Opinion

Fight Annexation on Moral Grounds

We must not resume that exhaustingly familiar ping-pong match with the right, in which the leftists predict the worst, the general public isn’t impressed, and everything goes on as usual

Yehuda Shaul
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A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against Israel's planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2020.
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest against Israel's planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2020.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/Reuters
Yehuda Shaul

The Netanyahu government’s annexation initiative must be halted. Period. But we must come to this definitive and emphatic bottom line for the most essential reasons.

In the past, for tactical reasons, first and foremost the effort to attract wider audiences, we on the left sinned by presenting our positions while highlighting motives and considerations that were not at the heart of the matter. This was a bad move that lost us more than we gained. The attempt to cover up an ethical and principled position by wrapping it in utilitarian considerations was not only perceived (justifiably) as inauthentic, but also weakened our opposition to some fateful moves, and undermined our core belief in the need to have a just society here.

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Since the release of the Trump plan there have been many people warning of the snowball effect that would result if the annexation visions of the Israeli right were realized. The three main nightmare scenarios being discussed by annexation opponents have been the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would lead to a third intifada; a voiding of the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt; and the imposition of sanctions by the European Union. Although we must examine the validity of these warnings, we must also put two essential ethical arguments at the heart of the discussion.

Despite the PA’s declaration about stopping coordination with Israel and throwing the Oslo Accords out the window, it’s very possible that in the short and medium term its leaders will have to swallow annexation and avoid irreversible moves. Even if the threat of the PA collapsing is realized, the first result is likely to be a wave of internal Palestinian struggles, which would help Israel strengthen its military control in the territories and establish an official, permanent apartheid regime. It’s almost certain that Mahmoud Abbas would prefer not to contribute to making that scenario a reality. So it is with the forecast of the collapse of the peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt: They serve the interests of both parties signed to them, and so it’s possible that neither country will rush to give up these agreements are correct.

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Nor should the fear of a severe European response motivate opposition to annexation moves. For 53 years Israel has been violating international law in the territories, and the Europeans have made do with expressions of concern and polite diplomatic protests. The alliance Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forged with populist right-wing leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban will make it easier for him to block initiatives to impose sanctions on Israel.

To this we must add the effective campaign that identifies every criticism of Israeli policy as antisemitism, which succeeds in silencing and paralyzing many senior EU and European officials. Thus, it isn’t ridiculous to assume that annexation won’t launch a new chapter in the relationship between Israel and the continent.

Instead of these warnings, we must place at the heart of the opposition to annexation two essential reasons that are not dependent on any specific scenario. Firstly, annexation is immoral. It will strengthen the apartheid nature of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, becoming a de jure apartheid regime on both sides of the Green Line.

Such a move will have dramatic practical effects, including a significant expansion of the toolbox at the disposal of the government and regional councils seeking to expand their land thefts from the Palestinians. This can be done by applying the Absentee Property Law to the area, and also by expropriating land for “public purposes,” which overnight will include the settlers. In East Jerusalem this was the basis for expropriating a third of the annexed area, and one can assume that in the West Bank it will be used on most of the land, which will become part of the State of Israel, to build new settlements and expand existing ones.

The second reason focuses on the image and character of the State of Israel. During the era of slavery in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa, there were those who profited from the social order that was enshrined in law at the time. A fair person isn’t interested in having the society in which he lives imitate their ways. Anyone living in a country that was founded as a result of a UN resolution, one based on the right to self-determination, would have to betray himself to deny the native people who live alongside us that very same right.

In the past Netanyahu would mock the warnings of Ehud Barak: “He said ‘the diplomatic tsunami is on the way.’ What tsunami, what isolation, what nonsense. … The State of Israel is in unprecedented diplomatic bloom.”

We must not resume that exhaustingly familiar ping-pong match with the right, in which the leftists predict the worst, the general public isn’t impressed, and everything goes on as usual. This pattern seems to validate the position of the right, which uses disproof of the left’s warnings as if it constitutes corroboration of its immoral position. This only strengthens the populist trend, as if the fact that everything is possible makes everything proper. Our job is to make it clear that this isn’t so. Opposition to annexation is not utilitarian. The struggle against official and permanent apartheid is the bedrock of a fair society. It’s best that we base it on foundations of truth.

Yehuda Shaul is one of the founders of Breaking the Silence.

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