Annexation must be one part of a broader national security strategy

Annexing parts of the West Bank must be done as part of a strategy, not just as an ad-hoc approach.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett during a West Bank visit (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI/DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett during a West Bank visit
Israel’s new coalition government seems determined to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. This is viewed as a unilateral annexation and runs the risk of sparking a diplomatic crisis with numerous countries. Many of those countries – Jordan and parts of Europe – have already hinted as much. US members of Congress are also watching closely.
For Israel, the current discussions about annexation and US President Donald Trump’s peace plan appear more focused on the short-term domestic political gain associated with the coalition, than they do about the historic choice that changes more than fifty years of Israeli policy. But annexation cannot stand on its own. In the Trump plan, for example, it is part of that “plan,” one which includes the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, joint industrial zones and other parameters, critical for any future peaceful resolution. 
Israel must lay out a national security strategy and explain what it is seeking to accomplish in the West Bank. Annexing parts of the West Bank – whether just a few settlements or up to 30% of it as seems to be the plan, whether in the Jordan Valley or Gush Etzion – must be done as part of a strategy, not just as an ad-hoc approach.
Israel has extended its laws to territory conquered during war in the past. It did so in Jerusalem after the Six Day War 53 years ago, and in 1981 when Menachem Begin applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights – taking responsibility for providing residency in Jerusalem and citizenship in the Golan. Yet, in the West Bank, Israel has never really decided what it wants to do and instead has preferred a policy vacuum that lacks any clarity.
While the right-wing camp claims Israel has a right to the West Bank that was determined by European powers at San Remo or other meetings during and after the First World War, this runs up against similar assertions on the Left that Israel is illegally occupying the West Bank and that Palestinians deserve a state.
Israel does not have a way to square the circle on this. Instead, it engaged in the discussions that led to the Oslo Accords in the 1990s and got the US to sign on to support this plan. There was the Wye River agreement and the negotiations 20 years ago at Camp David. Not all of these plans worked, just like the Rogers Plan or the Allon plan never came to fruition. Clearly, the peace process and various “plans” litter Israel’s history, going back to the 1930s Peel Commission and various maps drawn up by the British.
It turns out that when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, maps are easy to draw but making historic decisions is not. Israel has said that it is committed to the two-state solution – and many allies fear that walking away from that will erode Israel as a democratic state.
Except for the US, few countries support or will accept annexation. In past decades, the UN declared that Zionism was “racism” and America would constantly pressure Israel over minutiae, such as the building of a home or the initial approval of future homes in eastern Jerusalem.
Gone are those days when there was such an avalanche of attention. That has been replaced by a Middle East that concentrates on Iran, Syria, Libya and other crises. But annexation could cause a break with the Kingdom of Jordan, which has been angry at Israel’s behavior for more than a decade. Jerusalem has done little to placate Amman or even try to work with the Jordanians.
The problem with Netanyahu’s method of governance is that it often seems shortsighted. The last 17 months of three elections made Israel look like a chaotic mess and an unstable country. Instead of laying out a strategic vision for the future, the again-reinstated prime minister appears to prefer to govern by thinking about short-term gains like annexation without considering a larger resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians.
But the country needs a vision. An important, historic act such as annexation requires a worldview of where Israel is going. Policymakers may be afraid to say the two-state solution will not happen, worrying that it will jeopardize relations with some countries. But the country’s leadership also refuses to say how their application of sovereignty will mesh with the two-state concept. It’s time to take responsibility and lay out a plan.