Can West Bank annexation be solely an Israeli affair? - analysis

This drive and desire would exist irrespective of the Palestinian people and their national aspirations for statehood in that same location.

A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.  (photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
A view of the Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank, Jan. 28, 2020.
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
For a brief second it almost seemed last week as if US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and right-wing pro-sovereignty Israelis were completely aligned with the idea that West Bank annexation is an Israeli and not an international affair.
In calling annexation an “Israeli decision,” Pompeo spoke as if the idea of that Israel could determine its own final borders in one of the most hotly contested pieces of real estate the world – the West Bank – was obvious to everyone.
For the Israeli Right, the return of Jews to the biblical heartland – either for historic, nationalistic or religious reasons or both – has little to do with international relations, “occupation,” or Palestinian statehood.
This drive and desire would exist irrespective of the Palestinian people and their national aspirations for statehood in that same location.
At its core, Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria is about the literal Zionist realization of a 2,000-year-old dream of returning to “the land,” that has been a part of the national consciousness since the Jews were exiled by the Romans.
This would include among other sites, Hebron where the Tomb of the Patriarchs purchased by Abraham is located, Beit El where Jacob dreamed of angels ascending and descending a ladder and Shiloh where the Ark of the Covenant was housed.
Within this paradigm nothing would be more natural than for Israel to determine its own borders on the West Bank territory it acquired from Jordan in the defensive 1967 Six Day War.
One could argue that to properly understand how and why sovereignty has steamrolled into Israeli consensus, the entire idea has to be divorced from the Palestinian conflict.
It would need to be looked at from the combined lens of a belief in historic justice and Israeli existential security fears. Add into this mix the growing demographic governance problem of what it means when upwards of 450,000 West Bank Israelis live under IDF rule. It is this growing population in particularly that has added political muscle into the domestic sovereignty drive.
In light of the persistent international condemnation, it would almost seem that Israel has little to lose compared to what it has to gain.
US President Donald Trump’s supportive stance toward Israel, including with regard to Judea and Samaria, gave the sovereignty drive a boost, but it was moving forward pretty strongly even on its own steam.
The Israeli Right has always resented the link between territorial concessions and peace, and even now, with a supportive Trump administration peace plan, it has sought to divorce sovereignty from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
With or without the US, the Israeli Right wants sovereignty now, or at the very latest in July, as set out in the newly signed coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party head Benny Gantz.
Pompeo’s words, therefore, seem to the Israeli Right like a natural expression of reality as they know it.
It’s part of the revolutionary doctrine with regard to the Judea and Samaria that Trump has brought to US foreign policy.
The idea of US support for sovereignty, seemed almost like mission impossible four years ago. Former US president Barack Obama disavowed any Israeli territorial rights over the pre-1967 lines, unless otherwise agreed to by both Israelis and Palestinians as part of a final status agreement.
The Trump administration broke not just with Obama, but with over 50-years of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It abandoned the idea of land for peace, by creating a process for Israel to apply sovereignty over 30% of the Area C of the West Bank prior to the start of negotiations with the Palestinians. It has accepted the idea that Israel has a\ historic right to the territory, a point that has not been acknowledged by past US administrations or in fact any other country.
But it has still insisted that the application of sovereignty needs its approval and that it must be tied to its peace process.
The US decision on the need for a joint US-Israeli mapping process prior to annexation has had skeptics speculating as to when the other shoe will drop and the US will withdraw its support, or at the very least delay.
So when Pompeo told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that annexation was an Israeli decision, the focus was on US acceptance of the move.
But the significance of his off-the-cuff remark to the discerning ear, was also the startling phrasing: “Those are – that’s an Israeli decision, and we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting.”
An Israeli decision? Akin to elections or court decisions or any other action that a sovereign nation may exercise within its territory.
In fact, the opposite is true. For 53 years, Israeli action in the West Bank has been the subject of countless UN resolutions and could soon fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.
Individual countries around the globe have widely condemned Israeli settlement activity, and non-governmental groups have launched multiple campaigns against Israeli West Bank actions, most notably, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Multiple peace processes have been launched to determine ownership. There are those who hold Israel liable for Middle East instability as a whole because of the continued settlement activity.
If ever there was a territory that everyone felt the international community has had a stake in, it would be the West Bank.
It is unlikely, of course, that Pompeo was speaking for Trump, and it is more likely that his words were simply a reflection of his own thoughts on the matter.
Clearly, the US still feels that it has mastery over the sovereignty process. Technically speaking, Israel has yet to apply that sovereignty. But it is telling that in Pompeo’s mind, that territory is already so inexplicably linked with the Jewish state that he spoke of it as if Israel already had ownership.
As Secretary of State, for Pompeo to speak so casually about Israeli rights almost as if it was a domestic issue is one more linguists shift in the Trump administration's revolutionary rebranding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It appeared to mark an additional step forward in the creeping divorce of sovereignty from the peace process.