Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will put the question of Israel annexing about 30% of the West Bank to a government vote as early as July 1. As that date draws closer, critics are struggling to understand why a unilateral move is necessary, and supporters are struggling to articulate a coherent justification for pursuing the move at this time.
Those who question the need or timing point out that annexation is not really essential. Israel already has complete security control over the West Bank, and the status quo — while not perfect — has reached a level of cooperation and equilibrium with the Palestinian Authority that could be lost if annexation moves forward. And, as noted by Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “The cost [of annexation] is not zero. In fact, it could be substantial and sustained.”
Those costs to Israel could include political, security, social, and economic consequences that could be significant and long-lasting. That’s because a unilateral annexation move by Israel could endanger Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan; Israel’s nascent relationships with Gulf states would be at substantial risk; the move would likely draw significant criticism and the imposition of sanctions from Europe and other corners of the world; and it would almost certainly draw condemnation and vilification from the United Nations. Beyond that, in very practical terms, any such land grab would likely take the region’s focus off the threat posed by Iran, and could spark a third intifada from a large, restless, and disillusioned Palestinian population.
It also isn’t clear that the Trump administration agrees with the move at this time, while it is clear that Democratic Party leadership — and the possible next president — oppose it. While the Trump administration opened the door to annexation with its recent peace plan, it warned Netanyahu not to annex without negotiating with the Palestinians first — or at least inviting them to negotiate. That hasn’t happened.
Interestingly, AIPAC — the stalwart pro-Israel lobby — has not taken a position on annexation, and has made clear that supporters and politicians should voice their opinions on the issue, even if they are opposed to it.
So what’s the goal of the annexation move, and why now? The Israeli government has been surprisingly silent on the issue. And the only response from right-wing pro-Israel groups is the quibble that “annexation” is the wrong word. “Israel’s exercise of its rightful sovereignty is not an ‘annexation’ of another sovereign’s land,” the ZOA writes, without answering why Israel should do it, except to say that “there was never an Arab country called Palestine.”
ZOA’s wordplay is not a response, and its history lesson is not reason to pursue annexation now, at a time that is fraught and remarkably inopportune.
Annexation is a serious issue, whose time may come. But that time is not now.