The High Price of Annexation


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to meet this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and the agenda items were to include an apparent, if qualified, green light from the Trump administration for annexing parts of the West Bank. Under the power-sharing deal between Likud and Blue and White, Netanyahu can and may well move ahead, by July 1, with a plan to annex the Jordan Valley and all of the West Bank’s Jewish settlements — some 30 percent of the territory beyond the Green Line.

Israel is a sovereign democracy, and the decision is its own to make. American Jews have deep attachments to Israel, and strong opinions, but no vote in Israel’s internal affairs. That being said, annexation would drastically configure Israel’s diplomatic, political, security and foreign affairs. It is important that Jews here, and leaders there, understand the implications for their own relationship.

Proponents of annexation see it as a fulfillment not only of 70-plus years of Israeli statehood but thousands of years of Jewish history and longing. Extending sovereignty over historic Jewish lands settles the unresolved status of nearly 50,000 settlers, and, they say, is consistent with international law. Israel needs defensible borders, especially in its narrow heartland, and no viable peace plan envisions Israel giving up the large settlement blocs included in that 30 percent. The cold water of annexation might also force Palestinians to negotiate in good faith over the land and issues that remain.

Opponents of annexation point to the map, which shows a leopard-skin pattern of Jewish and Palestinian enclaves under the new plan that would make Palestinian statehood impossible. Annexation would alienate a host of players: European governments that might then recognize Palestinian statehood; Arab frenemies, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who share with Israel a mutual disdain for Iran; and many Americans, including what could, come November, be a Democratic administration committed to the two-state solution.

American Jews are divided on the issue: Most say that they support a two-state solution and a negotiated settlement. A vocal and influential minority back the settlements and consider two states a pipe dream. Wherever you fall on the question, annexation would make it incalculably harder for Israel to solve one of its biggest dilemmas: continued military and legal control over a population of non-citizens. There are good reasons this issue remains unsolved — chief among them the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to accept anything less than their maximalist dreams. Most Israelis would support a Palestinian state if the other side were to signal a real commitment to peace.

Nevertheless, American Jews are devoted to the idea of a Jewish democratic state in the Middle East. Such a state reflects their values and makes Israel an easy sell to their neighbors and to policymakers. The gaps between the Jewish majority here and the right-wing government in Israel are apparent and well-known. Annexation would make those gaps even wider, and perhaps unbridgeable.

Israelis have no obligation to make diaspora Jews feel comfortable with their security decisions. Yet, whether we consider annexation bold and just or unwarranted and reckless, no one who loves Israel can ignore the consequences of an action that has the potential to reshape a relationship between Israel and American Jews that has allowed both communities to thrive and flourish.