Recently — and especially since the Israeli election in April — there has been more serious talk about the annexation of some or all of the occupied West Bank.
Far-right-wing politicians, including the leaders of the settlers movement, have, for years, been proposing making the Jewish settlements part of the State of Israel. Just before the April election, in an attempt to influence far-right Israeli voters to vote Likud, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that after the election, he would begin declaring Israeli sovereignty over areas of the West Bank
The Trump administration has strengthened Netanyahu’s hand by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, by recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, and by stepping away from support for a two-state solution. It was no surprise, then, when the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, said recently that Israel “has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”
Annexation of part or all of the West Bank is no longer a fringe position taken only by far-right Israeli politicians. In the Likud Party (and its extreme right-wing partners) it has become a mainstream talking point and is considered the next logical move toward the final elimination of the two-state idea. According to this way of thinking, as long as the Palestinians never will negotiate with Israel on a peace settlement, Israel has the right to move unilaterally to assert sovereignty over some or all of the areas of the West Bank. An extreme right-wing Israeli government under Netanyahu or his successor could, with a U.S. administration’s tacit approval, move to apply Israeli sovereignty to Area C. This constitutes three-fifths of the territory of the West Bank and has a population of 386,000 Israeli settlers and approximately 300,000 Palestinians.
Actual annexation of all or parts of Area C would represent a major turning point in the history of the Israel-Palestinian relationship. To Palestinians, it would represent the final nail in the coffin of Palestinian national aspiration and very likely would lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. The PA now cooperates with the IDF in providing security in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Should that end, Israel then would be forced to assume full responsibility for security in the entire West Bank, something that the Israeli military is very reluctant to take on. The collapse of the PA would create a power vacuum that would be filled by more extremist groups, such as Hamas. A third Intifada could follow, leading to a humanitarian and economic disaster for both Israel and Palestinians. This would make even the talk of the peace process and two-state solution next to impossible.
In this scenario, Israel certainly would lose the support of most Western democracies, with the possible exception of the United States under a Trump administration. Arab states in the region have said clearly that they would not accept any proposal that doesn’t lead to two states.
In spite of such a doomsday scenario, should Israel move ahead with annexation of the West Bank, it would face a major decision with regard to the status of the Palestinian Arab population in the new, enlarged Israel. It either could grant all Palestinians full Israeli citizenship (and thus the vote), which would give the Palestinians (Israeli Arabs plus Palestinians in the “new” territory) an electoral majority, thus ending the Jewish State of Israel. Or it could grant them permanent resident status (no citizenship, no vote), thus conferring on them second-class status, and thus creating a binational (apartheid) state of Israel, where some residents would have full citizenship rights while others, now called permanent residents, would be non-citizens with lesser rights.
As we know, this has not worked out well in South Africa.
In every way imaginable, annexation will be a disaster for Israel as a Jewish state. It would be difficult for many Jews (including many Israeli Jews) to accept such a reality. Israel most certainly would alienate itself from many diaspora Jews, especially liberal Jews and many of the younger generations. Most diaspora Jews and liberal Israeli Jews want an Israel that is three things — Jewish, democratic, and secure.
Only a two-state solution can insure that Israel retains all of these three elements.
While this solution is not perfect, it is the only possible one that can insure that Israel will be Jewish, democratic, and secure. Annexation, leading ultimately to a binational state — an apartheid state — would mean the destruction of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state.
Rabbi Aryeh Meir is an active member of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, a member of the New Israel Fund, the Teaneck Environmental Commission, and the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet.