The newly formed Israeli coalition government promises to focus on only COVID 19-related matters, with one glaring exception: by July 1, the government can proceed with the process of annexing portions of the West Bank. Faced with a national (indeed, worldwide) health emergency, the incoming Israeli government has declared that annexing occupied Palestinian territory can’t wait.
Why the rush? Politics, mostly American politics. Prime Minister Netanyahu is keenly aware that America holds an election in November and that President Trump stands a very real chance of losing. Israel wants to capitalize on President Trump’s “deal of the century”, which seeks to pressure the Palestinians to accept a state much smaller – and more dependent on Israel – than that envisioned in previous negotiations. Indeed, the Trump Administration further enticed the Israeli government when Secretary of State Pompeo declared that the U.S. would not object if Israel annexed parts of the West Bank in the event that the Palestinians, as anticipated, refuse to negotiate with Israel over what amounts to the terms of their surrender to the “deal of the century”. Netanyahu and his allies realize this opportunity will likely not be offered by a Biden administration.
Several European governments recently warned Israel that annexing all or part of the West Bank would violate international law. A former Israeli ambassador to South Africa has pointed out that the Trump plan, coupled with Israeli annexation, would result in isolated, non-contiguous Palestinian areas in the West Bank that resemble the discredited “bantustans” of the apartheid era.
Notwithstanding these disturbing realities, I oppose Israel’s race toward annexation because I care deeply about Israel’s future. Before Israel undertakes the momentous step of annexation, her leaders need to be reminded: be careful what you wish for. Dangerous unintended consequences for Israel abound. Members of Israel’s defense community have warned that annexation may deal a fatal blow to Israel’s security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan may be jeopardized.
Israel’s looming annexation presents the organized American Jewish community with its own moment of truth. For years, our major organizations have emphasized that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only be resolved through bilateral negotiations. Major American Jewish institutions have been quick to condemn unilateral Palestinian efforts to pressure Israel through international forums such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. Now the shoe is on the other foot. Israel is seeking to unilaterally impose its will on the Palestinians. Israel has dropped any pretense that it seeks “unconditional” negotiations and offers the Palestinians only limited talks to implement the terms of a Trump deal which overwhelmingly favors Israel. Relatively few American Jewish leaders thus far have spoken out against the prospect of annexation. Major Jewish organizations – both in Colorado and nationally – thus far remain silent.
I cannot be silent. I love Israel too much. I know that the best solution to the conflict – a strong and secure Israel and an economically viable Palestine living side by side in peace and security – is at this moment out of reach. I know that the Palestinians are far from blameless regarding the current state of affairs. But I also know this: Israel’s impending annexation of West Bank territory is counterproductive, reckless and wrong. I intend to do everything I can between now and July 1 to oppose Israel’s plans.
I hope you’ll join my colleagues at J Street Colorado in our upcoming campaign to resist annexation. We’ll be launching our campaign in the coming days. Stay tuned.
Tom Feldman, Denver
Co-Chair, J Street Colorado