The Israeli Consensus on Annexation Can Break the Peace Deadlock

7471 - Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum (MEF)
The West Bank territories Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) has pledged to annex are among those the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) pledged never to give up.

One month before he was murdered, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin spoke in the Knesset on how he saw the future of the land east of the “Green Line,” the Armistice Line between Israel and Jordan, created in 1949. He spoke about the conditions that, to his mind, were essential elements and prerequisites for any Israeli future.

“First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty. … The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term … changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the Green Line, prior to the Six Day War,” Rabin declared in October 1995.

These demands almost completely mirror the details laid out in President Trump‘s peace plan, which would allow Israel to annex much of this territory, including the Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs.

Rabin’s heirs on the center-left, including Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi — like Rabin, both former Israel Defense Forces chiefs-of-staff — have entered into an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring forward plans to place sovereignty over the areas demarcated in the former prime minister’s speech.

Israeli consensus about issues of sovereignty and annexation is stronger than ever before.

Arguably, for the first time in Israel’s history, there is remarkable consensus among Israeli political representatives about the issue of sovereignty and annexation. Even the current leader of the Labor Party, Amir Peretz, who ran with the Meretz Party in the recent election, is a fully willing member of a future government that places these issues openly on its agenda.

Israelis of all backgrounds and ideologies long have believed this conflict never was about territory. Ever since it began, more than 100 years ago, the question that motivated Palestinian rejectionism was always about Jewish sovereignty per se, and not about where and how much. This is what motivated massacres of Jews in the Land of Israel in the 1920s and 1930s, among others.

This is what motivated the Arab leaders of Mandatory Palestine to reject the Peel Plan of 1937, which would have given them around three-quarters of the whole territory for statehood, and the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, which would have provided for a state on 55 percent of the territory.

Palestinian Authority leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas continued this rejectionist stance in 2001 and 2008, even though Israeli prime ministers offered terms that included an almost full withdrawal from the territory east of the Green Line.

The Palestinian sticking point always has been the sovereignty of Jews anywhere in their ancestral homeland.

The sticking point always has been the issue of sovereignty of the Jewish People over any territory in their indigenous and ancestral homeland. This is why Abbas could walk away from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s maximalist offer at Annapolis in 2008 because the agreement would include articles about ending the conflict and all claims to the territories offered.

Since then, Abbas has barely allowed himself to enter into a room with an Israeli prime minister, even after Netanyahu placed a full construction freeze on settlements in 2009, demonstrating again that the issue of settlements and territory is merely a “red herring” issue.

No Israeli has seen Israeli and Palestinian leaders shake hands for over 12 years.

Thus, no Israeli has seen an Israeli and Palestinian leader shake hands for over 12 years. On the contrary, many Israelis have felt the continuance of Palestinian rejectionism, in the form of suicide attacks, deadly rockets and attempts to charge the borders, especially emanating from territories that Israel relinquished in the now-dashed hopes for peace and reconciliation.

Israelis are tired of waiting for a Palestinian leader, so they want to force the issue by taking the legal step of placing sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria, which are vital from a security, national and historic vantage point.

None of these steps precludes making a deal in the future if a Palestinian leader decides to free his people from rejectionism and instead wants to use its resources to build up a Palestinian polity and society. Until such time, Israel must take steps that it sees as being in its best interests, with the broad support of multiple parties from the right to the left, government and opposition.

Of course, it should be done sensibly, and not increase the numbers of Arab citizens of Israel and disrupt the delicate demographic balance in Israel. This also could be offset by offering the heavily Arab-populated Triangle area in northern Israel to the Palestinians.

Annexation will show Palestinians that rejectionism has consequences.

Annexation can be seen as a step towards ending the deadlock between the parties. It should be the pressure to place on Palestinian leaders to acknowledge that they will not defeat Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People. It will show the Palestinians that rejectionism has consequences and force them to give up longstanding violent aims.

Most of all, it will fulfill the vision of Israeli leaders — from the left, right, and center, such as Rabin, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon — who understood implicitly that Israel will always retain the settlements and the Jordan Valley. It is time to take them off the table.

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Gregg Roman is an investigative journalist and Director of the Middle East Forum.

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