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Former CBC Mideast reporter unpacks the questions surrounding Israel’s proposed decision to claim land past the 1949 armistice lines

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A sample map of Israel’s proposed annexation of the areas in the West Bank. The orange part is the proposed annexed land, comprised of existing blocs of Jewish homes | Photo: WikiCommons

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There’s an insightful Hebrew expression that translates, “It’s better to be wise than right.”

That applies to the proposed Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria; however, you prefer to reference it. So as not to take sides, I’ll call it “the territory.”

It’s hard to challenge Israel’s right to annex parts of the territory. Anyone who has traveled extensively there, as I have as a reporter for the past 40-plus years, will tell you that it’s not a homogeneous piece of land where equal numbers of Jews and Arabs live side by side, evenly spaced, east to west and north to south.

In fact, most of it is empty.

The much-maligned 1993 Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO divided the territory into three parts—Areas A, B, and C. Area A is under civilian control of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians like to moan that it covers only 38 per cent of the territory, a figure that is regularly parroted in the media. What the Palestinians—and the media—usually “forget” to add is that 94 per cent of the Palestinians in the territory live in Area A.

Israel isn’t talking about annexing Area A. So even if Israel annexes all of the 30 per cent it’s talking about, that does not create an “apartheid state” or even endanger Israel’s Jewish majority if the Palestinians in those areas are given full rights, including the right to vote (though annexation fans aren’t offering that).

The line between Israel and the territory was never a border. It’s a cease-fire line that held from 1949 to 1967—18 years of the 6,000-year recorded history of the Middle East. Cease-fire lines are inherently negotiable, and that’s what Israel has been trying to do since 1993—negotiate a peace settlement that includes a Palestinian state on one side and Israel on the other, based on the line, with minor exchanges of territory. In other words, exactly what the Palestinians have been demanding. The fact that they turned down two concrete proposals for just such a state has brought us to this juncture.

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It should be no surprise that the Trump plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians offers them less than Israel offered in 2000 and 2008. It should also be no surprise that the Palestinians rejected it.

So, is Israel justified in annexing the areas the Trump plan gives it? Yes—they’re basically the settlement blocs, not where almost all of the Palestinians live. The Trump plan, just like his recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, describes reality, no more. The main settlements have been there for decades. They’re not going anywhere.

I’ve heard it said that annexation, or “extending Israeli law,” benefits the settlers by allowing them to officially list their houses as their property. Does it also eliminate the tax breaks and subsidies they’ve been receiving for half a century? Not very likely. So it changes nothing. Just another declaration; another campaign poster.

The price of annexation would be high. There might be significant Palestinian violence. There are likely to be stern condemnations from the Arab world, including allies Egypt and Jordan.

Robert Bye - Jerusalem - Unsplash

We’ve seen it before, but this time is different. Israel is quietly building working relationships with additional Arab countries, targeting Iran as a common enemy. We could kiss that goodbye. Arab states really don’t care that much about the Palestinians, but they remain a powerful symbol and can’t be abandoned, especially when they’re back in the headlines because of an Israeli move.

Actual sanctions from Europe could result from annexation—and that means any annexation, even five per cent, not 30 per cent—since everyone will interpret it as a symbolic gesture, usually made with one finger.

There will be those who say, “So what? The world hates us; we can’t let them dictate what we do.” That’s right, but it raises the original question—is it wise?

Do we really get enough benefit from annexation (basically, just political bragging rights) to outweigh the political and economic consequences?

Chances are my answer, “No,” will evoke a flood of comments about how the territory belongs to Israel, was promised in the Bible and is necessary for security. Yes, those are all right, too. But just as the Jewish State Law did not strengthen Israel as a Jewish state, so a declarative annexation changes little if anything on the ground to strengthen our claim to the territory.

It’s likely that there will be no negotiated solution based on the Trump plan or any other plan. One day, when the realignment of the Middle East is near completion, changing the old colonial borders, Israel and the Palestinians will be told how to divide the territory.

Until then, the best Israel can do is to develop the areas where we want to stay, watch our backs, and let the Palestinians develop the areas where they live.

Boring? Yes.

Wise? Absolutely.

Correspondent Mark Lavie has been covering the Mideast since 1972. He was the CBC Radio reporter in Israel and the territories from 1985-1998. He also reported for NBC, NPR Radio, and The Associated Press. His latest book, “Why Are We Still Afraid?” looks back on his decades of reporting from Israel—and draws a surprising conclusion.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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