Opinion

Fans of West Bank Annexation Won't Admit What It Will Really Cost Israel

As Israelis head to elections, it's critical to debate annexation – even if its proponents won't admit that they're playing with fire

An Israeli machinery removes trees near a Jewish settlement in Hebron, February 21, 2018.
\ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

In the 52 years that Israel has controlled the West Bank, it has significantly expanded its presence in the territory – from building critical security and transportation infrastructure to authorizing Jewish communities across Area C.

What it has not done is attempt to change the West Bank’s status through annexation or extending Israeli sovereignty to settlements.

Such actions would constitute a drastic departure from decades of Israeli policy, which is why it is incumbent upon proponents of annexation to be honest about their motivations and intentions as well as the potential consequences of their policy proposals.

For example, in advocating for Israel to apply sovereignty over its West Bank settlements, Yossi Kuperwasser was consistently misleading in the arguments he listed in his recent Haaretz op-ed in favor of annexation.

Kuperwasser was deceiving in his characterization of the objections to such a momentous decision; he erroneously contends that the Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) and the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) are calling to “accept the Palestinian demands” and unilaterally dismantle settlements. Aside from his failure to detail which precise Palestinian demands we want to accept, neither CIS nor IPF – which are strategic partners – have called to dismantle even one West Bank settlement.

For Kuperwasser to dissemble so blatantly is a telling indication of either the paucity of his own arguments or intellectual laziness in not reading or understanding what we are actually advocating, or both.

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Since Kuperwasser is seemingly incapable of considering the course of action our organizations actually propose, let me clarify the contrast. Kuperwasser apparently believes that Israel should expand its hold on the West Bank to the greatest extent possible in order to prevent any future Palestinian state from emerging, thereby ensuring that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue for eternity.

IPF and CIS maintain that Israel should do what it can now to preserve the option for an eventual Palestinan state, in order to finally resolve the conflict and sustain Israel’s future as secure, Jewish and democratic. That means not removing one brick or withdrawing from one centimeter absent an agreement. It also means not destroying the future possibility of such a permanent status agreement by irreversibly cementing the West Bank as Israeli territory through annexation.

Kuperwasser takes great pains not to describe his proposal as annexation, instead characterizing it as imposing Israeli law and sovereignty on settlements. He does acknowledge that the vast majority of Israelis do not support annexation of the West Bank or even of Area C.

Nevertheless, if Israeli law is applied to the settlements, and the territory on which they are situated is to be placed under full Israeli security and administrative control, thereby erasing any distinction between Be’er Sheva and Beit El, then make no mistake – annexation by any other name is still annexation.

To ignore or downplay the unacceptable price of annexation – namely, billions of dollars in added security costs, the necessary deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers, additional billions of dollars annually for social services, and the risk of the downfall of the Palestinian Authority which would necessitate Israel’s unwanted takeover of the entire West Bank – is to play with fire.

Kuperwasser dismisses these outcomes by claiming that no Israeli moves could ever cause the PA to end security cooperation with Israel or even collapse, thus ignoring the very obvious facts that the PA must contend with its own politics and population and that continued cooperation and existence are not entirely under its control.

In the only honest admission in his op-ed, he acknowledges that annexation will have serious repercussions but that Israel could attempt to mitigate them through proper preparation. However, by failing to try to explain how the “benefits” of annexation would outweigh its tangible and measurable costs, Kuperwasser invalidates his own assertions.

If nebulous, vague attempts to change the Palestinian narrative or transform the Palestinian mindset by forcing the Palestinians into submission sound simplistically hollow, it’s because they are.

If trying to bribe the Palestinians to drop the commitments that form the heart of their national identity sounds too good to be true – it is.

Even by Kuperwasser’s rendition, in which the root cause of the conflict is the Palestinian refusal to accept the Jewish nation and Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, it does not follow that the remedy is to annex the settlements and turn this conflict into one that is even more zero-sum, rather than work toward a solution that will allow both the Jewish national movement and the Palestinian national movement to exist, whether easily or not, side by side.

If the Palestinians will never accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty, then separation is indeed the only possible long-term answer, as opposed to Kuperwasser’s dangerously messianic vision of preventing any future separation and hoping for a deus ex machina to descend and magically change the Palestinians’ mindset and goals.

It is critically important to debate annexation, especially as Israelis prepare to go to election in less than a month. But that debate can only take place if champions of annexation are willing to reveal their actual vision and how they would like to see it unfold.

Kuperwasser’s foray into this debate is sadly inadequate and dishonest. If this is the best sales pitch that advocates of West Bank sovereignty can muster – buyer beware.

Susie Gelman is board chair of the Israel Policy Forum.