There are many factors that shape global affairs: politics, businesses, technology, economics, now pandemics, and even individualism. And it is a challenging task to determine which one of these factors have, so far, affected our world the most. The three religions of the book – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – have their sacred places situated less than a half kilometer from each other, so the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under discussion is religious in nature, while also retaining other compelling factors.
The territory of the state of Israel lies in a very hostile environment, encircled by Muslim majority countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and in a very militarized region of the eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, from 1948 onwards, Israel never forfeited an opportunity for expansion of strategic cushions. As a result of the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel defeated Arab armies and took control of the strategic Golan Heights from Syria, the West Bank from Jordan, and the Sinai-Peninsula from Egypt. Regardless of what countries and international organizations have to say about it, Israel now fully operates the Golan Heights. As a result of the bilateral peace treaty to normalize the relationship between Israel and Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula has been given to Egypt. However, the West Bank remains the core of the conflict as Palestinians insist the area as part of the future state of Palestine, while Israelis regard that territory as the biblical Judea and Samaria.
Let’s take a look at the rationales for the annexation of the West Bank from the perspective of Israel national interests:
To the already booming and high-tech agricultural sector of Israel, the arable land of West Bank will provide adequate conditions for crops like citrus fruits, vegetables and olive oil, as well as for the production of dairy. The area, situated primarily near the Jordan River, has two sources of fresh water, the Jordan River itself and the underground water.
In this conflict, the Israeli settlements are a weapon to alter the demographics in favor of Israel. And the annexation of the West Bank will create room for additional Israeli settlements, while at the same time further curtailing the chances of sharing Jerusalem with Palestine.
Although Prime Minister Netanyahu is a pragmatist, the annexation will strengthen his political career by winning support from nationalist and hardline religious Zionists.
In military conflicts, the notion of ‘strategic depth’ is about gaining in order to protect main borders, heartlands, major cities, etc. So the West Bank annexation for Israel will act as a buffer against hostile Middle Eastern countries. Also, in the context of Israel’s acquiring strategic depth against Jordan in the contour of West Bank, annexation is important for future consideration because, after all, Israel is surrounded by Muslim countries.
Now consider how Israel’s plan for the annexation of the West Bank is just a matter of time:
The stance of the countries opposing the annexation has no significance on the ground; the opposition is symbolic. This is especially given that capability is a deciding factor; and Israel is more capable than Palestine in any aspect possible.
On one hand, Israel has the full diplomatic support of the United States, as evidenced most recently by the Trump administration’s decision to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; furthermore, Israel remains the top recipient of US aid. Israel also has a peaceful relationship with China and Russia due to its high-technology production capability.
Moreover, Israel is a nuclear power, and its nuclear arsenal assures it a strategic deterrent in the complex geopolitical chessboard of the Middle East. Israel is highly competitive in the global arms market as it has developed its own military-industrial complex. Additionally, the military intelligence of Israel is highly competent.
When it comes to the economy, Israel is a highly developed one. Its high-tech sectors include agricultural production and software, aerospace, advanced electronics, renewable energy and biotechnology, to name a few.
On the other hand, Palestinians are divided internally and politically. Areas A and B of the West Bank are administered by the secular and patriotic movement known as Al-Fatah; the Gaza Strip has been administered by the Islamic Militant group Hamas since 2007. As a result, there is no single unified force that can speak for the Palestinians.
Yasser Arafat sided with Saddam Hussain when many Arab nations endorsed Operation Desert Storm. Also, with the existence of Palestinian militants in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, the Palestinian leadership had turned away many Arab countries. The UAE and KSA find Israel their regional bedfellow because regional and geopolitical interests do have the power to make strange alliances. So right now, Palestine lacks support even from middle-power Muslim countries like the KSA, the UAE, Egypt, etc., let alone international institutions that are not more powerful than the countries that created these institutions, namely the US, the EU, China, and Russia, etc.
So, the lesson that can be learned from the calculated strategy adopted by Israeli political, military, and intellectual elites and their foreign backers from the very beginning (1948) to date, is that the West Bank annexation is a question of ‘when’ not ‘if’. Because, based on the possible ramifications, it is plausible that such a project will be undertaken as a gradual process rather than as the result of one broad invasion, in order to forestall some of the most counterproductive scenarios.