technological ties with Israel; and that the U.S. Democratic Party’s anger will blow over — or that it’s moving away from Israel in any case.

With Netanyahu belonging to the pragmatic-right camp and his defense minister/alternate prime minister Benny Gantz roughly definable as left-of-center, the dispute even exists within Israel’s top policymaking duo, with Gantz not opposing “annexation” but expressing reservations about it.

A recent, unprecedented op-ed by an Arab official in an Israeli Hebrew newspaper seemed to shore up the claims of those who say applying sovereignty will be bad for Israel.

In the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot, Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to the U.S., claimed (the English version is here) that the Israeli move would

ignite violence and arouse extremists…. Annexation will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE….

In the UAE and across much of the Arab world, we would like to believe Israel is an opportunity, not an enemy. We face too many common dangers and see the great potential of warmer ties.

Israel’s decision on annexation will be an unmistakable signal of whether it sees it the same way.

 

Otaiba’s words seemed to bear out the Israeli center-left’s darkest prophecies. If this was what an official of the UAE — considered one of the Arab states most moderate toward Israel — had to say, didn’t it prove that applying sovereignty would be a disaster?

Well, not so fast.

Just a few days later — on Monday — a different and higher UAE official, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, gave a very different message. Addressing an online conference of the American Jewish Committee, Gargash said that the UAE favors “decoupling the political from the non-political” and added:

“Can I have a political disagreement with Israel but at the same time try and bridge other areas of the relationship? I think I can. I think that is fundamentally where we are….

“I think we can come to a point where we come to a given Israeli government…and say, we disagree with you on this [annexation], we don’t think it’s a good idea, but at the same time there are areas, such as COVID, technology and other things, where we can actually work together.”

Gargash’s words, then, chime with the pro-annexation camp’s view that — in an era in which Israel is a world power much valued for its military, intelligence, economic, and high-tech capabilities — Arab, Palestinian, and European leaders make noise, and may feel genuine anger when they make it, while behind the scenes pragmatism prevails. As for the U.S. Democrats, their eventual direction on Israel — which could be negative — will be not be determined, though it could be temporarily jostled, by the applying-sovereignty issue.

After listening to both sides, I say the ayes have it. What Israel gets out of applying sovereignty is a consolidation of its hold on strategically indispensable land and on flourishing Israeli communities — while giving a clear, healthy message to the Palestinians that time is not on their side, the only message that offers hope for an eventual resolution of the issues.

And the right time is now — or very soon. If the Democrats win in November, the Trump plan will fade away fast, and the old unworkable paradigm where Israel is supposed to give up almost 100 percent of the territory will come back in its place.

P. David Hornik, a longtime American immigrant in Israel, is a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor living in Beersheva. In addition to PJ Media his work has appeared in FrontPage Magazine, National Review, New English Review, American Spectator, American Thinker, The Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, and elsewhere. Among his books are Choosing Life in Israel and the novel Beside the Still Waters, which was published by Adelaide Books in 2019.