Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties


On Annexation, Avoiding Iran Deal Déjà Vu

May 21, 2020
Posted by: Karen Stiller, Middle East Project Director

July 1 is a date many of us are watching closely. Under the coalition agreement between Israeli Prime Minster Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud and Benjamin Gantz’s Blue and White parties, that’s the day the Knesset can officially consider legislation to unilaterally annex (or “apply sovereignty to”) parts of the West Bank. There’s already been tremendous speculation, and concern, about how annexation might take shape, and about whether or not Netanyahu’s election promise will even materialize.

This moment is reminiscent of five years ago when the world debated the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or “Iran nuclear deal.” During that time, ideological entrenchment and hyperbolic influence campaigns often occluded thoughtful and sincerely held beliefs on a critically important topic.  The debate often missed the underlying consensus that our community understood (and still does): Iran’s nuclear program is an imminent threat to Israel’s security. The point of divergence was whether the JCPOA would lessen or increase the risk. Today, the repercussions of this acrimonious time are still felt.

Meanwhile, we’re on the precipice of another potentially explosive debate. With the partisan divide in the U.S. greater than ever, and unprecedented stress already weighing down our collective health and finances, avoiding additional collateral damage is vital. It’s time we learned the lesson and skipped the conflagration.

Our community is aligned where it counts. In JCRC’s 2003 Consensus Statement on Israel – backed up more recently by scientific polling data – the Jewish community, and the Bay Area at large, overwhelmingly agree on the following:

  • Support for a secure Jewish and democratic State of Israel with equal rights for all of its citizens.
  • Support for a two‐state solution to end the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.
  • Israel and a future Palestine living side by side in peace, co-existing with fully normalized diplomatic relations, mutual recognition and economic cooperation.

For the past year, JCRC’s Middle East Strategy Committee has been studying the possibility of annexation as it relates to the principles above. We are also exploring how it could affect the Jewish community’s relationship to Israel, our interrelations, and our relationships with other communities in the Bay Area. Our committee members, and the experts we’ve consulted, represent a broad spectrum of views.

Here are five tough questions we’re asking (and we challenge you to do the same):

  1. Not so black and white: “Annexation” is used loosely in reference to many different possible scenarios (such as annexation of major settlement blocs, the Jordan Valley, the 30% of the West Bank envisioned in the Trump plan, the entire West Bank) with vastly different ramifications for peace. How can we ensure this debate recognizes the nuances of each possible outcome as it relates to geography, demographics, Israeli security, and Palestinian dignity and self-determination?
  2. Changing the status quo: Are unilateral moves acceptable or inevitable given decades of failed direct negotiations, many of which have led to violence? Should Israelis trust that they currently have or could in the foreseeable future have “partners for peace?”
  3. Security: Israelis will ultimately have to live with the consequences of annexation as it relates to security. How do unilateral moves further the pursuit of trust-building and peace with Palestinians? What will the security consequences be for Israel if its neighbors like Jordan, which has threatened to rip up its peace accord with Israel, follow through? What new demands and threats will various forms of annexation place on Israel’s national security?
  4. Our values: How would rights afforded (or not) to Palestinian residents in annexed territory impact the future of Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state, with equal rights for all minorities? How would annexation affect the future of the two-state solution?
  5. Peoplehood: To the extent public criticism of Israeli policy becomes necessary, how do we continue to lift up the US-Israel and diaspora-Israeli relationship? How do we ensure that our voices are heard and respected by Israelis when they are rightfully jaded by decades of calls for their destruction and delegitimization, and have tuned out much of the noise? And are we doing enough to listen to Israelis and Palestinians themselves, who will be most impacted by these moves, or is our discourse proceeding in a diaspora bubble?

As this discussion evolves, we must remind ourselves that Israel’s path, and the consequences of that path, are impossible to predict. We must be prepared and have a grasp of the issues, but we need not use them as a wedge. Instead, let’s start from a place of shared values. Let’s try to understand one another and face these challenges together. After all, we’re going to be living with the consequences together.

There are sure to be sharp disagreements. The Jewish people have never been monolithic, but we can hold differences of opinion while still sharing those values that unite us. We must take the lessons from the debate over the Iran deal to heart, and proceed with an understanding that our goals are mutual. And we must always remember that Jewish peoplehood includes Israelis, whether we agree with the decisions of their political leaders or not.