Following the breakdown in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has embarked on a “brainstorming” effort to explore alternative policy options.
While in Japan, he told Mainichi Shimbun, a local daily, that he does not want the “status quo” to continue and is “engaging in consultations with my own coalition partners and with others, to see if we have alternatives, because I think the status quo is not a good idea, because I don’t want a binational state.” One of the alternatives to a two-state solution that has been raised again is to annex Area C. Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett is most famously associated with this plan, which he calls the Stability Initiative.
But numerous Likud ministers – such as Israel Katz and Gilad Erdan, as well as MKs such as Yariv Levin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and Ze’ev Elkin – have voiced support for the idea as well. Encouraging free and open discourse is essential for problem-solving. The very success of liberal democracies is due in large part to their ability to improve through self-criticism. A nonjudgmental, uncritical environment is essential to a successful brainstorming process. However, once the brainstorming process is over, new policy proposals need to be looked at critically. In the case of annexation, its demerits outweigh its merits.
First, annexation constitutes an Israeli rejection of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, a concept accepted by the entire world, including the US, Israel’s closest ally. Such outright, unprovoked rejection of the aspirations of the Palestinians would paint Israel as the bad guy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel would receive precious little in exchange for such a drastic demotion of its international status.
Admittedly, annexation would clarify the maddeningly ambiguous legal status of Judea and Samaria. The same rule of law would apply on both sides of the Green Line. But annexation would create a whole slew of additional legal problems. Rightly or wrongly, annexation would be perceived as a blatant violation of international law, no matter how much we would try to convince the world that these disputed territories never belonged to Jordan nor to the Palestinians and cannot, therefore, be “occupied.”
Second, annexation of Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank, would perpetuate the current untenable situation in which Palestinians live in isolated enclaves often separated from one another by security barriers.
Already, Palestinians are faced with overcrowding. Many towns have illegally expanded into Area C to compensate for natural growth. Though Bennett claims there are only 70,000 Palestinians living in Area C, Palestinian estimates are double that number. All of these people would become the responsibility of Israel. Humanitarian projects, such as the construction of sewage treatment plants and the building of access roads to the new Palestinian city Rawabi, necessitate Palestinian use of land in Area C.
Third, though annexation of Area C is motivated by a desire to grab a maximum amount of land with a minimum number of Palestinians, it would inevitably lead to a one-state solution, in which Israel would be forced to annex the entire West Bank. Americans, Europeans, and others would likely discontinue funding for the health, education, sanitation, and security that keep the Palestinian Authority operational. If it unilaterally annexed Area C, Israel would likely be pressured to take responsibility for the entire West Bank, including the Palestinians living there.
This would clearly represent a demographic threat, no matter how low the lowest Palestinian population estimate.
However, one aspect of Bennett’s program is very positive and should be adopted as quickly as possible: Steps need to be taken to improve Palestinians’ day-to-day lives, regardless of a peace deal. Palestinian businessmen should be allowed better access to Israel’s sea ports, airports, and capital Jerusalem; crossing to Jordan and back could be made less of a hassle; overall mobility on the West Bank could be made easier by building highways that link Palestinian cities; we might even consider allowing Palestinians to build residential and commercial projects in the Jordan Valley.
Annexation of Area C is not only a bad idea, it lacks political support. Improving Palestinians’ living conditions, in contrast, enjoys the backing of both the Left and the Right, precisely because it improves the chances that any arrangement – one-state or two-state – will succeed.