By DAVID ROYTENBERG
After more than a year and three elections, a majority in the Israeli Knesset has agreed to form a government. Article 29 of the coalition agreement says, “As of July 1, 2020, the Prime Minister will be able to bring the agreement reached with the United States regarding the application of sovereignty for discussion by the cabinet and the government and for the approval of the government and/or the Knesset.”
Annexation of territory by Israel in the absence of a peace agreement with the Palestinians is controversial in Israel, even more so in the rest of the world. Other than the Trump administration in the U.S., no foreign government supports it. Nevertheless, the new government will begin to address the question this summer.
What are the arguments for and against annexation? What can we expect to happen if the government goes ahead with it? Now is the time for a calm examination of the case for and against annexation.
Arguments against annexation rest on different premises. Some are moral. For example, some argue that Palestinian Arabs are a dispossessed people who have already lost most of their land to Israel. “Surely,” this argument goes, “they are entitled to a state in the territory captured by Israel in June 1967, a territory which represents only 28 percent of pre-state Mandate Palestine.”
Other arguments are legal: Lands beyond the Green Line are occupied Palestinian territory, they argue. Israel has no right to keep territory acquired by force. Occupation may continue as long as there is a security risk, but the legal status of the territory cannot be changed by Israel unilaterally.
Yet another line of argument is pragmatic. The status quo favours Israel. Even if Israel has a right to annex the territory, this line of reasoning says it is foolish to do so because it will inflame the Arab population living under Israeli rule, anger Israel’s peace partners – Jordan and Egypt – destroy diplomatic progress with other Arab governments, turn global public opinion against Israel, and mobilize neutral governments behind a campaign to punish Israel diplomatically and economically.
For those who advocate annexation, there is a similar mixture of arguments.
The moral argument for annexation is that all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is rightly the heritage of the Jewish people. We were driven out of it by force in ancient times and again at the 1948 War of Independence. Neither the ancient nor modern conquest was just, and now the territory has been reclaimed in a defensive war. To relinquish territory that we hold now would be a betrayal of the Jewish people and the God of our ancestors.
Moreover, the land under discussion represents only 21 percent of the territory of Palestine as constituted under the British Mandate after the First World War, while 79 percent was set aside for the Palestinian Arab majority. To ask the Jews to give up part of the remaining 21 percent for another Palestinian Arab state is unjustified.
The legal argument for annexation rests on the British Mandate as endorsed by the League of Nations at the San Remo conference in April 1920. This measure designated Palestine as a homeland for the Jewish people and envisioned a future Jewish majority as the oppressed Jews of Europe and elsewhere returned home. The mandate guaranteed the civil rights but not the national rights of the Arabs in the Jewish homeland. Israel is obligated to extend equal rights to its Arab population, including any territory that is annexed. Palestinian Arab national identity can be expressed in the Kingdom of Jordan.
The pragmatic argument for annexation is that Israel has tried the path of negotiation and compromise, and those have proven futile. After opening the door to territorial concessions in the Oslo Accords, the result has not been peace but decades of terror, launched from the area where Israel had given up control. For the sake of peace, it would be worthwhile to cede Jewish land for another Palestinian Arab State, but peace is not on offer. Therefore, we should assert our claim.
Wherever you stand in this complicated discussion, it is useful to understand the reasoning behind the arguments. While it may seem like a dialogue of the deaf, each position rests on different premises and different readings of history. Annexation is a significant departure from the cautious Israeli behaviour of the past 25 years. It will be useful to bear these arguments in mind as events unfold in the months to come.
David Roytenberg is a computer consultant living in Ottawa. He is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and chair of adult education at Kehillat Beth Israel congregation.