In some circles on the right a competition seems to be going on over which parts of Judea and Samaria – the West Bank – should be annexed to Israel. The options were described in Hilo Glazer’s Haaretz piece over the weekend. Looking at them, one is reminded of the joke about why the Frenchman kisses the lady’s hand – you have to start somewhere.
These options may be, in the minds of those suggesting them, the beginning of a creeping annexation of everything – starting somewhere. Some opt for annexing the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, others for the region of Gush Etzion, others for Area C that’s under full Israeli control, and some even for all of Judea and Samaria.
Implementation of any of these choices would involve problems. Each would surely trigger protests from parts of the international community and be interpreted as a signal that Israel has decided to abandon the peace process with the Palestinians.
Except for the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumin, a singular case, they would all involve the inclusion into Israel of a sizable number of Palestinians who would have to be offered Israeli citizenship. The annexation of all of Judea and Samaria would substantially affect Israel's demographic balance. Whether this could be accomplished without significantly affecting the state's Jewish character is not clear.
There is something to be said for each of the annexation options. Except for the Ma’aleh Adumin variant, each would provide the Palestinians in the annexed area a chance to live as equal citizens of Israel. Each would end the inequalities that currently characterize their lives compared to Israel’s Jewish citizens, while ending the ambiguous situation of the Jews living in these areas.
The reason that none of these options has been exercised by Israeli governments over the past 49 years has been the hope that negotiations will eventually lead to an agreed solution, or the view that the problems in taking one of these unilateral actions wouldn’t be worth the advantages.
It’s interesting that no one in the Haaretz article seemed to suggest fully implementing the government’s decision 49 years ago to include East Jerusalem in the borders of Jerusalem and the state, a decision that granted the Palestinians of East Jerusalem Israeli residency permits and the option of applying for Israeli citizenship. That decision was implemented only in part: 300,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians have Israeli residence permits, and a few have applied for Israeli citizenship, while the physical infrastructure of East Jerusalem and the education system there have remained more or less in the abject state they were in under Jordanian occupation.
The investments required to bring things up to the Israeli level was never made by successive Israeli governments or Jerusalem municipalities. Left-wing governments, although paying lip service to a united Jerusalem, were interested neither in East Jerusalem nor the Palestinians living there, while right-wing governments insisted on control of the territory but weren’t prepared to invest resources that would benefit the local Palestinians. It's high time to put an end to years of neglect.
To those dreaming of eventually extending Israeli sovereignty over all or parts of Judea and Samaria, this is a good beginning that puts first things first. To those who want to see a truly united Jerusalem, this is the way – the only way – to accomplish that. To those who care about the fate of the 300,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, this is an urgent task. To those who want to see peace in Jerusalem, this should be the first priority. Jerusalem first!
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