Given their prestigious positions – defense minister and foreign minister, respectively– you’d expect Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi to have something concrete to say about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank next month. Of all the future decisions this coalition government will make, breaking with more than half a century of Israeli policy concerning territory captured in the Six Day War must surely rank as one of the most fateful.
The diplomatic and security ramifications of annexation are becoming increasingly obvious, best highlighted by the unprecedented op-ed article written last week by Emirati Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba, published in Yediot Aharonot. This first-ever article by a Gulf diplomat for a Hebrew newspaper, and then posted on Twitter, again in Hebrew, by the United Arab Emirates Foreign Ministry, clearly laid out the effects a unilateral annexation would have on Israel’s relations with the Arab world.
Warning of potential unrest and violence, and of the dangers to Jordan’s stability, Otaiba unambiguously declared that any unilateral annexation would be the “illegal seizure of Palestinian land.” Such a development, he wrote, “will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE.” Recent sights, such as an Etihad Airways flight landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, would quickly become a thing of the past.
Before you write the Emirati official off as a typical Arab rejectionist, bear in mind that Otaiba was one of the three Arab ambassadors who attended the White House ceremony during which US President Donald Trump unveiled his peace plan for the Middle East.
Another Arab leader and holder of a peace treaty with Jerusalem, Jordan’s King Abdullah, meanwhile, made a concerted effort last week to lobby US lawmakers against the move. Again, like the Emirati ambassador, the Jordanian monarch emphasized the dangers it would pose to the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the region. A central motive behind Abdullah’s video conference calls was to put to bed any mistaken belief that Amman opposes annexation in public but silently is in favor of Israeli control over the Jordan Valley.
Israel’s closest friend in Europe, Germany, has also clearly stated that any unilateral annexation would violate international law. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas even made his first trip outside of Europe’s borders since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to deliver this message in person. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, another true friend of Israel, told the House of Commons that Israel’s planned moves would be a breach of international law and that the UK strongly objects to them.
And in Washington, a senior diplomatic adviser to Joe Biden publicly warned, in an interview at the end of last week, that Netanyahu’s plans would be “a huge mistake” for Israel. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who formerly served as an undersecretary of state in George W. Bush’s administration, went on to say that annexation “is the one issue which could most harm the US-Israel relationship.”
SO, WITH international pressure piling up, and a blindsided Trump administration struggling to contain COVID-19, Black Lives Matter protests and John Bolton’s new book in which the former national security adviser claims the US president is “not fit for office,” what exactly are Blue and White’s leaders doing to stop Israel’s entirely preventable slide into self-harm?
According to all the available evidence, not a lot. The Trump administration has previously made it clear that it would give its backing to any Israeli move only on condition that Blue and White signed up to Netanyahu’s plans. The logic behind this position is clear: Why should Washington take Israel’s side when the international community is opposed to annexation, if even the Israeli government is not united on this issue?
This provides Gantz and Ashkenazi, men who have both headed the IDF and understand the reality on the ground better than most Israeli politicians, with the lever to put a halt to the whole dangerous initiative.
Instead of issuing fatuous statements saying the plan will be introduced “responsibly” and in full coordination with Washington and in dialogue with Israel’s neighbors, the Blue and White leaders should acknowledge the reality staring them in the face: There is no international support for any unilateral Israeli moves, there is no chance of any regional negotiations to implement Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” and who knows if Trump will still be US president come November.
With Netanyahu already laying legislative traps to blow up the coalition government before the time comes for him to hand over the Prime Minister’s Office to Gantz, the Blue and White leaders should wise up, put the country’s interests above any shortsighted political hopes, and pull the plug on Netanyahu’s annexation plans by simply stating the time is not ripe to implement them.
If Israel has survived and prospered for over 50 years without annexation, what’s the rush?
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.