How Israeli Right-wing Thinkers Envision the Annexation of the West Bank

From granting the Palestinians the right to vote in Jordan to expelling them creatively – how rightists propose to apply Israeli sovereignty in the Palestinian territories

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The West Bank settlment of Ofra, on the backdrop of the the Palestinian village of Baytin.
The West Bank settlment of Ofra, on the backdrop of the the Palestinian village of Baytin.Credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

In a preplanned coincidence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was absent from a vote of the Likud Central Committee on December 31. “On the jubilee anniversary of the liberation of the territories of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], including our eternal capital Jerusalem, the Likud Central Committee calls on the [party’s] elected representatives to act to enable free construction and to apply the laws and sovereignty of the State of Israel to all the areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.” That’s the text of the resolution that the central committee passed unanimously.

Netanyahu is a calculating man. He won’t go down in the history of the Jewish people – that is, in the minutes of Likud Central Committee’s meetings – as an enemy of hityashvut – the word for settlement in general, as opposed to hitnahalut, the word for settlement in the West Bank. He prefers to block proposals rather than oppose them.

And sure enough, two months after the central committee’s resolution, Netanyahu blocked a Knesset bill calling for Israeli sovereignty to be applied to the settlements. That bill was sponsored by MKs Yoav Kish (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi), the heads of the Knesset Caucus for Eretz Israel. Netanyahu has prevented the advancement of a series of bills aimed at implementing Israeli sovereignty in the territories, among them one that would annex the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, southeast of Jerusalem, and one that would make Jerusalem responsible for the settlements around it.

>> Once and for all: How many settlers need to be evacuated from the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state >>

The only bills on Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank that the government decided to support are a law putting Ariel University under the aegis of the Council for Higher Education and a law placing chicken farmers in West Bank settlements under the supervision of the Egg and Poultry Board. Dramatic laws, certainly, but not what the advocates of annexation covet.

Israel has yet to take a step toward fulfilling the goal for which Yehudit Katzover and Nadia Matar established the group Women in Green. What is that goal? In a word: sovereignty.

“Settlement is reversible, sovereignty isn’t,” they say. They want sovereignty so they can stop fighting for every tree they plant and the Palestinians uproot – or vice versa – but mainly to prevent an “expulsion” à la the 2005 Gaza pullout. Sovereignty, in their perception, will make it clear to every Palestinian boy and girl born into the occupation that “the Land of Israel is ours,” meaning not theirs.

The problem, Matar says, is that the Palestinians harbor the hope that one day, “they will succeed in taking Judea and Samaria and establishing a state for themselves, and afterward Tel Aviv and all the rest.” She adds: “Israel is cultivating that hope. For 51 years, a question mark has hung over this territory because Israel hasn’t decided what it wants. But if Israel doesn’t say it’s hers, others say ‘We will take it’ or that we’re occupiers.

“That’s how the world understands it. We have to put a stop to it. The application of sovereignty will make the picture clear to Palestinian young people: ‘My friend, you’re invited to live here in the State of Israel, but you won’t have a state here. There will be a bit of a crisis at first, but when all this becomes clear to them, it’ll be good.’”

Katzover and Matar aren’t alone. The “sovereignty dialogue” is gaining pace in Israel, so now is the time to examine what the proponents of sovereignty mean when they talk about it. Katzover and Matar told me who they think the major players are, so I set out to discover what they’re anguishing over and which issues bother them – legally, economically and morally – and what they argue about among themselves.

Naftali Bennett: ‘Autonomy on steroids’

The education minister and the leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Naftali Bennett, suggests annexing Area C of the West Bank (which was divided into three areas of rule in the 1995 Oslo II Accord) to Israel, granting citizenship to the Palestinians living there and introducing autonomous Palestinian rule in Areas A and B. But Areas A and B are in fact made up of numerous enclaves within Area C. If we see the West Bank as a sunny-side up egg made of 165 individual yolks (the Palestinian enclaves), what Bennett suggests is to remove all the white that surrounds the yolks, and just making that part of Israel.

Do you have ambitions beyond Area C?

“No. Not one Jew lives in Areas A and B, and there isn’t a single Jewish settlement there. They have autonomy there, they administer most of the components of life for themselves. Overall, anyone who goes through there won’t see any patrols by the Israeli army. There were 50,000 to 70,000 Arabs in Area C a few years ago, compared with 400,000 Jews. I suppose that there are now about 80,000 to 90,000 Arabs and half a million Jews. The demographics aren’t working against us. The birthrate of the Jewish mother has overtaken the birthrate of the Arab mother.”

I asked Bennett to address the fact that Areas A and B are inside Area C. “Of course,” he replied, “the picture is mottled.” He also commented on the view that the Palestinian population in Area C is in reality far larger than his plan estimates – some say 300,000, far above the 50,000 who would be granted citizenship under Bennett’s original plan.

“We need to freeze the situation,” he said. “I can decide to execute a freeze according to either 1993 or 2013. At some point, there has to be a situation freeze, otherwise everyone will want to become an Israeli citizen and will move to Area C.”

In other words, Israel can decide on a “situation freeze” according to the year that suits it, in order to set the quota of Palestinians on whom it will confer citizenship.

The plan itself – Bennett’s sovereignty plan – calls for the application of Israeli law and administrative jurisdiction to Area C; in other words, to apply sovereignty and annex the areas. “It requires a government decision, not a law,” he said. Following that, he would offer the Palestinian residents of Area C three options: citizenship (Bennett doesn’t rule out that this will be accompanied by a mandatory declaration of loyalty to the state), residency (which many will choose, he believes, as is the case in East Jerusalem), or continued residency/citizenship in a Palestinian “or other” authority.

What country would the Palestinians in areas A and B be citizens of?

“There is already autonomy. There is no sovereign contiguity but there is transportation contiguity. There needn’t be a connection between sovereignty and movement. It’s no problem for a Palestinian to get into a car and drive from Jenin to Ramallah. Along the way he passes through parts of Area C, but there are no fences and don’t have to be.”

No checkpoints between A, B and C?

“Right. Nothing. It’s all open. The vision of freedom of movement.”

How would that autonomy be administered?

“Self-rule, elections, like they have today, water, sewage, electricity, infrastructure and so on. Two significant things won’t happen. Overall security responsibility remains with us. Second, they don’t have the right to stream in millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees who now live in Lebanon or Syria in refugee camps. So it will be less than a state. Autonomy on steroids, something beefed up.”

You wouldn’t knock down the separation fence?

“That’s something that has to be examined with time, in two parameters: security and whether it’s acceptable to the Israeli public. It will take time. And then there’s a “Marshall Plan” for Judea and Samaria. If I were prime minister, I’d do it immediately.

“1. Freedom of movement between Binyamin and Gush Etzion – between Ramallah and Bethlehem. I begin by building that road.

“2. I triple the number of lanes for security checks, so that an Arab who lives in Nablus and works in Rosh Ha’ayin won’t wait three hours at the checkpoints, but five minutes. There will be dignity and respect for every person at the checkpoints.

“3. An open tourist region. In terms of tourism, the Land of Israel is one unit, so a ship will dock at Haifa and from there the tourists will travel to Nazareth, Nablus, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and a stamp of transit for an integrated tourist region can be organized for them to get the ball rolling.

“4. A land port in Jenin. A dock, or more than one, can be allocated to the Palestinians in Haifa. Apart from the security responsibility, the customs responsibility will be theirs. We won’t levy anything, there will be a passage from Haifa to Jenin, and the offloading will take place in Jenin.

“5. I establish joint industrial zones for Arabs and Jews, as exist now, but 10 times as many in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian people – all told – are of a high level. Israel faces serious personnel problems in countless areas, from agriculture and construction to high-tech, and we can create a very good opportunity. Palestinians working in Israeli businesses is a very significant layer of the realistic Palestinian economy.

“6. Upgrading of infrastructure in Judea and Samaria. It’s unbelievable that the chief road artery in Judea and Samaria looks like a neglected alley. How does it serve the Israeli interest if settlers or Palestinians wait in line for an hour to enter at Hizma [near Jerusalem]? It’s intolerable for everyone.

“7. We’re proud of our agricultural technology. We talk about the Israeli [dairy] cow, which yields three or four times as much [as their peers globally], and we go to India or China to apply it. Why not in the Palestinian Authority, our neighbors?

“Those steps give a real spurt to the quality of life in Judea and Samaria – a life of dignity, [though] not full realization of the desire for a state. It’s less than a state, but it seems to me to be as good as it gets.

“I don’t rule out functional autonomy within Jordan. If Jordan decides on it and the Palestinians want to be citizens of Jordan who live in the Palestinian Authority or in Area C, that’s also possible. If they want to live in Moti Kedar’s cantons [see below], that’s also possible. They will decide. But in the end, there is one status in the territories of Israel, namely the citizens of Israel.There won’t be one territory with two statuses. Accordingly, there is no apartheid here.”

If you’ve forgone the vision of Greater Israel and of ‘the promise,’ why not go one step further and forgo Area C as well?

“Theoretically, if there were no demographic problem and if there were no Palestinians, the whole of the western Land of Israel [the land west of the Jordan River] would be ours. But there is a problem, and I want to strengthen the Israeli, not the Palestinian, interest.”

Caroline Glick: The full method

Columnist Caroline Glick and the late Knesset Member Uri Elitzur are considered the pioneers of the idea of applying Israeli sovereignty to all the territories and granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians. In her 2014 book “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East,” Glick presents her blueprint. She would apply Israeli law to the West Bank, which would be integrated into Israel along with its Palestinian inhabitants. The plan doesn’t encompass the Gaza Strip because, she argues, by withdrawing from it in 2005 Israel voided its claim to territory or sovereignty there. “Gaza is an independent state,” she said.

According to Glick, in an email to Haaretz, “The Palestinians in Judea and Samaria are already dictating no small amount of Israeli policy, through their free access to the state authorities, including the Supreme Court, and through the security threat they constitute to the state. In my view, it’s an optical illusion to treat the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria as an entity from which it’s possible to disengage. Accordingly, in my opinion, it’s preferable for the Palestinians to receive Israeli residency.

“As for the question of citizenship for the Palestinian inhabitants of Judea and Samaria, there are two mistaken assumptions about this issue. First, there’s an assumption that all the Palestinians would be interested in acquiring citizenship, whereas past experience in Jerusalem and in the Golan Heights shows that there is no reason to assume this. Second, there’s an assumption that as a whole the Palestinians will meet the criteria for citizenship. Again, there’s no reason to assume this.

“At the same time, the assumption that every change in the historical status of Judea and Samaria has to be implemented over time and gradually is correct. Therefore, as I see it, the Likud Central Committee and Habayit Hayehudi are right to say that Israel should apply Israeli law to Area C as a first step. The Palestinian inhabitants of the region will receive the status of permanent residents, like the status conferred on the residents of East Jerusalem and of the Golan Heights in 1967 and 1981.

“In the wake of that move, and in accordance with developments on the ground over a period of at least a decade, it would be possible to extend the area in Judea and Samaria to which Israeli law will be applied and to treat the inhabitants of those areas as permanent residents in the first stage. As is the case in Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, every application for citizenship would be examined separately.”

Martin Sherman: The transfer method

Martin Sherman, the founder and CEO of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, is probably the most extreme of all the annexationists. He advocates applying Israeli sovereignty to the whole West Bank and is also the only one who wants to annex the Gaza Strip as well. He says there is no other way to ensure Israel’s security militarily.

“Bennett’s plan sounds logical, until you look at the map, and then you see corridors everywhere, so sovereignty is meaningless,” he says. “Even if there is only a 30 percent Palestinian minority, it’s still a recipe for Lebanonization. They’re a very hostile group.”

According to Sherman, Israel needs to act vigorously to reduce the Arab presence. How? War is the most effective way, Sherman says (because "'kinetic means' are more acceptable," as he told the Ribonut correspondent). But if there’s no war - and Sherman claims he's not calling to start one - “a series of incentives is needed so they’ll leave. Positive incentives – money for families that leave and negative ones: to declare them an enemy and start to gradually reduce the provision of services and goods to the Palestinians” in both the West Bank and Gaza.

In Sherman’s view, Israel has no moral, legal or practical obligation to maintain the socioeconomic life of an enemy that’s committed to its extinction. On the contrary, its moral obligation is to bring about its collapse in order to prevent attempts to liquidate Israel and kill its citizens. Together with declaring the Palestinians a collective enemy, Israel should revoke its recognition of the PA and work to dismantle it.

“Anyone who wants to leave should take an emigration package and look for somewhere else to live,” Sherman says. “Let them go to Indonesia, or India, for example. Transfer isn’t a dirty word.”

Mordechai Kedar: The emirates method

To understand the emirates plan of Middle East affairs expert Mordechai Kedar (of Bar-Ilan University and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies), you must hear his take on the entire region. “In the Middle East, the strongest group is the family, and then the extended family, the clan, the tribe. Most of the modern states in the Middle East – Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco – were created by colonialists, and the state was forced on the groups that lived in its territory,” he says.

“The idea of the modern state wasn’t welcomed by the majority of citizens, and it didn’t supplant traditional loyalties. So there’s no ‘Syrian people,’ no ‘Iraqi people’ and no ‘Libyan people.’

“The Palestinian story is much the same. We tried to build a people on the basis of the idea of a Palestinian state, to remove the primary reference group and create a national consciousness that wouldn’t be challenged by competing forms of consciousness: the tribe, the ethnic, religious or communal group. That attempt isn’t working. Accordingly, we need to act according to the successful model of the Gulf emirates, which are based on local families.”

Here, then, are the stages of Kedar’s plan, in his words:

“1. Recognizing the Gaza Strip as a state, because it possesses all of a state’s attributes. Hamas has ruled in Gaza for 11 years, and its government takes the right attitude toward the local families.

“2. Application of Israeli sovereignty to all of Judea and Samaria.

“3. Dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority.

“4. Establishment of seven emirates – city-states – in the West Bank: in Arab Hebron and in Jericho, Ramallah, Qalqilyah, Tul Karm, Nablus and Jenin. They would be independent emirates based on the local families. The emirates’ inhabitants will be their citizens – citizens of the Emirate of Hebron, citizens of the Emirate of Nablus and so on.

“5. The rural areas will remain under Israeli sovereignty.

“6. Israel should offer Israeli citizenship to the residents of the rural villages, who make up about 10 percent of the Arab population in the West Bank and don’t pose a demographic threat. They will live in Israel like the Arabs of the Galilee and the Little Triangle Area in central Israel, which is roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taibeh and Tira.

“7. Border crossings will be established between all the emirates and Israel. The security arrangements will be in Israel’s hands.”

Zeev Elkin: The salami method

The plan of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud), is that there is no plan. He believes that the territories belong to the Jewish people. “We have a historical-national right to Judea and Samaria that’s stronger than our right to Tel Aviv. Our whole return to this place is based on the fact that it belongs to us. If we forgo that principle, in the next stage, we can be sent to Uganda,” Elkin told the journal Ribonut (which, sure enough, means “sovereignty”), published by Women in Green.

Still, he tells me in our meeting, he thinks the annexation of the West Bank should be gradual. The Israelis should learn the “salami method” from the Palestinians. “Every place on which there’s an Israeli consensus or a parliamentary majority, and international understanding that it’s ours – there’s no reason why we shouldn’t already take those regions now,” he says.

As Elkin puts it, “Application of sovereignty to part of the territory must not be construed as the forgoing of the other territory. That’s how the salami method works.”

The gradual working plan, then: application of sovereignty to territories about which there is broad agreement, without fear that this will be perceived as relinquishing the remaining territory. These would include Ma’aleh Adumim, Greater Jerusalem, the settlement blocs, the settlement “areas” (as in the Likud Central Committee resolution, these go beyond settlements to encompass areas of jurisdiction that include open areas around the settlements, but less than Area C) – every part of the territory about which a broad consensus can be mustered, while noting in advance that this is not the end.

Unlike others on the right, Elkin admits that he’s disturbed by the binational-state issue. In his view, granting citizenship and equal rights to Palestinians is a dangerous solution. On the other hand, it’s equally clear to him that it’s impossible to annex the West Bank without giving the people rights and full citizenship, including the right to vote in Knesset elections. In other words, in any territory that’s annexed, the inhabitants receive full rights (subject to security reservations, of course).

Alan Baker: The legal aspect

The international legal expert Alan Baker, a former ambassador to Canada, was surprised when I told him I’d come at the recommendation of Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover. After all, he says annexation isn’t legal. Apparently it was more important for Women in Green to have a jurist explain that, according to international law, there is actually no occupation.

According to Baker, a member of the committee chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Edmond Levy (who died in 2014) to examine the legal status of the West Bank settlements, the territories in question are not occupied.

“That’s the position under international law and the international conventions,” Baker said, at his office at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs, which he heads within the framework of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The territory was taken from Jordan, which was not a legitimate, internationally recognized sovereign power there. That’s because Jordan annexed the area in 1951, two years after the end of Israel’s War of Independence.

“These are not lands that belong to a sovereign state, because they are lands that were under dispute,” he said. “It doesn’t fit the legal definition of ‘occupation.’”

Israel, Baker says, does have historical and legal rights to the area based on international documents: the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Declaration, the writ of the Mandate that was given to Britain by the League of Nations, and the UN Charter. The latter is the legal instrument for international recognition of the Jewish people’s rights to the territories, as Article 80 stipulates that all the agreements concluded previously by the League of Nations and all the commitments that were given (San Remo and the British Mandate) remain in force.

Then why not annex?

“Because it’s impossible to annex a disputed territory unilaterally. We’ve already applied personal law to the settlers. They’re subject to the Israeli criminal code and they pay income tax. We can’t go beyond this unless it becomes ours as part of an agreement. We undertook in Oslo that they [the Palestinians] would not become a state and try to be admitted to the UN, and that we would not annex. The whole fate of the territories is subject to negotiations. That’s what we signed.”

Amatzia Samkai: The economic aspect

The economist Amatzia Samkai focuses on the financial consequences of annexation. At the request of Orit Strock, a former Habayit Hayehudi MK and member of the Caucus for Eretz Israel in the Knesset, Samkai headed a team that examined the economic ramifications of applying Israeli sovereignty to Area C and its Palestinian residents. In our meeting, he presented the conclusions of the first part of the study, which examined the cost of integrating the Palestinians and absorbing its population.

Samkai’s study is based on the controversial estimate that 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C. Based on that, the researchers calculated the cost of National Insurance and health payments, outlays for education and welfare, as well as the cost of expanding the government ministries to be consistent with the needs of the added population. Extra revenue would come from income tax, value-added tax, property tax, National Insurance payments, health tax and business taxes from 150,000 new Israeli citizens.

Overall, Samkai estimates that an annual investment of around 2 billion shekels ($542 million) would be required, which is “less than one half of 1 percent of the state budget, which exceeds 450 billion shekels.” He also believes that application of Israeli sovereignty to Area C would create new economic opportunities because of the addition of personnel to labor-intensive industries and additional real estate for construction and agriculture.

In his study, Samkai rejects the attempt to compare the application of sovereignty to Area C to the same effort undertaken years ago in East Jerusalem. He acknowledges that it’s a natural comparison but believes it’s impossible, “because of a deficiency of data and, more so, because of the difference in the characters [of the two population groups], and given the ability to carry out a more decisive separation from the economy of the Palestinian Authority,” according to the study.

Note that this part of the study doesn’t take into account the expected profits from the new real estate freed up in the center of the country and the influence of the Israelization on prices of existing property, or on security expenditures. This is a critical point because at present, construction, development and infrastructure in Area C are very limited. Once the area becomes Israeli in every respect, the sky’s the limit. Two new cities could be built east of Rosh Ha’ayin. You don’t have to be an economist to grasp the dramatic effect this could have on housing prices. Samkai plans to address the significance of this in the next parts of the study.

Yoram Ettinger: The demographic aspect

Yoram Ettinger isn’t a professional demographer, and the majority of those who are dismiss his arguments outright. But he has studied the subject for 14 years, and has one message that he constantly reiterates: the “demographic demon” is a bluff. “In contrast to the angry prophets of demographics in the Israeli academic, governmental and political establishment – who have been warning about an Arab population time bomb since the struggle for the state’s establishment – the documented demographic trend points to an unprecedented Jewish demographic tailwind,” Ettinger says.

The population issue is considered the Achilles’ heel of the annexationists. If territories where millions of Palestinians live are annexed, there’s a risk of Israel losing its Jewish majority, and then the only way to preserve the state’s identity would be by undemocratic means, meaning apartheid. That’s why the annexation advocates pounced eagerly on Ettinger’s data. He’s the demographic messiah, who promises that annexation is possible without risking the loss of a Jewish majority. Every annexationist today draws on Ettinger’s demographic good tidings.

According to Ettinger, demographers who rely on the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claim there are 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.9 million in Gaza. But his numbers tell a different story: 1.8 to 1.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and 1.5 million in the Strip. All told: 3.3 million Palestinians, not 4.9 million.

The reason for the gap, he says, is that the Palestinian statistics bureau includes some 400,000 residents of the West Bank who have lived abroad for more than a year, more than 300,000 Jerusalem Arabs, and 100,000 Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza who married Israeli Arabs, received an Israeli ID card and are counted as both residents of Israel and the PA. In addition, the PA denies the negative migration balance that has been increasing since 2000, and on September 7, 2007, the World Bank, according to Ettinger, documented a 32 percent inflation in the number of births.

According to Ettinger, if we consider the entire population of Israel and the West Bank combined, there is a Jewish majority of 66 percent. If Gaza is included, it’s 57 percent.

It’s important to note, according to Ettinger, that Jewish fertility is trending upward, while Arab fertility (in both Israel and the territories) has been decreasing for the past 20 years. In the meantime, the negative migration balance of the Arabs in the West Bank is continuing (since 1950!) at about 20,000 a year in the recent period, while the number of Israeli emigrants has fallen from 14,200 in 1990 to 8,200 in 2015.

Ettinger recalls that in 1944, Prof. Roberto Bachi, the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics and a renowned expert in the field, published a demographic forecast in order to persuade David Ben-Gurion that 600,000 Jews did not constitute a critical mass sufficient to establish a state. Ben-Gurion wasn’t deterred, even though the Jewish majority within what became the partition borders was only 55 percent, and there was a Jewish minority of 39 percent in Judea and Samaria and within what we know today as the Green Line. “Ben-Gurion’s response was that a leader doesn’t accept demography, a leader determines demography, and he was right,” Ettinger says.

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