The ‘Twilight Zone’ of the Annexation: How Israel Is Paying the Price of the Move before It Is Even Implemented
By Dr. Michael Milshtein | July 14, 2020
On 1 July – the date set for implementation of the annexation in Judea and Samaria – has past without practical steps being taken to do so and without dramatic events inside or outside the Palestinian arena. Thus Israel has entered a hazy period rife with instability in the context of the Palestinian arena that contributes to overall tensions in the country that have come in the wake of the Cronavirus crisis and the economic depression.
On one hand, implementation of annexation was not embarked on at the outset of July, and difficult obstacles have emerged at home and abroad that stand in the way of carrying it out. But on the other hand, it is clear (primarily to the Palestinians) that that this is a temporary hiatus, and the issue can not be expected to be dropped from the political and public agenda in Israel, and apparently will soon be presented with a substitute date for embarking on its passage. Not without reason, senior officials in the Palestinian Authority underscored in recent days that the Palestinians must relate to the failure to initiate the annexation on 1 July as a "victory", arguing annexation is a challenge that is not going to disappear fast.
Israel has entered a 'twilight zone' where at the core resides a deep lack of strategic clarity, while at the same time Israel is already sustaining damages that are piling up even before implementation of the annexation begins, even before it is clear whether there is, in fact, an intent within the government to actually carry through on annexation.
Naturally, the most problematic implications are evidenced in the Palestinian context. Suspension of all forms of coordination since 19 May – both security-related and civil and economic – and the rise in tensions on the Palestinian street are manifested in a number of phenomenon and trends:
- The ongoing difficulty of the Palestinian Authority to pay - fully or in part - the salaries of employees in the public sector, in light of Abu Mazen's refusal to accept transferred tax revenue collected by Israel on its behalf that constitute 64 percent of the Palestinian budget. As a result, the economic slump that the Palestinian Authority has been facing since the outbreak of the Coronavirus crisis has gotten worse adding to the atmosphere of insecurity among the Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria.
- The dependence of the Palestinian public on Israel to supply civil services is gradually growing (particularly in travel permits, medical services and commerce), this in the absence of any cooperation with the Palestinian side as it has existed since establishment of self-government in Ramallah.
- Ongoing weakening of the Palestinian Authority on a functional level and its image in the eyes of the Palestinian public in Judea and Samaria is very evident.
- Reconciliation inside the Palestinian camp is mounting, fueled by a shared sense of mobilization against the "annexation threat" within Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. In this context, the 2 July press conference held jointly by the head of Fatah Jibril Rajoub and the deputy-director of the political bureau of Hamas Saleh al-Arouri stands out, with the two sides clarifying their readiness now to put aside the charged points of dispute between them that have prevented conciliation in the past.
- In the eyes of large segments of the Palestinian public, from an ideological-strategic perspective, the current crisis testifies to the failure of Abu Mazen's strategy – founded on standing firm on a Two-State vision and seeking to realize this objective through diplomatic negotiations. This does not automatically bolster support for the armed resistance perspective that Hamas espouses which has not achieved any significant strategic gains in the past decade and a half. It only contributes to more of the public siding with a 'One State solution'.
Beyond the Palestinian arena as well, Israel has begun to pay the price of annexation, without it actually taking place. It is probable that these trends will swell in the 'twilight period' – as long as Israel continues to wave promises that the annexation move will be consummated some time in the future. This has found expression in the tension created facing some of the Arab states, first and foremost Jordan: Relations with Jordan have become very tense in recent months (Amman having already clarified that it would respond severely to any annexation taking place in Judea and Samaria). As well, the Gulf States (particularly the United Arab Emirates) have demonstrated their deep displeasure with any possible annexation move, and have clarified to Israel that it will be unsuccessful in realizing its strategic goals of recent years to take full normalization with the Arab world forward even without progress in the Palestinian track, this being all the more so should Israel choose to take a move such as annexation.
In the international community Israel has encountered heavy criticism from European countries and elements in the United Nations over the annexation issue, and for the moment support hinges on the Trump administration (whose position is not all that clear and this, apparently, is the core reason for not embarking on annexation on 1 July). In light of growing focus in America on presidential and general elections scheduled for 3 November, it is likely that American attention for the annexation issue will narrow, parallel to a growing risk - from an Israeli prospective - that change of government in Washington in the event of a Democratic victory, will be accompanied by a sharp about-face in the American position on annexation that will require Israel to freeze or shelve entirely the annexation initiative.
The 'annexation twilight zone' has thus already taken a heavy toll in the overall price tag of such a strategic move, without it even being consummated. The 'twilight zone' contains a number of threats from an Israeli perspective:
- Increasing possibilities of escalation in the Palestinian arena, primarily in the face of an ongoing (and worsening) economic crisis in Judea and Samaria (to date the economic component the economic price Palestinians would pay for a return to violence has acted as a deterrent – preventing "strategic alerts" raised concerning deterioration in the Palestinian arena in the face of a series of political crises, from actually materializing).
- The rise in security threats on the West Bank, including from elements in the Fateh and within the Palestinian security apparatus who are liable to interpret protracted political crisis as a 'green light' for resumption of violent operations targeting Israelis.
- The ongoing waning of Palestinian governance in a manner that is already shifting more responsibility onto Israel in civil matters, and is liable to provide an opportunity for Hamas to strengthen its clout in both the public and the civil realm.
- The blow to Israel's image and standing in the eyes of governments and publics in the Arab and international arena.
One of the gravest challenges enveloped in extension of the present crisis is the difficulty that is liable to arise, should the sides want to return to to square one. This is particularly so in regard to the network of ties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that have been woven and rehabilitated at great effort since the winding down of the Second Intifada, that over the past month and a half have for all intents and purposes ceased to exist. Even if it will be decided to remove the annexation issue from the political and public agenda in Israel (a scenario that appears slim at the moment), and even if the two sides decide to fully renew the ties between them, they are liable to discover that in the interim (particularly if it will be of many months duration, or even more) time has wrought changes in intrinsic nature of' of the two sides, particularly the Palestinian one.
In such a scenario, at the end of the crisis, Israel is liable to find itself having failed to implement the annexation and with a far weakened Palestinian government and much shakier security cooperation than in the past, a situation that will encumber any scenario for progress towards a stable strategic 'arrangement' in Judea and Samaria.
Authored by Dr. Michael Milshtein, a senior researcher at the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS), Reichman University.
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