Col. (Res.) Pnina Sharvit
Baruch, former Head of the IDF
International Law Department, a Senior Research Associate, INSS

Liberal | 01.07.2019

Applying Israeli law to portions of the West Bank – synonymous with annexation – is likely to culminate in the annexation of the entire West Bank (see The Domino Effect, p. XX) and result in momentous legal consequences for Israel.

Annexation will turn the over 2.5 million Palestinians living in the annexed territory into residents of Israel with full residential rights, including freedom of movement anywhere in Israel, social rights, and the right to request Israeli citizenship.   If the state does grant them complete political rights, including the right to vote and be elected, the Jewish character of the state may be jeopardized. On the other hand, if the state denies them equal rights, it will undermine Israel’s democratic character by creating two unequal classes of people. Furthermore, the freedom of movement that forms part of resident status will generate friction liable to result in violence, followed by the inevitable imposition of severe restrictions that will also challenge Israel’s democracy.

Even if annexation is restricted to the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C, and excludes the Palestinian communities in Areas A and B – and somehow does not trigger the “domino effect” – it will create within the expanded state of Israel multiple Palestinian enclaves without territorial contiguity. It will be necessary to provide for the needs of the Palestinians in these un-annexed areas, including arrangements for passage between dozens of enclaves surrounded by Area C on all sides. In addition, since annexation will undermine the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) continued operation and likely terminate security cooperation with Israel, the IDF will have to extend its direct operations to the un-annexed territory.  If the PA collapses, Israel will have to provide for all of the Palestinian population’s needs. With time, preserving a viable democracy in such a situation, with no foreseeable end, will prove impossible. It can be argued that this is precisely the prevailing situation for the past 50 years. There is a difference, however, between a situation forced upon us due to the other side’s intransigence and a one which we unilaterally create, with no intention to change.

Annexation will be regarded as a violation of international law, leading to measures against Israel, including sanctions and boycotts, by countries and other entities. Even the friendly Trump administration does not recognize the annexation of East Jerusalem and it is unlikely to support West Bank annexation. The new Democratic majority in the United States House of Representatives and future changes in the US administration might lead to a less supportive administration which could even allow the passage of Security Council resolutions mandating punitive measures against Israel. When Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, which belongs to Ukraine, many Western countries imposed sanctions against it. It can be assumed that Israel, whose deterrence is far less potent than Russia’s, will be subjected to even more severe sanctions.

Another possible effect of annexation concerns the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is already conducting a preliminary examination of Israel’s actions in the West Bank. The ICC will be more likely to open a full-fledged investigation against Israeli elements involved in West Bank Jewish settlements, although its jurisdiction in the matter is disputed.

It is important to bear in mind that annexation is not an easily revocable action. It requires either a Knesset majority of 61 and a national referendum or a Knesset majority of 80.

Annexation is a clear case  where responsible conduct requires thinking ahead before taking steps that might send us all down a dangerous irreversible path.