To Annex or not to Annex?
By David E. Kaplan
“Annexation will mean Apartheid,” warns Benjamin Pogrund, a former South African living in Jerusalem since the 1990s and who was a great friend and ally of anti-Apartheid icon Nelson Mandela and a courageous crusader with the pen against Apartheid. Why is this voice sounding alarm today so important? Simply put, a respected political analyst who has the proven moral stature earning his spurs in some of the darkest days in the struggle against Apartheid, Pogrund has consistently, persuasively, and publicly, resisted the comparison of past South African Apartheid with the present political landscape in Israel. Despite taking flak – in sometimes disrespectful language – he persistently argues in books and articles and lectures in many countries that whatever inequalities or injustices transpires in the West Bank it is NOT Apartheid.
That is today; tomorrow has him worried!
It also has worried many of the Middle East countries that Israel has successfully improved relations with – a champion achievement. These moderate Arab countries are sounding alarm bells of the consequences of a unilateral annexation in large parts of the West Bank without offering Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians who live in these areas.
Joel C. Rosenberg writing in The Jerusalem Post writes, ( June 2) reveals that “Not a single one of my Arab contacts are telling me they will be fine with Israeli annexation. To the contrary, all of them are telling me this will seriously rupture relations with Israel. What’s more, they are baffled by the timing.”
Citing an Arab official in a Gulf state:
“I can’t understand why Israel is doing this now. Arab relations with Israel are so good, better than ever. The prospect of historic breakthroughs with the Gulf states are improving every day. The last thing we need is new tensions with the Israelis. We have too much on our plates. The COVID crisis has been devastating. Our attention is totally focused on protecting the health of our people and re-opening our economies. Who benefits from creating a new crisis now?”
Also worried over the Israeli government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank are some of the most prominent and respected names in British Jewry, saying such a move would be an existential threat to Israel. Among 40 signatories expressing “concern and alarm” in an unprecedented letter to Mark Regev, Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, are:
Sir Ben Helfgott, one of the best-known Holocaust survivors in Britain; the historians Sir Simon Schama and Simon Sebag Montefiore; the former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; the lawyer Anthony Julius; the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield; the scientist Lord Robert Winston; the former MP Luciana Berger; the Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein and the author Howard Jacobson.
The signatories assure that their concerns are “shared by large numbers of the British Jewish community, including many in its current leadership, even if they choose not to express them”.
Writing as “committed Zionists and passionately outspoken friends of Israel,” they fail to see the annexation as “a constructive step.”
Rather, they view it instead, as “a pyrrhic victory intensifying Israel’s political, diplomatic and economic challenges without yielding any tangible benefit.”
Noting the “grave consequences for the Palestinian people”, they warn that Israel’s international standing would suffer as the annexations would be “incompatible with the notion of Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state.”
Why so? Primarily because annexing land and not its population has been tried before and we know where that ended up!
Apart from the damage to Israel’s international reputation – pointing out that the UK government will oppose the annexation plan and would bolster calls for boycotts and sanctions against Israel – the signatories further warn of “The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the state of Israel.” They counsel that “The British Jewish community is an overwhelmingly Zionist community with a passionate commitment to Israel. We proudly advocate for Israel but have been helped in doing so by Israel’s status as a liberal democracy, defending itself as necessary but committed to maintaining both its Jewish and democratic status.”
This is a serious warning from serious people – Jews and Zionists committed to Israel’s destiny – physically, spiritually and ideologically.
Hard-hitting, the letter concludes that this policy “not only lacks merit but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it.”
While it would come as little surprise for the EU to condemn such a move, individual European nations are making headline news in pressurising Israel to nix annexation, notably Germany, one of Israel’s staunchest friends and a supporter in the EU. The German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, FM is expected to visit Israel shortly to warn against annexation. There is little doubt that if Israel proceeds as the Prime Minister is so indicating, the pressure for sanctions will mount, and Israeli diplomacy will instantly shift from an advance position – a success that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can deservedly take huge credit for – to one of defence.
Is this what the Israeli public want and is prepared for?
Of course, there will be those supporters of annexation who would argue, like Brutus in Shakespeare’s’ Julius Caesar that:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
In other words, Israel has a window of opportunity with a supportive American administration, so best to act now than wait and lose the initiative.
As Brutus hammers home to point:
“And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.”
While these wise words may impress theatre audiences, for Brutus it would lead him to perish at the Battle of Philippi.
It proved “A march of folly”, typically where leaders pursue policies contrary to their own interests.
Are Israelis, who must endure the consequences, prepared to take the risk?
At least half of the country’s people think not as reflected in a recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank. While some in the media chose to headline, “Half of Israelis support annexing parts of the West Bank’, it no less meant that half do not or have serious doubts.
This was further evidenced by the thousands of Israelis Jews and Arabs who protested at Rabin Square last Saturday night against the proposed annexation.
And what of the financial implications?
As reported in The Jerusalem Post on the June 9, David Brodt, a former Finance Ministry director-general, warns that the cost to annex parts of the West Bank would cost the Israeli taxpayer NIS 67 billion per year. He bases his dire prediction using a small representative group of the Palestinian population that will potentially be included in the annexation focusing on the increases to the budget of the National Insurance Institute, the Education Ministry and the Welfare Ministry.
As with the costs of the Corona crisis that was not anticipated and hence unpredictable, what would be the added costs to security in the case of heightened tensions?
As Israel marches hastily into a future of unknown consequences, would it not be prudent that “We, the people…” collectively think through the plan so that if and when annexation may take place, it occurs not in haste but after thoughtful consideration?
Is that too much to ask for?
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