JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is considering annexing major West Bank settlement blocs if the Palestinians unilaterally seek world recognition of a state, an Israeli official said Tuesday — moves that would deal a grave blow to prospects for negotiating a peace deal between the two sides.
Israel has refrained from taking such a diplomatically explosive step for four decades. The fact that it is considering doing so reflects how seriously it is concerned by the Palestinian campaign to win international recognition of a state in the absence of peacemaking…
Israel annexed east Jerusalem, home to shrines sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, immediately after seizing it. But it carefully avoided annexing the West Bank, where 300,000 settlers now live among 2.5 million Palestinians.
The Arabs are playing a serious game, and we need to see several moves ahead if we are going to beat them. Unfortunately they played the opening and most of the mid-game much more competently than we did, and our present position is poor. We gave up a lot when we in effect ceded the Temple Mount in 1967, and more at Oslo. But no use crying over spilt milk.
We have to deal with some facts that are unchangeable as premises:
- There can be no accommodation with any Palestinian Arab faction. All of them are committed to the elimination of the Jewish state.
- The West almost universally believes (or pretends to believe) that Israel could survive within 1949 lines and that areas outside them ‘belong’ to the ‘Palestinians’. These propositions are both false, but it’s a waste of time trying to change their minds.
A unilateral declaration of ‘Palestine’, even if approved by the UN, will not immediately establish the 1949 lines as borders. The West is much more likely to agree to a new Mandate, in which some power — perhaps the Quartet — will implement a gradual phase-in and adjustment of borders. Some settlements may be permitted to remain, with land swaps. Basically it will be the ‘Obama plan’, except that it will be imposed, not agreed upon.
It goes without saying that this will be highly disadvantageous to Israel, because there will only be lip service paid to Israel’s security concerns, and none at all to the importance of some sites to Judaism (only Islam gets to have religious sensibilities taken into account. Muhammad’s hitching post is more relevant than Abraham and Sarah’s tomb).
I’m not sure if it will be possible to forestall this by annexing settlement blocs — or by any other practical action — today. After all, the ‘international community’ still insists that Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem in 1980 is null and void.
However there are issues that make annexation of territory important. There is the strategic imperative that Israel must control the Jordan Valley as well as high ground near Israeli population centers. It will not be acceptable to withdraw to what have been called ‘Auschwitz borders’. There is the need for an IDF presence and infrastructure to protect what are likely to become the new borders of the state — and they will not be quiet ones.
From a psychological and morale point of view it is absolutely necessary to minimize any expulsion of Jews from the territories, particularly from areas of religious importance like Hevron. Remember that Palestinian Arab leader Mahmoud Abbas has said that “no Israeli presence” will remain in ‘Palestine’.
There are those who say “just take over all of Judea and Samaria and kick out the Arabs.” But an attempt to do so would probably bring about direct intervention on the Libyan model. Annexation of critical areas should be done with minimal, if any, displacement of Arab populations.
Israel must prepare itself for the establishment of a new Gaza — a confrontation state — to the East. I can’t see a way to prevent it, so the best approach will be to reduce the strategic dangers it will pose as much as possible.
There is a more immediate Arab move to prepare the ground for the declaration of ‘Palestine’. This is a (probably already planned) outbreak of violent riots and terrorist attacks both among ‘Israeli Arabs’ and Arabs in the territories. This will be presented along the lines of the ‘Arab spring’ in which oppressed people are fighting for their freedom against oppressors.
Inside Israel the cries will be against ‘discrimination’ and for the conversion of the ‘apartheid’ state into one in which Arabs will have their ‘full rights’. This will be a ‘de-Zionized’ state, following the principles already laid out in the ‘Haifa declaration’ (see here and here). In the territories, it will be a demand for the declaration of ‘Palestine’ according to 1949 lines.
Israel’s attempts to control demonstrations and to prevent and respond to terrorism will be presented as oppressive actions by a dictatorial regime intent on preserving its control over a subject population. There will be cries of pain, atrocity stories and calls for immediate intervention. We can expect support for the Palestinians from the entire Muslim world.
So once again the Arab war to get the Jews out of the Middle East will be recast as a narrow conflict between a powerful Israel and oppressed Palestinian Arabs.
It isn’t possible to forestall this either. But preparations should be made for containing it, for deterring Hamas and Hizballah from opening additional fronts, and for getting the true story out to what’s left of Israel’s friends in the West.
It is going to be a very difficult summer and fall.