Community divided over Netanyahu plan, which envisions extending Israeli sovereignty to settlements, Jordan Valley
Several Jewish organizations in the United States are urging the government of Israel to abandon its unilateral annexation plan regarding land in the West Bank, saying it would end any chance for a reasonable compromise involving two states.
A coalition agreement between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz allows Netanyahu to float legislation as early as July 1 to apply Israeli sovereignty over settlements and other areas of the West Bank.
Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI), an organization that describes itself as advocating for “peace between Israel and its neighbors,” opposes annexation. The group has stated that annexation “would move Israelis and Palestinians towards a bleak future of never-ending conflict” and make Israel’s unjust legal system in the West Bank permanent.
“The annexation will end any chance of any solution that respects the national ambitions of both peoples,” PPI president Paul Scham told The Media Line. “We are trying to awaken public opposition, but people are concerned with other things and, in any case, the [US] president is in charge of foreign policy.”
Peace Now sent letter to presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to seek his word that, if elected, he will not recognize any Israeli annexation of West Bank territory.
Americans for Peace Now said in a statement: “The West Bank annexation will compromise Israel’s security, threaten Israel’s democratic character, undermine Israel’s global standing, harm American national security interests, and further damage the relationship between the US and Israel.”
J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-two-state lobbying group, said in a statement that it was “frustrated and alarmed” by the intention of the new government to annex territory and announced it would “join all Americans who refuse to sit idly by.”
The organization has set up a page to collect signatures of support and promised that it would “fight from now until July 1 to prevent annexation and defend the prospects for a negotiated solution.”
Not all American Jewish organizations are against annexation, though.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has published a document called “The Myth of Occupation,” criticizing the idea that Israel is occupying Arab land. It claims that organizations like J Street are “promoting policies and falsehoods that endanger Israel’s existence, damage American support for the Jewish state, and poison young vulnerable minds against their Jewish brethren.”
The National Council of Young Israel, the umbrella organization for Modern Orthodox congregations, uses the biblical terms for the West Bank in calling it “home to all of the Jews in Judea and Samaria,” adding that it “includes the Jordan Valley, land that is essential for Israel’s security.”
Organizations that support extending Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank are also trying to gain support in the Senate and House.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) recently issued a statement saying it would be lobbying in an effort to encourage House and Senate Republicans to express their support for Netanyahu’s plan.
Norm Coleman, its national chairman and a former senator representing Minnesota, said in an official statement: “The first steps in a process… can include negotiations, working with moderate Arab states in the region, and working with the US and other Western allies to bring a stable, lasting peace to Israelis and Palestinians.”
Levi D., a Jewish Republican who asked that his last name not be used, told The Media Line: “Israel offered the Palestinians many opportunities to make peace, and every time the Palestinians declined…. No country can tell Israelis that they can’t live in the land that their people have been in for over 3,000 years.”
If Netanyahu goes ahead with his annexation plan, thousands of Palestinian residents of the areas affected would be granted neither citizenship nor equal rights. As such, US Jews who oppose the move argue that it would be detrimental to Israeli democracy.
“If the Palestinians included in the annexed areas aren’t made citizens, as [Prime Minister] Netanyahu has asserted, Israel won’t be a democracy any longer,” said PPI’s Scham, who is also executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland.
“In any case, democracies don’t annex territories that the whole world believes aren’t theirs,” he continued. “Israel’s standing among democratic nations will likewise fall.”