The University of Miami campus (Darkflowerthree/Wikimedia Commons)

University of Miami Students Discuss Israel’s Annexation Plans

Opinions are mixed, with concerns about unilateral moves in the West Bank

Many students at the University of Miami, a private school located in Coral Gables, Florida, are paying close attention to the Israeli government’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been expected to kick-off an annexation process on July 1, but he has delayed the move.

Netanyahu’s intentions have sparked interest among college students who mostly oppose it – albeit for a variety of reasons – and fear repercussions.

Avner Yeshurun, 20, from Skylake, Florida, is involved in Canes for Israel, a student-run pro-Israel organization on campus. He rejects framing the conversation around the term “annexation,” saying the word presupposes that there is an illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Others like Jamie Kushnir, 19, from North Andover, Massachusetts, and a member of J Street’s chapter at the university, disagree.

“Annexation in broad terms is an area declaring sovereignty over land that didn’t previously belong to it,” Kushnir told The Media Line.

Yeshurun and Kushnir discussed what parts of the West Bank might be included in a plan for annexation.

“The Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion blocs, and the Ariel settlement, are the three major Jewish settlements which anyways would be retained under a two-state solution, if there were to be any,” Yeshurun told The Media Line.

Kushnir thinks annexation might include as much as 30% of the West Bank, just 3% of which she believes would be Jewish settlements, while the remaining 27% would likely be land in the Jordan Valley.

No official announcements or detailed plans from Netanyahu’s government have been shared with the public, prompting students like Spencer Schwartz, 21, from Chicago, to steer away from speculation.

“Annexation means, from my understanding, that Israel is essentially, politically taking over the land of the West Bank and considering it their own. I am not sure, however, if this applies to all of areas A, B, and C, and I want to do more research,” Schwartz told The Media Line.

Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area A is where most of the Palestinian population lives; it is under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Area B is where the PA has civil control and Israel has security control. Area C is where the Israeli settlements are located. Israel has full control.

The annexation proposal also faces criticism owing to its unilateral approach.

Ronen Pink, 21, from Minneapolis, thinks the initiative comes as a result of Israeli domestic politics, calling it a power play by Netanyahu to appease his right-wing base.

Pink does not support annexation at the moment and views a bilateral approach more favorably, but acknowledges Israel’s right to act in accordance with the interest of its citizens.

“Everyone thinks they have a say in what Israel can and cannot do,” he told The Media Line. “At the end of the day, Israel is its own separate country and it has to do what it thinks is right.”

Everyone thinks they have a say in what Israel can and cannot do. At the end of the day, Israel is its own separate country and it has to do what it thinks is right

Maria Mejia-Botero, 19, from Culver, Oregon, shares concerns about unilateral annexation and sees a direct connection with US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, with both having negative effects on Palestinians.

“Annexation is going to impact so many Palestinians and create even more obstacles for them. The so-called peace plan by Trump and Netanyahu has no input from Palestinians,” she noted to The Media Line.

Annexation is going to impact so many Palestinians and create even more obstacles for them. The so-called peace plan by Trump and Netanyahu has no input from Palestinians

Whereas Mejia-Botero sees annexation resulting in “more control over Palestinians’ livelihoods” and has concerns about human rights violations, Pink is worried that the “semi-calm” relationships between Israel and its Arab neighbors might be jeopardized, in addition to the possibility that such a move might lead to increased anti-Semitism in the US.

Ben Dias, 20, from Voorhees, New Jersey, is generally in favor of annexation but questions the timing, saying that taking such a step during the coronavirus pandemic would be insensitive and injurious to diplomatic efforts.

“I don’t think Israel should carry on with an annexation plan without the UN’s blessing,” he told The Media Line.

I don’t think Israel should carry on with an annexation plan without the UN’s blessing

“As inept and corrupt as I think the UN is, it still represents the international community as a whole,” he went on. “To go against that grain would be akin to declaring war on the world. Granted, the world doesn’t hold a high opinion of Israel already, and the UN discriminates against Israel explicitly, but I still think this is a problem that should be resolved primarily through diplomacy.”

On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned annexation, calling on the Israeli government to abandon the idea in its entirety.

Campus activists like Yeshurun and Kushnir, both of whom support a two-state solution, differ in how a return to the negotiating table should come about. Both take into consideration arguments regarding the questions of timing, land swaps and international support.

“It could be that this time is just as good as any other time,” Yeshurun said. “As much as I’m afraid of the backlash, the backlash might always be there, so what difference does it make now or later?”

It could be that this time is just as good as any other time. As much as I’m afraid of the backlash, the backlash might always be there, so what difference does it make now or later?

While he still has reservations, he notes that “land for peace kind of works in theory, but it’s never worked in practice.”

Kushnir places great importance on the role of the United States and how American policy-makers could sway annexation plans.

“American diplomacy is what will solve the issue,” she stated.

“Israel is hesitant to annex the proposed parts of the Jordan Valley without American approval,” she explained. “American support for Israel’s actions is a key part of the way they govern, and typically, what America doesn’t support doesn’t get done.”

American support for Israel’s actions is a key part of the way they govern, and typically, what America doesn’t support doesn’t get done

Representatives of both the Jewish and Muslim communities on campus stressed the need for greater discussion and understanding with regard to the issue.

Igor Khokhlov, executive director of the school’s Hillel, said: “We’re focused on providing education resources to help students understand these issues from various perspectives.”

The Coral Gables campus is not “overly politically charged,” Khokhlov tells The Media Line, but adds that students who are plugged into political conversations are free and welcome to express their views.

In December 2019, Hillel organized the Canes Perspective Trip, an alternative winter-break journey to Israel and the Palestinian territories for students of different backgrounds. The goal was to educate campus leaders about the complexities and narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the hope that they would engage other students upon their return.

Dr. Abdul Hamid Samra, the Muslim chaplain at the University of Miami, is unaware of current initiatives by the student body to specifically address the question of annexation but believes that Palestinian students should engage the community in educating others about the issue.

“Students should raise their voices and educate other people and students to make people aware of what’s going on, and try to explain the situation and the problem from their own side,” Samra told The Media Line.

Students should raise their voices and educate other people and students to make people aware of what’s going on, and try to explain the situation and the problem from their own side

In April, Gallup’s annual poll on attitudes toward Israel and Palestine revealed that 57% of Americans aged 18-34 favor the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The survey found that favorable views toward Palestinians among this demographic had tripled, from 10% in 1997 to 30% in 2020. During the same period, the same age-group’s favorable views of Israel increased from 36% to 48%.

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