West Bank annexation would endanger Israel's security

West Bank annexation would endanger Israel's security
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Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoState Department removes NPR reporter from Pompeo trip Overnight Defense: US military jet crashes in Afghanistan | Rocket attack hits US embassy in Baghdad | Bolton bombshell rocks impeachment trial Please stop calling the impeachment proceeding a trial — it's a charade MORE’s recent declaration that the U.S. no longer considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal propelled Israel’s annexationist lobby into action, which, if the lobby has its way, would endanger Israel’s security. At the same time, we are encouraged by a step that Congress is taking.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu made public his conversation with President Trump, in which they discussed several issues, among them, “historic opportunities that we have in the coming months, including recognizing the Jordan Valley as Israel’s eastern border.” Also on Sunday, reports in Israel on negotiations over the next government indicated that Netanyahu seeks to serve as premier first in a rotation with rival party Blue and White for “only as long as it takes him to … annex” the Jordan Valley.

A few days earlier, Israel’s Knesset discussed four “urgent points of order” calling for the annexation of the Jordan Valley. As Likud Minister Yariv Levin explained, “Having now received the declaration of Secretary of State Pompeo … it is our duty … to act on this … so as to seize upon this window of opportunity.”

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Fearing such moves, we recently signed onto a letter from 25 Israeli former high-ranking security officials calling for U.S. congressional action to oppose unilateral West Bank annexation — whether full or partial — and expressing our gratitude to Congress for the overwhelming bipartisan support for two states encapsulated in H.Res. 246

Pompeo’s announcement and the annexationists’ actions underscore the urgency of our call.

That’s why we were encouraged that H.Res. 326 warning about the dangers of annexation and emphasizing the need for a two-state solution was added to this week’s House calendar. Like 246, it  represents the very embodiment of a pro-Israel position and merits bipartisan support. We hope that additional bipartisan legislative initiatives that clearly reinforce the message of opposition to unilateral annexation and support for two states are forthcoming. 

Israel is capable of addressing its many military challenges. However, the last thing Israel needs is to create another major security problem that will contribute to regional instability, occupy the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) energy and resources, and undermine vital security coordination with neighbors near and far.

Yet that is the likely outcome of the annexationists’ embrace of Pompeo’s declaration as further evidence that the Trump administration green-lights accelerated annexation of West Bank areas. 

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We are under no illusions about the ease of separating from the Palestinians. But Israel cannot have long-term security or remain both Jewish and democratic if it annexes the West Bank and absorbs its millions of Palestinians. Should Israel take any unilateral step toward annexation, such as applying sovereignty to communities beyond the Green Line or annexing settlement blocs, we fear there will be no way to control what comes next.

And what comes next could very well be the end of military coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA), if not the collapse of the PA itself.

Once the symbol of Palestinian national aspirations, military coordination has lost its glamour. In the absence of hope for statehood anytime soon, Palestinians now view it as serving the Israeli occupation, not their aspirations. Should Israel take the unilateral step of annexing any part of the West Bank, security synchronization will lose any residual legitimacy. Whether it will be terminated by a leadership decision or because the rank and file yields to street pressure and no longer shows up for work, Israel will have no choice but to take over the entire West Bank to prevent extreme armed groups from exploiting the ensuing security vacuum. 

Once that happens, Gaza cannot be expected to remain quiet, forcing the IDF to re-occupy it too, and, as with the West Bank, with no exit strategy. 

To expect Palestinians to accept remaining stateless forever, and to consent to an eternal Israeli military control, is to bury your head in the sand. A more realistic assessment would anticipate stifled Palestinian hope to trigger waves of violence, the spark for each, its duration and, most important, the extent of casualties on both sides can only be assumed.

But even in the absence of violent eruptions, Israel would incur significant financial costs — by the most reliable estimate, the equivalent of over four times the generous annual U.S. military assistance to our country. Israel would be required to deploy sizable standing and reserve IDF forces, undermining training and preparedness for all our other security challenges — north (Syria and Lebanon), south (Gaza) and east (Iran). The likely ensuing erosion, if not termination, of regional security cooperation would adversely affect Israeli security and increase instability in the region, which would also be detrimental to U.S. interests.

We support Israeli sovereignty over the main settlement blocks adjacent to the Green Line and expect Israel to insist on their incorporation within our borders in any future two-state negotiations. However, what is a legitimate demand in negotiations is not only not legitimate, but outright counterproductive, when done unilaterally.

We appreciate the resounding two-party support for two states that Congress has voiced and believe Congress should send an equally forceful bipartisan message opposing unilateral annexation — whether full or partial.  

These congressional steps would be particularly important now, as our annexationist minority, emboldened by the change in U.S. policy, seeks to jeopardize Israel’s security and future as a Jewish democracy by making good on its destructive, messianic vision.

Adm. (Ret.) Ami Ayalon is former director of Shin Bet and commander in chief of the Israeli Navy.

Maj. Gen. (Ret) Gadi Shamni is former commander of the IDF Central Command, military secretary to Prime Minister Sharon and defense attaché in the United States.

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Danny Yatom is former director of Mossad, chief of staff and security adviser under Prime Minister Barak, and commander of the IDF Central Command.