Annexing the West Bank, 53 years since the Six Day War – opinion

In 1967, the Right in Israel was still relatively weak, and the national religious camp still belonged to the pragmatic center.

SOLDIERS IN an armored vehicle on the Syrian front line in 1967.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
SOLDIERS IN an armored vehicle on the Syrian front line in 1967.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When the Six Day War broke out I was in Canterbury in the UK, accompanying a troupe of pantomimists from Prague. I immediately contacted El Al to try and book a flight back home, but El Al was giving priority to reservists. The only other airline flying to Israel in those days was Swiss Air (take note that this was the name of the Swiss national airline at that time), which started flying Israelis from all over the world to Zürich, and then on to Lydda airport (today’s Ben-Gurion airport) in a sort of airlift.
I landed in Israel on June 8. The airport had been taken over by the air force, and passport control was makeshift. It was only after landing and finding transportation to Tel Aviv that I informed my parents in Haifa that I was in Israel.
Several days later, I drove with two friends to Jerusalem, and spent the following month as a volunteer in the neurosurgery department at the Hadassah hospital. There were many soldiers (and several prisoners of war) with serious head wounds, and as one young surgeon said to me “after we finish operating all that is left to do is pray.”
During the weeks before the outbreak of war the Egyptians and Syrians had been brazenly warmongering and threatening to raze Israel to the ground. During the first days of the war they kept bragging that they had bombarded Tel Aviv and Haifa, while Israel kept its mouth shut. A few days after the war ended in a glorious Israeli victory, almost everyone was both in a state of euphoria and relieved.
Many believed, that the new situation opened the way to a permanent peace settlement between us and our neighbors, including the Palestinians. There were, as yet, no Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by the IDF, and the defeat of the Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians was so absolute and convincing that it seemed unthinkable that they would reject immediate negotiations towards a permanent peace settlement.
When I finally returned to Geneva where I was studying for a PhD, I started working on a thesis on “the binational idea in Palestine in Mandatory times.” Binationalism was an idea that appealed to me intellectually, which suddenly seemed relevant, but I soon realized that it was not a workable solution, and that we and the Palestinians each needed our own states before we could start thinking of doing anything together.
In 1967, the Right in Israel was still relatively weak, and the national religious camp still belonged to the pragmatic center. The thought of annexation of the newly occupied territories emerged, but was rejected for the same reasons that extensive, unilateral annexation is rejected today by the Center-Left: The fact that it runs counter to the rules of International Law as perceived by the majority of the international community, and the demographic reality. This raises the concern that before long there will be a Palestinian majority in Eretz Yisrael West of the River Jordan, which will mean that Israel will either cease being a Jewish state (in the sense of there being a Jewish majority in the country), or cease being a democracy. Only East Jerusalem and some villages surrounding it were annexed almost immediately. This annexation was not recognized by any foreign state. In fact, until US President Donald Trump moved the US Embassy to West Jerusalem in May 2018, no state even recognized Israel’s sovereignty in West Jerusalem.
FOLLOWING THE Oslo Accords a consensus started to develop in Israel that in negotiations about a permanent settlement, based on the two-state solution, Israel should insist on applying its sovereignty to the large Jewish settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria for Zionist reasons, and to the Jordan Valley and the mountain ridge to its west for security reasons, but not to isolated settlements surrounded by a Palestinian population, most of which were established without state approval.
Today, we are once again engaged in a debate about annexation, but within a different context. This time the context is the Trump administration’s “Deal of the Century” announced last January, which includes Israel’s annexation of those sections of the West Bank that are settled by Jews, as part of a quid pro quo, which will include a territorial swap between Israel and the Palestinians, and the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state of sorts. It is believed that Netanyahu himself was at least partially involved in formulating this plan.
The Palestinians played into the hands of those who favor annexation in Israel by refusing to even talk about Trump’s plan. Consequently, Netanyahu started to speak of a unilateral annexation of the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley. It is said that he views such a move as part of the legacy that he wishes to leave behind, once he ceases to serve as prime minister. The Blue and White party seems willing to accept such an annexation, but not as a unilateral act, but as part of the realization of the whole Trump Plan, should Trump win the November presidential elections in the US, which at this point of time is far from certain. If the Democrats win the elections Trump’s plan will undoubtedly vanish, as will any chance that unilateral annexation by Israel will gain any sort of international support.
What remains are the Israeli Left and Israel’s Arab citizens who are opposed to the annexation, that is unless the plan involves offering the Palestinians in the annexed territories full Israeli citizenship and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state in those territories that are not annexed. Many settlers and the hard-core Right, oppose partial annexation, especially if it will involve the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories not annexed, and leave isolated Jewish settlements surrounded by Palestinian territories with unclear status. As far as these groups are concerned, the goal should be the full annexation of Judea and Samaria, without the Trump Plan.
Netanyahu has declared that he plans to start carrying out the annexation on July 1. The only detailed planning for this event of which we know, is the instruction of Minister of Defense and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, to the Chief of Staff to prepare for the possibility of serious violence breaking out in the West Bank should annexation start to be implemented. How Netanyahu himself perceives of the post-annexation era is not at all clear, especially since besides creating a new political reality in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it could involve extensive international economic sanctions against Israel, the collapse of the peace agreement with Jordan and additional negative developments.
I have tried to think how I would have felt had I known back in June 1967 that 53 years later we would still be far removed from a settlement of the conflict, not to mention the fact that a majority in Israel apparently no longer views a settlement as a national goal. I am sure that my feelings of euphoria and enthusiastic patriotism in those days would have been somewhat dimmed. However, the memory of those days in June 1967, when I was still young and optimistic, is sweet, while the current reality is rather bitter.