Column: What Price Annexation?
1947 Partition Plan, The Washington Institute

Column: What Price Annexation?

The surest way to upset readers when writing about Israel is to trip over semantics. The surest way to upset me is to focus on semantics without addressing the larger issues facing Israel.

I was zinged by no less an activist and writer than Stephen M. Flatow, whose daughter was murdered in Gaza in a 1995 bus bombing. He correctly complained that my use of the phrase “Palestinian territories” suggests Arab ownership of the West Bank (another tricky phrase).

I concede that Flatow is right. The phrase could imply that these lands – whatever they should be called – belong to the Arabs. They certainly do not own it.

Flatow does not challenge my assertion that American Jews have a right to express their views about turmoil in Israel, and he fails to clarify what Israel should do about these lands.

A vocal and formidable segment of Jews branded as right-wingers want Israel to reclaim this area, but they neglect to explain how Israel can accomplish this goal without the loss of life on both sides.

Suppose Israel attempts to seize full control of its eastern territories, commonly known as the West Bank. How will the Palestinians respond? Any reasonable person would expect the Palestinians to defy any such effort, prompting a body count that would multiply far beyond current figures. The amount of deaths and injuries in the West Bank have emerged periodically over the years, and those numbers are too much to begin with.

Let’s argue that Israel is justified to implement proposals of some Knesset members to annex these territories. Will it be worth the anticipated sacrifice? As they would put it in a James Cagney film, what price annexation? I wonder what staunch defenders of proposals like annexation think of this prospect. For the sake of context, here is Flatow’s letter posted in The Boulder Jewish News:

“Bruce Ticker (‘Israel is Our Business’ March 2) claims that the current Israeli government ‘has proposed annexing the Palestinian territories.’ In fact, the government has not made any such proposal, and the platform of the ruling Likud party says nothing about annexing territories. Two of the smaller parties within the governing coalition do favor incorporating part, or all, of Judea-Samaria into Israel, although they have not proposed any legislation to that effect.

‘If they do, we can look forward to a vigorous debate in Israel and the Jewish world over the merits of such a proposal. That debate should be anchored in historical facts – including the basic fact that what Mr. Ticker calls ‘Palestinian Territories’ in fact have been the heart of the historical Jewish homeland since biblical homeland since biblical times. Three thousand years before any Arabs even called themselves ‘Palestinians.’ Hebron was King David’s capital, the patriarch Jacob had his famous dream in Beit El and Shiloh was the main national center of Jewish worship – to cite just a few of the countless and deep Jewish ties to those territories.

“If anybody wants to argue that Judea and Samaria should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority – thus reducing Israel to just nine miles wide at its vulnerable mid-section – they are free to make that case; but let’s not mangle history by claiming that those historically Jewish territories are ‘Palestinian territories.’”

Flatow followed up by recounting a system that the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin created to defend Israel from cross-border attacks launched from Gaza and the West Bank while protecting Israelis living in the territories, also derisively referred to as settlers. Yet, casualties in the territories have been ongoing.

Conversely, a great many Arabs do not care who lives or dies to snatch all of Israel. I always wondered why Yasser Arafat rejected an Israeli proposal for an independent Palestinian state nearly 23 years ago. Maybe he was convinced that many Palestinians would accept nothing short of driving the Jews into the sea.

I have no doubt that most Israelis and Jews around the world care about their own. Most of us would weigh the risks and benefits for military action.

Has the Israeli government weighed the risks and benefits of building communities in the West Bank? If so, they have a funny way of going about it. Long before the current spiral of violence, Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza were killed or injured by terrorists. I can recall at least three incidents in which Jews were murdered in their homes, drive-by shootings and the kidnapping and killing of three young men. Before Israelis were forced to leave Gaza, a mother and her daughters were slaughtered in a drive-by shooting.

To live in the territories has meant placing a target on one’s back. Consider how much worse it can get if Israel expands its holdings there.

Not to mention casualties among Israeli soldiers who were deployed to the territories to protect Israelis.

Of course, Arabs are by no means justified in harming Israelis, but that is almost certainly what they will do. All of sovereign Israel is vulnerable to terrorism, but that is especially so in Israel’s territories. I also understand that terrorists do not need more construction of West Bank homes as an excuse to attack Israelis.

Flatow is understandably concerned when he reads the term “Palestinian territories,” but he misinterprets what I meant. My use of the phrase refers to the status of the Palestinians since they compose the largest population grouping there, but residing there does not make it their land. I can see how anyone might infer that the land belongs to the Arabs.

Annexation plans are on the table. The current government may not have introduced legislation to annex the territories or add thousands of new homes there, but those who have pressed for these moves are now part of the government and hold powerful positions in the Knesset.

Without specifically stating so, Flatow leaves the strong impression that I support “that Judea and Samaria should be handed over to the Palestinian Authority.” I have come to believe that a two-state solution will not work, but I might accept it if that is what negotiations produce. Not that I have any choice.

For years, most observers have come to expect that a two-state solution will not happen, at least for a long time. So that makes any debate academic. Many Palestinians want all of Israel, so it does not matter to them what Israel does in the name of peace.

I appreciate that Flatow, whose residence is given as Long Branch, N.J., does not deny me my right to raise concerns about Israeli politics. Others have told me to move to Israel if I want a voice in this. Flatow, who has written widely on Israel, has not joined them. We all have a stake in Israel’s future.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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