By DAVID ROYTENBERG
For a policy that has not yet been announced and whose details are unknown, the prospect of Israel formally extending its laws to cover additional territory in Judea and Samaria has provoked a great deal of reaction. It is reminiscent of the Palestinian Authority’s out-of-hand rejection of the proposed Trump peace initiative, long before its details were revealed.
In my inaugural article in the CJR, I outlined the sort of arguments we would be hearing from different sides on this issue. In this article, I will examine some of this pre-emptive reaction to the deadline of July 1, when Israel’s government has promised to start doing something about it.
Most of the world is opposed to unilateral action by Israel for various reasons, legal, moral or pragmatic. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which works to maintain the bipartisan support for America’s alliance with Israel, is not taking a position publicly, but is said to have acknowledged in private discussions with members of Congress that criticizing Israel over the issue is appropriate and won’t earn its disapproval.
On June 1, a group of retired Canadian diplomats called on the Trudeau government, in an open letter, to reaffirm its opposition to the acquisition of territory by force and its support of United Nations Resolution 2334, among others. The focus of this letter was the argument that any annexation by Israel would be illegal under international law. This letter was sponsored and sent to the government by the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine (OFIP), a group that regularly publishes commentary and sponsors speakers critical of Zionism.
Another notable response was a letter signed by more than 400 Jewish studies scholars, including CJR contributor Mira Sucharov. Notably, the language in this letter called the prospective annexation a “crime against humanity” and said it would “thereby create (de jure) conditions of Apartheid in Israel and Palestine.” This letter was co-authored by Syracuse Jewish Studies Prof. Zachary Braiterman, who wrote, “For me, it came down to an Israeli geographical envelope splitting Pal. territories into Bantustan-like enclaves with no right to vote or legal rights.”
These terms – “crime against humanity” and “apartheid” – draw on rhetoric favoured by left-wing critics of Israel, and the fact that moderate scholars like Braiterman signed on shows how alarmed many North American Jews are at the prospect of unilateral action by Israel to try to break the long stalemate in the conflict.
Use of the term apartheid evokes an extreme left-wing narrative, which identifies Zionism with European colonialism. For Zionists, this characterization is profoundly misleading and misguided, as it equates the Jewish movement to rebuild their homeland with conquests by European powers of far-flung lands to which they had no historical connection.
The letter is also written “in opposition to the continuation of the occupation.” This language treats the occupation as something that is Israel’s responsibility to end, in spite of the fact that no peace agreement has been signed with the Palestinians who claim the territory. In fact, although the occupation has indeed continued for many decades, it is also true that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has gone on for decades longer.
As long as the conflict is not resolved, the occupation is legal. Rhetoric that calls for its end, outside the context of a peace agreement agreed between the parties, is slanted against Israel, which has a right to have its security concerns addressed before ending the occupation.
Those of us who are concerned about the possible ramifications of annexation should also consider the possibility that the threat of annexation may, in part, be a strategy meant to bring the Palestinians to the table. As I completed this article, news emerged that the PA is proposing a resumption of direct talks with Israel.
At the same time, however, annexation plans as of late June appeared in disarray as Israel’s alternate prime minister, Benny Gantz, suggested it would have to wait while the country deals with its COVID crisis.
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.