Hard Questions, Tough Answers (9.19.17) - Who wants to annex the West Bank?


Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

This week, Alpher discusses the National Union's (a faction of the Jewish Home party) plan for annexing all of the West Bank and either expelling or disenfranchising its Arab residents; what other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition say on the issues of annexation and the subsequent rights of West Bank Palestinians; what advocates of more minimalistic annexation say; whether anyone in Israel wants to annex everything and give all Arab residents of expanded Israel full democratic rights; and the bottom line.


Q. Last week the National Union faction of the Jewish Home party approved a plan for annexing all of the West Bank and either expelling or disenfranchising its Arab residents. How significant is this?

A. The dominant Israeli right wing is rife with annexation schemes. The National Union, with three settler MKs including one minister, is the extremist settler faction in Naftali Bennet’s eight-MK-strong Jewish Home party, itself the right wing of the governing coalition. Hence the National Union is undoubtedly one of the most extreme right-wing movements.

There are only three surprising aspects to this party convention resolution. First, there is the simple fact that it has become part of the faction’s official and public platform. That says something about the National Union’s confidence in attracting adherents to its platform.

Second is the absence from the convention of Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennet, who advocates that Israel annex “only” the 60 percent of the West Bank that comprises Area C and contains all the settlers. Bennet, who aspires to national leadership, apparently cannot afford to be identified with the National Union’s more extreme position even though it is part and parcel of his Knesset faction.

Third, PM Netanyahu did not attend the convention but he did send it his blessing, stating “I was happy to hear that you are devoting the discussions at the conference to the subject of the future of the Land of Israel.” Netanyahu, then, is catering to the far right with a wink and a nod. The contrast in political tactics with Bennet is striking.

Withal, the National Union’s desire to annex the entire West Bank but, in effect, not annex its Arab inhabitants is not new and not surprising. This sentiment represents the hard right of Israeli public opinion. By my count, it is probably shared openly by no more than two or three additional members of Knesset and covertly by another ten or so. Still, as with related ultra-nationalist ideas and positions, the number of advocates is undoubtedly growing.


Q. Related ideas? What do other right-wing members of Netanyahu’s coalition say on the issues of annexation and the subsequent rights of West Bank Palestinians?

A. The spectrum of views is broad. Speaking as a veteran analyst and facilitator of discussion of solutions to the Palestinian issue, this is quite frankly fascinating. Speaking as an advocate of a Zionist, Jewish and democratic Israel, it is terribly depressing.

One large group wants to annex as much territory as possible with as few Palestinians as possible. Bennet, as noted, is a leading advocate of annexing Area C, where annexationists argue only a few tens of thousands of Palestinians live in 60 percent of the West Bank. (United Nations and European Union estimates run in the low hundreds of thousands; one difficulty in establishing the number is that many of the Palestinian residents of Area C are nomadic Bedouin.)

Under this scheme, the Palestinians in Area C would receive Israeli citizenship. The 2.5 million or so Palestinians in areas A and B would, according to Bennet, enjoy extensive autonomy and benefit from Israeli jobs and investments but would not receive independence. Related schemes, like that of veteran settler leader Yisrael Harel, would seek to annex Area C and award Jordanian citizenship to Palestinians in areas A and B (39 percent of West Bank territory) or somehow allow them to vote in Jordanian elections.


Q. Israeli investments, autonomy, Jordanian citizenship: does any of this make sense in terms of stability?

A. Leaving aside the obvious and most egregious issue of denial of Palestinians’ right of self-determination and the grabbing of land intended by international law and the international community for a Palestinian state, we confront here two veteran fallacies of Israeli thinking regarding the Palestinians. Note that the original advocates of these fallacies were on the Israeli left, in governing coalitions between 1967 and 1977.

First, “economic peace”--an approach introduced as “open borders” by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in 1967--simply doesn’t work. Throwing money at the Palestinians and integrating them in the Israeli economy may, if wisely done, improve their standard of living and that is obviously a good thing. But it doesn’t produce peace. On the contrary, since the 1936 “Arab revolt” against the British mandate and through two intifadas under Israeli rule, the reality has been Palestinian unrest and violence paradoxically at times of Palestinian prosperity. Economic peace is a smug colonialist approach.

Second, attaching West Bank Palestinians to Jordan, where the population is already around 50 percent of Palestinian extraction, means “Palestinizing” Jordan at the expense of that country’s Hashemite orientation. By and large, the Hashemites are not hostile toward Israel; for obvious reasons, Palestinians are. Hashemite Jordan has for years been a tacit Israeli ally against radical Islamist and nationalist Arab regimes to Jordan’s north and east. Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon, who prior to leading the country believed that “Jordan is Palestine” was the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, very quickly revised their views upon becoming prime minister and addressing Israel’s broad strategic challenges. Palestinizing Jordan is totally counter-productive to Israel’s regional security interests.


Q. Moving on, are there advocates of more minimalistic annexation?

A. Yes. These tend to be politicians who in their heart-of-hearts want everything, but believe that Israel should move slowly in order not to over-antagonize parts of its own population as well as the regional and international community. Thus in recent months, Jewish Home has advocated initially annexing Maaleh Adumim, the growing city just to the east of Jerusalem. So has Likud’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (alongside more generalized public sentiments to the effect that all of the Land of Israel was given by God to “us”). Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of Jewish Home wants to annex the Etzion Bloc just southwest of Jerusalem as well.

In all of these cases, few if any West Bank Arabs would find themselves within the new lines. Still, creative drawing of borders and paving of overpasses and tunnels would have to be exercised to physically attach these settlements to Jerusalem without attaching Arab villages or severely disrupting Arab West Bank transportation.

These ideas dovetail with another recently launched scheme to expand Jerusalem. It reflects the fears of some in Israeli and Jerusalem governing circles who finally sat down recently and “did the math”. Surprise, surprise: a large majority of Jerusalem’s residents are Arab (nearly 40 percent) or ultra-Orthodox (around 30 percent). What happens when, one day, the Arabs of East Jerusalem decide to abandon their boycott and vote in municipal elections (as Jerusalem residents, they can, even though they do not hold Israeli citizenship)? What would a city council of “United Jerusalem, Eternal Capital of Israel” look like when composed of 70 percent ultra-Orthodox non-Zionists and Palestinian anti-Zionists?

The solution? Somehow contrive to co-opt the settler towns and cities around Jerusalem, like Maaleh Adumim and the Etzion Bloc, into a “greater Jerusalem municipality” whose voters restore the Zionist majority to the electoral lists. This looks and smells like annexation, though the idea’s right-wing supporters claim for the record that it isn’t.


Q. Does anyone in Israel want to annex everything and give all Arab residents of expanded Israel full democratic rights?

A. Yes, two groups of Israeli Jews. On the far left we find a small number of non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews whose basic ideological orientation dictates that Israel be a state of all its citizens, non-Zionist and not constitutionally Jewish, whether the issue is the 20 percent of Israelis who are Arabs or the three million or so Arabs in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some would add Gaza’s two million as well. Some would even allow all 1948 refugees to return. They presumably have no problem with the fact that in the best of circumstances the resultant political entity would become an Arab state with a barely tolerated Jewish minority and would almost certainly function or malfunction like Israel’s neighbors.

Alongside this fringe we find Israelis who believe a two-state solution--one Arab, one Jewish--is no longer feasible due to the extent of West Bank Jewish settlement and the failings of Palestinian leadership. Yet they insist that Israel be democratic and pluralistic. Hence they see no alternative to an Israeli state with a 40 percent Arab minority made up of those who currently are East Jerusalem, West Bank and Israeli Arabs.

This group even includes some “liberal” settlers whose conscience is gnawing at them and who have recruited Arab neighbors for schemes like “Two States, one Homeland”. Without annexation, it calls for open borders between Israel and Palestine, freedom of movement, and cross-border residency and citizenship rights for all. It adds some confederative features in the hope of maintaining a Jewish Israel. Yet it would open Israel’s borders to multitudes of Palestinian refugees seeking to exercise their self-appointed “right of return”.

This brings us from the fringes to the heart and soul of the Israeli pro-settler right. In the name of liberal values that echo Zeev Jabotinsky, the iconic ideologue of the original Zionist right, President Reuven Rivlin wants to annex everything, expel no one, and yet maintain Israel as a Jewish state. When confronted with the demographic demon, Rivlin equivocates, mentioning ideas like “joint sovereignty”, a condominium with two parliaments in the West Bank, loyalty criteria for citizenship, and the like.

Other annexationists on the right echo Rivlin and add their own ideas for squaring the demographic circle. Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post and Makor Rishon newspapers states, without any known basis in fact, that the demographic numbers are skewed. There are only 1.5 million Arabs on the West Bank, not 2.5 as all serious demographers assert. And expanded Israel will quickly absorb one million American Jews!! Then too, most of the outnumbered Palestinians will leave of their own volition. Presto, the problem is solved.

Moshe Feiglin, in 2014 a Likud member of Knesset, suggested offering $500,000 to every Palestinian family that agreed to emigrate or offering West Bank Palestinian “permanent residency” in expanded Israel but not citizenship.


Q. Your bottom line to this survey?

A. As matters stand, it looks like just a matter of time until one or more of these schemes reaches fruition and is approved by a Knesset majority even more ultra-nationalist than the current one. The more savvy advocates of annexation and disenfranchisement will undoubtedly look for congenial regional and international circumstances before acting.

But even if they fail, even without legislation, Israel is moving toward a one-state reality. A large percentage of Area C (itself 60 percent of the West Bank) is already “owned” by Israel and Israelis: IDF training grounds, settlements with inflated municipal boundaries, quarries, industrial zones, security zones, etc. The Arab residents of Area C have already quietly been disenfranchised. As we pointed out last week, Israeli military and policing functions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are merging.

If I were advising the annexationists how to have it all yet minimize international condemnation, I would tell them just to keep doing what they have been doing for decades. But I would also have to warn them that their messianic, anti-democratic aspirations have, even without annexation, put Israel on a slippery slope toward an ugly, conflicted non-Zionist one-state reality.

And with annexation? The slide down the slippery slope just became an avalanche.