Local View: Israel's plans for annexation a huge mistake
My first trip to Israel/Palestine as leader of a study group occurred in 1977 with students from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Now, some eight return trips and 43 years later, I am still engaged with that narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea and west of the Jordan River. That stunning mix of topography and people of the three monotheistic religions — Jews, Christians, and Muslims — offer westerners experiences, even in a two-week visit, which widen perspectives and overturn stereotypes. It is literally a land that all the world visits.
Since that first trip, I have been eager to learn more not only about the history of this “Holy Land” but also the tense conflict between the Jewish and Palestinian peoples who co-inhabit that area. As one who advocates for a peaceful and just solution to the conflict, I am worried about the deteriorating situation after 53 years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
In the judgment of many who argue for a two-state solution to this long-time problem, the Trump administration’s actions have only worsened the conflict. In recent months, its “Peace Plan” unilaterally offered important parts of the West Bank in exchange for parts of the barren Negev. After July 1, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition government promised to annex all the settlements and large portions of Area C, located in the fertile Jordan Valley (which Israel already occupies), seeking to formalize this before the U.S. election. The presumptive Democratic candidate Joe Biden has made known his opposition to such action.
This annexation, if it happens without any input from the Palestinians and other countries, would be squarely against international law (UN 242 and Geneva Convention) and would lock in place the status quo of the Israeli occupation. This would end any hope for a two-state solution and make Israel an apartheid state. If two states were created along the 1967 armistice border, Israel would comprise 78% of historic Palestine and the Palestinian state 22%. If the illegal annexation occurs, Israel would take an additional 30% of the Palestinians’ territory. Serious consequences would follow.
Palestinians would lose the Jordan valley with its water resources and fertile areas, be surrounded by Israeli military, and have very little contiguous area. With a population comparable to that of Israel and higher birth rates, Palestinians would become increasingly crowded into a Swiss cheese territory with holes only, controlled by checkpoints and military presence and having no freedom of movement or genuine political independence.
For Israel, perpetuating the military occupation would continue to be a drain financially, resulting in little funds for its health care system and other real needs. Israel, like South Africa formerly, would be viewed as a pariah state and face heightened resistance and open conflict. Younger Jewish-Americans increasingly would question Israel’s right wing, settler-dominated policies.
Israel’s annexation of the Jordan Valley would jeopardize its peace agreement with Jordan, signed in 1994 when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister and was working toward a two-state solution. Jordan, already burdened with 2 million Palestinian refugees, would fear an influx of more from the West Bank.
Finally, the United States would “own” the ongoing problem of the apartheid state of Israel, with need for continuing billions of dollars in annual support (currently at $3.8 billion), as well as facing international criticism for its backing a misguided Israeli policy.
It is time for America to be a real friend to Israel and call for an end of the occupation and a reasonable, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Only a legitimate two-state solution can reduce the tension and violence in an area sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
James L. Bailey of Duluth is a member of Twin Ports Peace Not Walls, a local group working for the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians and a just, peaceful solution to the conflict. He is also a retired Lutheran pastor with a Ph.D. in New Testament studies. He taught in the religion department at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.