The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Dr. Eran Lerman: Israel should move forward on annexation even though there are reasons not to act now, such as COVID-19, the growing Iranian crisis and the new challenge from Turkish intervention in Libya.

The Jerusalem Post, 09.07.2020

By Tovah Lazaroff

The Trump peace plan divorces the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from its deep attachment to the pre-1967 lines and opens up new possibilities to resolve the conflict, argued Eran Lerman, a retired IDF colonel, during a Tuesday night virtual debate on Israel’s pending annexation plans.

That link has stymied any possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace, he said.

“Unless we break this logjam, unless we wriggle out of this straightjacket, we are bound to slide ever closer to the nightmare that the Left is warning us against – namely, a kind of one-state [reality] which may lose us either our Jewish or Democratic identity down the road,” Lerman said.

There has been no progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the last two decades, because no one has managed to bridge the expectation gap between Israelis and Palestinians, Lerman said during the virtual event hosted by Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Lauder School of Government.

Increasingly, Palestinian expectations, with the support of Europe and others in the international community, have cemented themselves to the idea of a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines, with minor land swamps, as the only solution to the conflict.

“This is a roadblock to peace,” said Lerman, who is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and former National Security Council deputy director for foreign policy and international affairs.

“No Israeli government in any foreseeable future will be able to deliver on these Palestinian expectations,” he said.

It is important, therefore, for Israel to take action such as annexation so that it can launch the Trump plan on the road, Lerman said. It is in Israel’s interest to “make it real,” and not have it remain just an abstract plan, he added.

Israel should move forward on annexation even though there are reasons not to act now, such as COVID-19, the growing Iranian crisis and the new challenge that is brewing with the Turkish intervention in Libya, but still “it would be wrong to let go of the opportunity,” Lerman said.

With that in mind, he said, the choice is between partial annexation based on security and national cohesion, such as the application of sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, or to go in the direction of ideology and political expediency, which would be to annex all the West Bank settlements.

At issue for the speakers was whether Israel should move forward on the first phase of the Trump peace plan, which allows for Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank. It also set out a four-year plan to create a Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank.

Lerman argued that annexing the Jordan Valley in particular is important to Israel’s security because it provides additional protection, alongside Jordan, against Islamic forces in the Middle East that might want to move against Israel via that land corridor.

Former justice minister and former Meretz Party head Yossi Beilin, however, dismissed the idea that the Trump plan bears any connection to peace or that it has the potential to be successful.

“There will not be a Palestinian state” with this plan, he said.

“There are many faults in the plan,” including security, said Beilin, who was one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Part of Jordan’s strategic significance is as a neighboring ally with 300 kilometers of territory that provide a strategic buffer for Israel, Beilin said.

“To give up on more than 300 kilometers of security depth in Jordan is crazy,” he added.

After that, Beilin said, the Trump plan takes 15 settlements and places them within a Palestinian state.

This is “an invitation for confrontation” between Israelis and Palestinians. “You don’t need to be a general to understand it,” he said.

It will also harm Israel’s burgeoning ties with other Arab countries, whose leaders might themselves want to maintain ties with Israel, but who would be forced to cut them off under pressure from the public, Beilin said. The fear in the minds of Arab leaders is that continued support for Israel after annexation could lead to a Tahrir Square scenario in their country that would cause their downfall, Beilin added.

MK Ofer Shelah said any annexation plan, even a minor one, would mean the end of a two-state solution and lead to the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The Trump plan is “the epitome of the zero-sum game approach” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

It’s an illusion to believe that Israel can advance in the Middle East without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shelah said.

He added that it would also harm Israeli ties with the US, because it would overly identify Israel with the Republican Party, thereby destroying the idea of Israel as a bipartisan issue.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who also supports the Trump plan, said she believes that it is a path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is unworkable to leave the West Bank under the status quo, she said. The West Bank is under Israeli military and civilian rule, which is based in part on a mixture of pre-World War I Ottoman law and Jordanian law. The Trump plan allows for that system to be replaced, she said.

Hassan-Nahoum dismissed fears of regional and global reaction to annexation, noting that those same fears were raised when the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro said that annexation would destroy the US’s moral and strategic interests in supporting Israel.

“It will introduce tensions into the security partnership with Israel,” Shapiro said. He added his voice to those who believe that annexation would lead to the destruction of the Palestinian Authority and would place Israel once again in the position of directly ruling Palestinian lives.

Israel’s position as a Jewish and democratic state would be weakened, and it is that democracy that helps ensure the country’s bonds with the US.

Annexation would weaken the bipartisan consensus toward Israel, which has been such a crucial pillar of this relationship in the US. Already, Israel’s strong American political allies are warning it not to make such a move, Shapiro said.