A Zionist Case for Opposing Unilateral Annexation of the West Bank


The Jewish values that inform my deeply rooted attachment to Zionism and Israel include equality, freedom, and justice for all. These values, enshrined in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, are shared by the United States and strengthen the historic alliance between the two nations. Annexation would put that relationship at serious risk, as evidenced by the opposition of many of the most stalwart pro-Israel members of the U.S. Congress.

As one who loves Israel with all my heart and soul, I cannot be silent as the Israeli government  pursues plans for the unilateral annexation of parts of the West Bank. Taking this step outside the context of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority would hurt rather than enhance Israeli security and diminish the nation’s moral standing in the world. That is why the Israeli cabinet is divided on this question, and a large cross section of former Israeli generals and high-ranking security officials strongly oppose such a move.

Any annexation moves, even symbolic ones, would weaken bipartisan support in the U.S. for Israel and give ammunition to Israel’s opponents in their efforts to restrict aid packages and cooperation that are vital for Israeli security and well-being. For those of us who strongly oppose the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, our ability to make the case for Israel on college campuses and in public debates would be severely hampered. Unilateral annexation further risks making Israel a pariah nation in growing segments of the international community.

The annexation plans being considered do not give Palestinians living in annexed territory civil rights as citizens. Israel’s moral standing depends on its commitment to ensure that Palestinians do not live as second-class citizens without the full democratic rights enjoyed by its Jewish citizens.

I believe annexation would likely alienate a generation of proud young Jews from Israel whose study and practice of Judaism compel them to raise their voices in the face of injustice wherever they encounter it, which is evident in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. Our young leaders are tired of being disparaged for their Jewish commitment to stand up for the rights and dignity of Palestinians and for their opposition to the occupation. They do so as an expression of their profound sacred commitment to Israel, concern for the safety and well-being of their Israeli Jewish siblings, and for Israel’s moral integrity.

And it’s not just the younger generation of North American Jews who view annexation as antithetical to their core beliefs. The majority of North American Jews oppose unilateral annexation out of a deep, principled commitment to the ideals of the Zionist enterprise. We may not live, vote and do military service in the Jewish State, but our lives are deeply intertwined with the lives and hopes of our siblings in Israel. Many Jews know the words of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” which means hope, and they can recite by heart whole sections of Israel’s Declaration of Independence: Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Annexation forsakes those animating values that are part of Israel’s founding DNA. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Ultimately, the only long-term solution that keeps Israel secure, while both preserving its Jewish and democratic character and protecting Palestinian dignity and freedom is a Two States for Two Peoples solution, a position long held by the Reform Jewish Movement, the largest Jewish and Zionist Movement in North America. It is for this reason that we have also expressed strong opposition to the occupation, to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, and to the oppressive treatment of the Palestinian population.

To be sure, most Israelis have lost confidence in any viable peace process with the Palestinian leadership, in large measure because of the persistence of terrorist attacks; rejection of generous Israeli offers in prior negotiations; official Palestinian support for the families of those imprisoned or killed after carrying out terrorist attacks; and President Abbas’s threats to suspend all prior agreements, including cessation of security coordination and cooperation with Israel and the U.S.

Given this low point in Israeli-Palestinian relations, annexation would be like a gale force wind, causing harm to everyone in its path. The Israeli government will make the ultimate decision, but it will proceed only with support of the U.S. administration, which is still wavering between giving Israel a green or yellow light for this dramatic step.

I do not oppose annexation out of a belief that conditions are ripe for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, but because I fear that such a move would foreclose the possibility of a just solution when conditions will be ripe. There is a wise teaching from our ancient rabbis: “You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” With the threat of annexation looming, I would offer this reframing: We are not obligated to finish the task, but we dare not put obstacles that will keep others from one day finishing the sacred task of making peace between Israel and Palestinians with two states for two peoples.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs is the president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the largest Jewish movement in North America.