Annexation – An Analysis by Jonathan Kuttab (July 2020)

There has been a huge furor over the threat of Netanyahu to annex portions of the West Bank starting July 1.  The outcry, as well as the reluctance of the US administration to give the green light to annexation at this time, hides the fact that a creeping form of annexation has been taking place for the last 50 years, and what Netanyahu was threatening to do was merely to formalize what everyone knew was taking place all the time.

It is valuable, however, to remember the reasons why annexation (as well as settlement activities) are so roundly condemned even by those who support Zionism and the state of Israel.

First and foremost, because the entire fabric of international law and international stability requires that state boundaries, however illogical or unreasonable, should be respected, and should not be altered unilaterally or because of the use of force. Annexation (whether to realize historic claims, achieve “living space”, or tribal and racial unity, or control over water and other resources) used to be a permissible tool in previous centuries, but has been specifically outlawed since the creation of the United Nations, as the world realized it could not hope for any international stability as long as countries can annex neighboring territories. For that same reason, settlements and movement of civilian populations into or out of territories occupied during wars, was considered a “grave breach’ of the Geneva Convention’s governing the conduct of states in territories coming under their control as “belligerent occupiers.” Boundary disputes had to be resolved amicably between parties or referred to international tribunals for dispute resolution, NOT to be settled by armed force.

For this reason, settlements have been denounced as illegal, and even the most ardent supporters of Zionism and the state of Israel had to downplay and try to excuse as temporary the steps Israel was taking to alter the geography and demography of lands it occupied in 1967.  Until the present administration, even the US was part of the international consensus rejecting such alterations of the state of the occupied territories, and pushed for negotiations as the proper method of resolving any dispute or claims Israel had over the occupied territories.

The second reason most people opposed annexation, is that it put the last nail in the coffin of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.  That solution required Israel to relinquish the lands it occupied in 1967 and allow a Palestinian state to be created there, in return for acceptance of the state of Israel which was created on land taken from the Palestinians in 1948.  This land-for-peace formula was undermined every time Israel moved settlers to the occupied territories and set up settlement for them there, with a view to permanently keeping them.

What most people missed was that Israel was perfectly happy to carry out its settlement and annexation activities as long as the world limited its response to verbal disapproval and did not take concrete steps to sanction it for these activities.  It felt that with the passage of time, it would create such irreversible facts on the ground that the world would eventually accept them as reality and that even the Palestinians and the Arab world , in the name of realism, would accept the annexation.

It is therefore more important than ever that those of us who care about international law, and the prospect of peace, find ways to make our position known not by empty toothless proclamations and resolutions, but by seeking to make Israel pay a real price for its settlement and annexation activities.  Where governments fail to take such actions, then we must turn to civil society activities like those proposed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).