Rising Chorus Backs Israeli Annexation of West Bank

Extreme Option Is Openly Floated in Ruling Party Ranks

Extreme No More: Jewish settlers march in the West Bank city of Hebron. Once an extremist option, annexation of the occupied territory is now gaining support on Israel’s right wing.
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Extreme No More: Jewish settlers march in the West Bank city of Hebron. Once an extremist option, annexation of the occupied territory is now gaining support on Israel’s right wing.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published January 21, 2013, issue of January 25, 2013.
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Matar said that the annexation lobby is buoyant at the moment, because of the release last July of a pro-settlement government-commissioned report. “The Levy Report is the first step to annexation,” she claimed, pointing out that she subtitled the conference “From the Edmund Levy Report to Sovereignty.” In fact, the Levy Report did not recommend annexation, but it did reach the conclusion that the West Bank is not occupied territory.

Experts point to various other reasons for renewed interest in annexation. Historian Benny Morris said that this is partly due to the 2005 Gaza disengagement. This enabled the right to argue, despite skepticism from the center and left, that Israel could annex all territory it directly controls without creating a demographic catastrophe. This is because the demographic threat is less intense than if Gaza’s Palestinians were annexed to Israel, as well. “It’s true that the withdrawal from Gaza strengthened the right’s annexation argument,” Morris said.

Martin Kramer, senior fellow at The Shalem Center, in Jerusalem, said that in the minds of Israeli Jews, the November operation against Hamas in Gaza “solidified division between the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestinian division look more intractable than ever.” This atmosphere catalyzes support for solutions that deal with only the West Bank, he said.

Kramer believes that the annexation discourse is sometimes used as an outlet for frustration at troubled international relations. Feeling a cold shoulder from the United States and from some other allies overseas, “some Israelis believe that now is the time to implement dreams they have until now kept to themselves.” Political scientist Itzhak Galnoor, a senior research fellow of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute think tank, offered a similar assessment, saying, “Now, when it’s becoming clearer Israel is isolated, there are those who say let’s go all the way.”

Few analysts believe that the next government will attempt annexation of West Bank territory beyond East Jerusalem — which, though it has not received international recognition, the Israeli government officially annexed soon after the 1967 Six Day War. But it is expected to become a stronger rallying cry of the right during the next Knesset. Kramer believes that it could “be seen emerging in [Likud] party manifestos.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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