West Bank annexation plan will mean EU sanctions and no Arab friends left for Israel
With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, an economic crisis looming, and the summer heat, the potential annexation of settlements in the West Bank is not on the minds of most Israelis. Recent polls conducted for Israeli channel 12 show only 3.5 percent of Israelis are concerned about annexation.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chosen start date of the annexation era, July 1, is less than two weeks from today. Yet it seems people in Israel and the region are indifferent to this forthcoming development as unemployment rages, national currencies shake, and foreign currency reserves dwindle.
But neither COVID-19 or a failing economy diminishes the disastrous potential and the long-term damage of unilateral annexation for Israel and the Middle East. The sky might not fall on our heads on July 1 - especially since annexation commander-in-chief Netanyahu didn’t make up his mind yet on the details of this move – but if eventually the Israeli government makes a decision to opt for annexation and parliament supports this decision, we will enter a new, dangerous era and there will be no “undo” option.
Apart from being morally wrong (this aspect of annexation is rarely discussed these days), annexation goes against international law and basic human decency and will create a new regional reality by weakening the moderates and strengthening the radicals.
The already weakened Palestinian Authority might suffer a death blow as a result of this move, while militant group Hamas will be more than happy to take over as they first did 13 years ago in Gaza. The hope for a two-state solution will vanish, and Israel will find itself alone handling unsolvable conflict, under European sanctions, and with no friends in the Arab world.
The Arab regimes that had previously signed peace treaties with Israel and maintained the peace for many years despite all odds, will be subject to criticism and attacks by radical forces at home, who already demand the cancellation of these treaties and closing the embassies.
Jordan, with its substantial Palestinian population will be especially hurt, and might eventually opt out of peace agreements that included strong reference to Palestinian rights. The Israeli government has taken Jordan for granted for too long. Does Israel have a plan in case there will be no more security cooperation with Jordan? What about when Israel’s longest border with an Arab state, the border with Jordan, is no longer calm and safe?
Also the strategic relations between Israel and the Gulf countries that was carefully maneuvered by the two sides, with support of the US, will be jeopardized. UAE and Saudi Arabian leaders strongly object the annexation and their position is well known in Jerusalem.
However many Israeli politicians keep convincing themselves that in the Middle East the words are cheap and that in the end of the day the business will continue as usual.
Security and defense experts warn this will not be the case. The Arab Peace Initiative, that was adopted by the Arab League and the OIC, will be finally off the table and the great potential for cooperation and prosperity in the region will be lost.
And finally, there is Iran. It continues to expand its nuclear military program, lies to the IAEA and hides critical evidence, while advancing its regional hegemony, but the Israeli government seems to be fully absorbed by annexation process, as well as with internal bickering and fighting.
Why did Iran suddenly stopped being a priority for Netanyahu? Probably, because he is not able to focus simultaneously on both fronts, and here lies the danger: Israel must keep focusing on Iran, which threatens Israel and the Arab states and creates instability in the Middle East. When all eyes are on annexation, Israel’s attention will be inevitably diffused. The possible damage for Israel’s and regional security is immense.
Although July 1 is around the corner, there is still time. It’s not too late for Israel to jump off the annexation train and to halt the dangerous move. The Arab Peace Initiative is still there. Instead of a violent and unilateral policy, Israel should reach out for Palestinians, resume the negotiations and enjoy the support of both Arab states and international community. The region certainly doesn’t need yet another upheaval now, it has enough challenges and dangers to handle.
Ksenia Svetlova is a former member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Today she serves as Director of the Program on Israel-Middle East relations at the Mitvim Institute and is a senior research analyst at Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya.