Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to “annex” parts of the West Bank have been widely denounced on the international stage as a violation of international law.
Such condemnations, however, have been both hypocritical and wide of the mark.
They fail to take into account that annexation was the plan from the outset. They fail also to highlight the world’s own decades-long acquiescence with the ongoing de facto annexation that has been the reality on the ground in occupied territory, most obviously in the form of Israeli settlements.
Indeed, the US has accepted if not openly supported what Noam Chomsky calls the Greater Israel project, a process that has been ongoing for 50 years.
This is the reality on the ground. And it doesn’t make much difference if it is formalized.
The fact of the matter is that throughout its history, Israel has been reluctant to accept any internationally recognized borders, choosing instead to build settlements and occupy land.
The historical record
Moshe Dayan, a chief of staff in the Israeli military during the 1950s and the defense minister during the 1967 war, was quite explicit. Israel, he said during the negotiations with the Jimmy Carter administration that preceded the 1978 Camp David summit between Israel and Egypt, “has every right to be [in the West Bank]. Any division of the area is unacceptable … A West Bank-Gaza state is not a solution”.
Also during these talks, Menachem Begin – the founder of the Likud party, then prime minister and, before Israel declared itself a state, head of the Irgun militia, designated a terrorist organization by the British – described the West Bank and Gaza as “our land as of right.”
Before then, in 1972, the Israeli parliament had already decreed that “the historic right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel [understood to include the West Bank] is beyond challenge.”
That same year, Yisrael Galili, a senior political adviser to Golda Meir, prime minister at the time, said that the Jordan River should be Israel’s “agreed border – a frontier, not just a security border.”
And these were not merely opportunistic sentiments aroused by the capture of territories in war. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, made similarly straightforward comments about Israel’s borders.
As early as 1937, Ben-Gurion wrote that the “boundaries of the Zionist aspirations are the concern of the Jewish people and no external factor will be able to limit them.”
Ben-Gurion also hoped for the expansion of “Zionist aspirations” to Israel’s “biblical borders” (which stretch all the way to Iraq). There is no mention of or reference to the Indigenous population in this vision.
History is “full of change”
In his 1940s War Diaries, Ben-Gurion wrote that “every school child knows that there is no such thing in history as a final arrangement – not with regard to the regime, not with regard to borders, and not with regard to international agreements. History, like nature, is full of alterations and change.”
He considered – in agreement with his then rivals the Revisionist Zionists – both sides of the Jordan River to be inseparable from Israel while arguing that when Zionists cultivate the land, “the border will shift.”
It comes as no surprise then, that he had announced, 10 years before the 1947 UN partition resolution, that “the acceptance of partition does not commit us to renounce Transjordan” – a country comprising most of today’s Jordan. And several scholars have argued convincingly that Israel’s territorial aspirations made Zionist acceptance of the UN partition proposal more about preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.
It is notable too how today’s proposed annexation is targeting arable West Bank areas with rich water resources. Israeli designs on the West Bank’s natural resources were well understood by the US since at least the 1978 Camp David Accords.
Richard Viets, a US diplomat, noted at the time that Israel had “little inclination to share even partial control” of water resources in the West Bank and that “Israel has continued to expand its exploitation of the aquifer layer.”
But this was always about much more than resources. Indeed, the entire blueprint for the settlements was directly and explicitly about preventing Palestinian independence.
In 1980, Ariel Sharon, then Israeli agriculture minister, said the aim of settlements was to deny a Palestinian state by rendering it unviable and creating a “skeleton” to ensure that “the area now does not allow any more and will not enable in the future any territorial compromise.”
At the moment, many on the Israeli right and even some settlers are opposed to the idea of a formal annexation announcement.
They are so for their own reasons. Some argue that the situation simply isn’t ripe, that Israel “has survived and prospered for over 50 years without annexation,” as Jeff Barak, formerly a Jerusalem Post editor, put it.
There is no attempt here at hiding what has come before. Thus David Horovitz of The Times of Israel has pondered why Netanyahu “after 14 years of quietly expanding Israel’s presence in the West Bank without dropping the international bombshell of unilateral annexation, is so hell-bent on annexation now.”
It could also be simply a distraction from the legal issues surrounding Netanyahu. And whatever it is, it won’t proceed without a green light from Washington.
But all this is largely beside the point. The fundamental fact is that there has been an ongoing half-century de facto annexation that has received direct US support and whose designs not only predate occupation, but also the creation of Israel.
In 1938, David Ben-Gurion anticipated that “after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand into the whole of Palestine.”
Whatever Netanyahu decides to do, he is only pursuing Israel’s historical aspirations for territorial expansion.
Rajko Kolundzic is studying philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Essex in the UK.