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April 28, 2020 7:08 am

The Consequences of Territorial Annexation

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avatar by Alon Ben-Meir


A general view picture shows houses in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, in the West Bank, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad / File.

The formation of an Israeli coalition government led by Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the leaders of Likud and Blue and White, respectively, will finally put an end to Israel’s nearly 18 month-long political paralysis following three elections. Both agreed on a host of important socioeconomic and security matters.

The most ominous issue they strongly embraced, however, is the annexation of a substantial swath of West Bank territories based on Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan. Should Israel move to implement the plan, it will lead to dangerous consequences and drastically change Israel’s character as a democratic, Jewish state.

For more than 10 years, Netanyahu portrayed the establishment of a Palestinian state as an existential threat to Israel, and vowed to never allow that to happen under his watch. Annexation of large swaths of West Bank territory will in fact foreclose any possibility for the Palestinians to have a state of their own. For Gantz to go along with Netanyahu is deeply disappointing and alarming. As a former Chief of Staff of the IDF, he knows that Israel’s national security hinges not on military muscle, as time has shown, but on ending the conflict with the Palestinians by establishing an independent and stable Palestinian state that fully collaborates on all security matters that affect both countries.

Sadly though, the Palestinians, especially Hamas, have played directly into Netanyahu’s hands by refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and by their repeated violent provocations, which gave Netanyahu the ammunition he needs to justify his claim that the Palestinians are out to destroy rather than coexist peacefully with Israel.

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In addition, the fact that the Palestinians missed several opportunities to strike a peace agreement with Israel and continue to indoctrinate one generation after another with anti-Israeli sentiment made it easier for Netanyahu to make his case.

But now Netanyahu has put Israel on the path of perhaps unprecedented violent confrontation with the Palestinians. Indeed, once the annexation comes to pass, it will be all but impossible to reverse. Israel will build new and expand existing settlements, and it will inevitably violate the Palestinians’ property rights, as it will likely engage in the demolition of homes and expulsion while controlling natural resources.

Under such circumstances, the Palestinians will have little left to lose. Indeed, regardless of Israel’s overwhelming military power, in a moment of complete desperation and hopelessness, the Palestinians will rise and unite. They will be willing to die rather than give up their cherished dream of statehood.

To me and to droves of Israelis from the military and intelligence communities, the prospect of a Palestinian uprising is a given. If Netanyahu and Gantz ignore it, it will be at their peril, as they are sowing the seeds of Palestinian revolt — the question will only be when it will happen.

Netanyahu, however, is counting on Trump to provide him with political backing and exert pressure on several key Arab states to persuade the Palestinians to go along with the plan. After all, Trump’s plan envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state within four years. However, a close look at Trump’s deal and the extent of the land annexation it involves clearly exposes that under such a plan, the chances of creating a viable Palestinian state are essentially nil.

By the beginning of July, Netanyahu expects to receive the green light from Trump to move ahead with annexation plans, timed to give Trump the political boost he needs as the presidential election campaign goes into high gear. Moreover, given the deadly spread of the coronavirus and the mounting fatalities, coupled with the severe economic downturn and the loss of more than 30 million jobs, Trump needs the support of Evangelical Christians who support Israel’s right-wing more than ever before.

These developments provide the Palestinians, especially Hamas, with the opportunity to preempt Netanyahu’s and Gantz’s scheme by declaring their readiness to enter unconditionally into good faith negotiations that would lead to peace and security based on a two-state solution. The Palestinians cannot afford to miss this opportunity, because once Trump’s plan is implemented, their prospect of establishing a Palestinian state will diminish if not die altogether, and violence will become the order of the day from which both sides will suffer greatly.

Anyone who cares about Israel’s democracy and its future national security and well-being should make their voice heard. Trump will sooner or later leave the political scene, and the wreckage he will leave in his wake will be to Israel’s detriment. The vision of Israel’s founders of a Jewish, democratic and independent state will be severely threatened.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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