Why Israel Must Remove West Bank Annexation From Its Agenda

Haaretz Editorial
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference, March 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

Throughout the long time that has elapsed since the Six-Day War broke out 53 years ago today, all Israeli governments have refrained from applying sovereignty to any of the territory captured in that war (aside from the areas annexed to Jerusalem and the Golan Heights). And this was no accident. To this day, this policy has enabled Israel to stick to the claim that its control over the West Bank (and the Gaza Strip) is only a temporary situation, and that any decision on sovereignty in the territories would be made through negotiations between the parties. This “temporary situation” hasn’t hindered successive governments from creating facts on the ground via the settlement enterprise, military orders and force of arms.

Annexing territory in the West Bank would void this claim of temporariness once and for all, while also closing off any possibility of reaching a viable permanent agreement and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because sovereignty is slated to apply only to Israelis living in the annexed areas, their Palestinian residents’ fate will be permanently dependent on the whims of a foreign sovereign. The Absentee Property Law in force inside Israel would let the state do whatever it pleases with the property of tens of thousands of Palestinians living outside the annexed areas. Expropriating this territory, and especially the Jordan Valley, would thwart any chance of creating a territorially contiguous Palestinian state and turn it into a collection of enclaves with no land reserves to meet the needs of natural growth and refugee absorption.

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The threat of annexation has already undermined security coordination with the Palestinian Authority and led the PA to threaten to dissolve itself and withdraw from the Oslo Accords. Defense officials have repeatedly warned that annexation would spark violent opposition and bolster the status of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the territories. The map of the Israeli and Palestinian enclaves proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” creates countless zones of friction between neighbors. Talk of annexation has provoked a threat of sanctions against Israel by leading members of the European Union. And the king of Jordan and leaders of other Arab states have warned about the effect unilateral annexation would have on regional stability.

The battle between settler leaders and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must not be allowed to hide the simple fact that annexation bears no relationship to Israelis’ vital interests. A responsible government would remove annexation from its agenda, and the sooner the better.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.