I’m writing to sound the alarm regarding the settlement movement’s plans for “creeping annexation” of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
This past week, several proposals surfaced — and one was to be considered by the Israeli government yesterday — to add a number of major West Bank settlements to the Jerusalem municipality and to excise over 100,000 Palestinian residents from within the city’s boundaries.
Such moves would be fatal to the two-state solution, which remains the only way to end the conflict with the Palestinians and preserve Israel as a democratic, Jewish homeland.
Thankfully, a scheduled cabinet vote on the proposal was pulled off the agenda at the last moment. What happened?
According to Haaretz, the Trump administration urged the government to put off the vote — and Prime Minister Netanyahu also feared a serious wave of international outrage and opposition if it passed.
We’ve become used to — and perhaps a little inured to — the constant stream of settlement building announcements thrown out by the Israeli government. But this plan was truly different — and we should not doubt that its supporters will seek to bring it back again when they see an opportunity.
This legislation is just one more step in the settlers’ overarching plan to erode the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territory and pave the way for eventual annexation of these settlements into Israel proper.
Their purpose is clear: transform the political and demographic reality of Jerusalem. The plan would turn hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers outside the city into Jerusalem residents who can vote in the city’s elections, while cutting a large portion of the city’s Palestinian residents off from municipal services and leaving them without any political rights.
This is a big deal — not just some technical change.
Earlier this month, during my trip to Israel with J Street’s Congressional and Leadership Delegation, I had a chance to tour some of these areas with Danny Seidemann, the world’s leading expert on Jerusalem and its surrounding settlements.
He made clear that the ramifications of this bill are truly horrifying to those who for decades have worked to keep the possibility of a two-state solution alive.
While some of these settlements could become part of Israel under an eventual two-state agreement, that’s a final status issue to be negotiated and agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians — not unilaterally decided by the Israeli government.
Proposing major changes to Jerusalem’s borders and demographics sends a clear message that the government would never accept a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
This bill is only one of a series of actions happening right now that are advancing what amounts to the settlement movement’s “creeping annexation” of the West Bank.
Creeping annexation is the best way to describe a process by which Israel gradually takes control of more and more of the West Bank, prevents the creation of a Palestinian state and erases the distinction between Israel proper and the occupied territory.
And it’s happening right under our noses.
Almost every day, a new action by the Netanyahu government advances this process — from the demolition and eviction of Palestinian villages, the authorization of thousands of units for settlers and the allotment of hundreds of millions of shekels for roads and infrastructure for settlers throughout the West Bank.
Strong US leadership is desperately needed to help preserve the two-state solution. We must keep the pressure up on our leaders to preserve the vision of a two-state solution and not allow Netanyahu and his allies to kill it.
That’s why the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement must do everything we can to sound the alarm about the threat posed by creeping annexation. We need to rally our Jewish communities to make clear that destroying the path to the two-state solution puts the very future of Israel at risk.
Those Israel advocates who have have denounced “unilateral” actions by Palestinians, including relatively minor and symbolic steps, like application to membership at international agencies, must not remain silent now, as Israel takes massive unilateral steps to change the facts on the ground.
When Israeli government actions undermine Jewish pluralism in Israel — whether limiting access to the Western Wall or rejecting non-Orthodox conversions — our Jewish community rightly stands together and speaks out.
We need to do the same when Israel’s very survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people is at risk.