In the last couple of days American liberal Zionist organizations and European governments have issued statements opposing the plan of the new Israeli government to begin annexing occupied lands in the West Bank come July. They say annexation is a line that must not be crossed because it will destroy the possibility of a Palestinian state — even as the Trump administration says that annexation is up to Israel.
The EU has said there will be a “strong response” if Israel annexes. Germany and the UK have come out against it. France says annexation “would not pass unchallenged and shall not be overlooked in our relationship with Israel.”
Liberal Zionists emphasize the damage to Israel’s international reputation. Israel will become a “pariah,” says Americans for Peace Now. “US leaders should make clear that it’d be nearly impossible to maintain the same special relationship with an Israel that abandons a commitment to democracy,” says J Street’s Dylan Williams. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois condemns the annexation plan as the death-knell of the two-state solution. Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California also fired a shot across the bow of the Israeli government. Bernie Sanders’s Jewish outreach person calls annexation “recklessness” that goes against U.S. “interest” in peace. The New Israel Fund says annexation “would be an existential threat to – and perhaps even a death knell for – Israeli democracy.”
Yair Lapid, the opposition leader in the Israeli Knesset, issued an energetic speech against the plan. “The peace agreement with Jordan will be canceled. Irreversible damage to relationship with DNC and Jewish communities in the US.”
Yael Patir of the Israel lobby group J Street says that Lapid’s warning that annexation will damage Israel’s relationship to the Democratic Party and American Jewry is not “a notion that is understood” in Israel. She and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, called for a campaign to convince Israelis that annexation will threaten these most precious assets.
In a clear reference to Joe Biden, Patir said it would be “huge” if a “significant” American figure warned Israelis about annexation in an interview in the Israeli press. Ben-Ami said the organization is “publicly and privately” urging Biden, whom it lately endorsed for president, to “reiterate” and “repackage” his opposition to annexation to make it clear that he won’t accept annexation as president. At Foreign Policy, Obamaites Rob Malley and Philip Gordon call on Biden to speak out before it’s too late.
Biden has opposed annexation, mildly, saying “Israel I think has to stop the threats of annexation and settlement activity” because they will undermine “support for Israel in the United States, especially among young people of both political parties.”
Ben-Ami also called on more rightwing elements of the Israel lobby to speak out against annexation. In a Zoom briefing, he addressed the question, “Where is AIPAC on this issue?”
For anyone who is watching us who belongs to AIPAC or supports AIPAC I ask you to ask them. It is notable the silence of AIPAC and many more right of center organizations on the question of annexation — when they have tried to say through the years that they support two states. . .
I am hoping to hear very loud and very strong statements from the leadership of mainstream organizations, from the heads of the federations, from the heads of the Jewish movements, from the the heads of organizations that are part of the Conference of Presidents [of Major American Jewish Organizations]. The Conference of Presidents should come out against this concept. But if they are going to be hijacked and controlled by the Zionist Organization of America and the furthest right wing, then we know where those institutions will end up.
So I don’t know what AIPAC will end up saying about annexation. The general position is they support whatever it is that the government of Israel does. Well if the government of Israel does this, one hopes that this is enough to end that kind of Israel right-or-wrong/its-government-right-or-wrong positioning. It’s certainly J Street’s view that the most pro-Israel position to take is to actually do everything you can to make it clear that the Israeli government should not do this. But we have not seen a statement from AIPAC.
Ben-Ami said there was a chance that AIPAC would lobby against efforts by Democrats to condemn annexation.
AIPAC has put out a statement congratulating the new Israeli governing coalition but not mentioning annexation. The Conference of Presidents issued a similar statement saying nothing against annexation. The American Jewish Committee, ditto. The ADL also greeted the government and warned it not to take “unilateral actions” that threaten peace, but the ADL didn’t mention annexation as such.
The largest body of American Jews, the Reform Jewish organization, did warn against annexation.
We also call on this new government to refrain from unilateral actions that could potentially hinder or thwart the renewal of the peace process in the short and long term, especially unilateral annexation.
Patir of J Street said that if Jordan opposes annexation forcefully, and says it would break the 1994 treaty, that might change Israel’s leadership’s mind.
But the most powerful argument against annexation is the threat to the bipartisan nature of Israel’s support in the U.S., she said, and the Israeli public is not aware that that support is at risk.
Ben-Ami says that Democrats might break through with Israelis by threatening to rule out American aid to annexation. “We do not think that the U.S. should foot the bill for anything that has to do with annexation.” Israel might even lose the “diplomatic immunity” the U.S. provides for its human rights violations in Palestine in international fora if annexation goes through.
Ben-Ami lamented the idea that Israel will become a “partisan football” in the United States, rather than having wall to wall mainstream support.
The liberal Zionists are clearly concerned that many U.S. leaders are not that concerned about annexation, amid the corona crisis. Some seem resigned to the fact that Israel is one state. Longtime peace processor Dennis Ross has said that, “1 state for 2 peoples is more likely.”
While author Ian Lustick has said that annexation is a step toward Israel becoming a real democracy, not one that discriminates against Palestinians.
Of course those who support Palestinian rights seek politicization of the issue in the United States, so that politicians will at last stand up against human rights violations they would decry in other contexts. We have welcomed voices in the Congress who are not backed by Israel lobby organizations and dare to call for sanctions on Israel’s conduct, a position most progressive Americans support, according to polls. Though it’s a liberal organization, J Street does not regard the Palestinian solidarity community as potential allies. No, it reaches out to AIPAC.