Opinion

There Are No More Excuses Left. Just Annex the West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman in Jerusalem, December 2017. This is a rare moment when Friedman is to the left of the Israeli prime minister.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

The Israeli government is out of excuses for why not to annex the West Bank. It received the ultimate imprimatur from U.S. Ambassador David Friedman, who gave Israel the mandate to set up a binational state. “Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” stated the American Balfour, and the sky did not fall. The left-wing in Israel was a tad shaken; Friedman’s statement largely nullifies his very raison d’être, but the giddy consensus linking the center, the right and the messianic right didn’t suffer a scratch.

The superb partners in the political center have already ruled that settlements will not be uprooted, and retreat is not in their cards. An independent state of Palestine is just a slogan anyway, a hollow motto that even the “great” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are getting used to giving up. The threat that Israel’s status in the world will suffer mortal damage has long proved to be empty. Nobody scrambled the UN Security Council to condemn U.S. President Donald Trump for annexing the Golan Heights to Israel in a unilateral move; and nobody heard of any similar initiative following Friedman’s remark. The nations of Europe, which did hasten to slap sanctions on Russia when it annexed Crimea, seem to be in coma. Annex, don’t annex, they are also sick to death of this psoriasis otherwise known as “the Palestinian problem.”

No set of international “certain circumstances” could be riper to unilaterally declare annexation of parts of the West Bank than the ones existing now. Once the Israeli government has inured the people to the term “annexation,” instead of recoiling in alarm, they will start preparing seriously for the event. Assessments among the various movements on the right say that roughly speaking, annexing Area C territories would add just 80,000 Palestinians to Israel. The UN and the Palestinian Authority estimate the figure at 300,000. In and of themselves, neither of these figures imperil the identity of the state; even the higher number would increase the citizenry by no more than 3 percent and the number of Arab citizens by a little over 15 percent. That still wouldn’t make Israel a binational state, though a majority of Israelis seem to worry that adding a single Arab to the citizenship roster will destroy the state’s Jewish identity.

>> Haaretz poll: 42% of Israelis back West Bank annexation, including two-state supporters 

To assuage the Jewish anxiety about accepting Palestinians as Israeli citizens, there is no choice but to take some steps to make the annexation Arab-free. The various right-wing parties have already made clear that Palestinians annexed to Israel won’t get citizenship, the right to vote or be elected to office, and that some of the social benefits they should receive will be denied. The qualification period for citizenship will be conditional on rigid, onerous contingencies, and after taking that long road, few will likely to be awarded it.

Israel will draw a convoluted, twisted border that will cut off some Palestinian villages intended for annexation and tear whole families from their land, encouraging many others to move to villages and cities in the West Bank in order to keep them out of the new map. And then Israel will officially become an apartheid state, which will become immune to sanctions by virtue of the authority and permission given it by the U.S.

The model of selective annexation will preserve the full rights of the settlers and strip the Palestinians of their status, and will serve as a model for Israel’s conduct toward its Arab citizens, who will be at risk of being stripped of their status entirely, or having it equated with that of the new Palestinians. Anybody already threatening to void the citizenship of Arab Israelis and annex their areas of residence to the West Bank would not balk at taking the next step. What’s good for the annexed Palestinian will be good for the Israeli Palestinian. That will be a state that even Friedman wouldn’t want to live in. But then he won’t have to.