Will Israel Annex the West Bank?

Israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, a leader of the Jewish Home Party, recently called on the Israeli government immediately to annex Judea and Samaria, which abut Jerusalem. This area, usually referred to as “the West Bank”, was captured from Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. In Ezekiel 38:8 the area is referred to as “the mountains of Israel”.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett calls for Israel to extend sovereignty over Judea and Samaria

Approximately 450,000 Israeli citizens live in the area. Most of them are Jewish, while some are Arab citizens of Israel. At present, they live under the laws of the Palestinian Authority and the land they occupy is regarded by most nations as belonging to the Palestinians.

Mr Bennett’s extremely hawkish and provocative suggestion came in the wake of a recent UNESCO statement which denies any Jewish link to the Temple Mount. The Education Minister claimed that the UNESCO statement reflected “the failure of Israel to clearly express Jewish rights to the historic Land of Israel”. He went on to say, “That’s what happens when we don’t treat our own land as ours. The UNESCO resolution is an attempt to deny history. But you know what? You cannot change history. Israel is ours for well over 3,000 years. It will be ours –Jerusalem is ours – but it’s time to apply Israeli law to Judea and Samaria”.

In accordance with the confidence of the Israelis that is suggested in the language of Ezekiel 38, Mr Bennett dismissed concerns about the international opposition such a move would trigger with the words, “Don’t fret global opposition; annex Judea and Samaria now!” This bold position may have been strengthened by comments from Donald Trump’s camp in the United States Presidential election campaign. In June, David Friedman, Mr Trump’s co-adviser on Israeli affairs, said that Mr Trump does not believe Palestinian state. He went on to say that, if elected president, Mr Trump would support Israel’s annexation parts of the West Bank.

The Minister cited earlier precedents for such annexation, noting that, “Menachem Begin in 1981 did the same thing for the Golan Heights. [Prime Minister] Eshkol in ’67 did the same thing in Jerusalem. And there was always a world [that opposed it]. But there was the will power and the courage to do it – and we need to do what’s right for Israelis, for the Jews, and that’s the right thing.”

While not calling for wholesale annexation of Judea and Samaria, other Israeli officials have also spoken recently about increasing Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is establishing a committee to organize the legal status of land settled by Israelis in the West Bank. This is intended to resolve the concerns of residents of West Bank settlements that their land may be taken from them.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, a hard-line member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, in late October publicly promoted the concept of annexing a significant area in the West Bank. She said that, “The answer to the international struggle over Jerusalem is applying sovereignty over Ma’ale Adumim, which will guarantee Jerusalem will always remain united and develop”. Welfare Minister Haim Katz, also from the Likud party Ms Hotovely’s call for annexation.

Given the reluctance of successive Israeli Governments since 1967 to annex this territory it is unlikely that Israel would move to incorporate Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) into Israel. If it did so, it would need to manage the demographic challenge of several million Arabs who currently live there. Of course, circumstances can change very suddenly, especially in the volatile political climate of the Middle East, and the fact that there are senior Government Ministers willing to advocate for annexation confirms that it remains a possibility.

Whatever the legal status of Judea and Samaria might be in the future, what is certain from Ezekiel 38:8 is that this area will be the focus of the Gogian invasion. It could be that any Israeli move to seize even part of the West Bank could be a trigger that Gog might use to justify his thrust into the Holy Land.

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