Views of CCJR Members

Israel at the tipping point

[From The Tablet

The annexation by Israel of swathes of the West Bank, part of the Trump ‘deal of the century’, may commence in early July. A leading British Jew argues that such a step would have grave consequences not only for Palestinians, but for Israelis too We are at a watershed moment in the modern history of Israel. The proposal to annexe land in the West Bank would not only deepen division and threaten Israel’s security: it would undermine the moral basis upon which the state claims to sit.


The annexation is partly being driven by US politics. It’s an election year, and President Donald Trump cares more about courting the Protestant evangelical vote than what is best for Israel. Annexation risks what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims is his priority: the security of Israel. Extending Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank would fundamentally damage the relationship with Jordan and Egypt. Jordan, in particular, will have to respond, given the number of Palestinians who live there, and will, at the very least, refuse to cooperate on security ­matters. Annexation would also deepen the chasm within Israeli Jewish society as well as between the Jewish diaspora and the Jewish state.

The Palestinian authorities and Hamas have frustrated more credible peace plans and have failed to propose realistic peace proposals of their own. But neither Trump nor Netanyahu is concerned about the Palestinians. They calculate that their political weakness, combined with the unwillingness of the Arab states to offer them tangible ­support, gives them an opportunity to trample over the fundamental rights of Palestinians, with a jaw-dropping disdain for the values of equality, freedom and self-determination to which they give lip service.

I support both the principles of Zionism and the fostering of better relations between Israel and Palestine and between Arabs and Jews. I believe that Israel needs a two-state solution as much as the Palestinians. Annexation would mean the abandonment of this goal, perhaps for ever.

For a long time – perhaps too long – I have stayed quiet, failing to make public my concerns about the direction being taken by the Government of the State of Israel. Like many Jewish friends of Israel, I have not wanted to stir internal division within the Jewish community or give fuel to its anti-Zionist (and sometimes anti-Semitic) enemies. But in the last few weeks I have reached a tipping point.

One result of a full annexation of the West Bank would be the creation of one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which there would be a majority Palestinian population. This majority would either have equal rights to those of Israelis, potentially undermining Israel’s Jewish foundation, or the annexed population would be kept as second-class, non-voting citizens, which would tarnish Israel’s democratic ­character. The BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) also calls for a one-state solution - not to make Israel better, but to make its eventual disappearance more likely.

Modern Zionism and the creation of the State of Israel has provided a place of safety for Jews in their historic homeland, which the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe culmin­ating in the Shoah had made imperative. For the first time in 2,000 years, they control their own destiny. But Israel must allow for equal rights for all citizens – including the Palestinians – who live in and share the same land.

Now that the subject of annexation is on the table, friends of Israel who believe in equality of rights and a Jewish state are making it clear that such a step would be profoundly damaging. I was one of a number of British Jews who recently signed a letter to the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, condemning the proposed annexation. He responded by claiming it was necessary to maintain Israel’s security; yet several former Israeli senior military and security officials have insisted that annexation would make Israel less secure. The possible implosion of the Palestinian Authority, for example, could only lead to relations between Israel and the West Bank moving from relative calm to widescale violence.

The impact on diaspora Jewry and its relationship with the State of Israel would also be profound. The British Jewish community is overwhelmingly Zionist, and committed to Israel. Many defend Israel because it is a liberal democracy, which robustly defends itself when necessary but is committed to maintaining both its Jewish and its democratic status. Annexation would polarise Jewish communities in Britain and elsewhere, increasing the toxicity of debate and alienating large numbers from engaging with Israel at all.

The lack of an effective opposition in Israel and the deep division within Israeli Jewish society is depressing. Those in favour of annexation believe in the concept of Greater Israel: in other words, the idea that the biblical ­borders of the Land of Israel are the rightful borders of the modern state. For them, there can be no Palestinian state. Those Israelis who believe that a negotiated two-state ­solution would be more likely to bring security and a just peace are in a minority.

The extension of formal Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank would put ­pressure on Christian-Jewish relations and damage relations between Muslims and Jews (which have been gaining momentum in recent years). The Vatican’s Secretary of State has already criticised the Trump-Netanyahu plan; if annexation took place, it would be likely to provoke public criticism not only from Catholic leaders in the Holy Land and around the world, but from Pope Francis. Though Jewish partners in interfaith dialogue would be pressed to express support for the Israeli Government and some might find it hard to resist, I would add my voice to those of Catholic and other faith leaders. It is not hard to imagine how annexation might undermine some of the progress that has taken place in Christian-Jewish relations since Vatican II.

For the most part over 70 years – while recognising the problems and marginalisation of Palestinians – Israel has been both a place of safety (and of flourishing) for Jews and a democratic state. Annexation of the West Bank, and effectively ending the possibility of two states, would make this no longer possible. It would deny for ever the legitimate desire of Palestinians for a state of their own.

As we put it in our letter to Mark Regev, annexation “is a policy that not only lacks merit, but would pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain, and to Israel as we know it”.

Edward Kessler is founder director of the Woolf Institute and a leading thinker and writer on interfaith relations.