A new Israeli government may be at hand. Astonishingly, next with the need to contend with the Corona crisis, dealing with the question of annexing territories has been assigned almost the same priority. Both will require immediate attention, it is argued, and must be carried out at the same time. Doing so will be no mean feat, but our political leaders cannot seem to wait until we resolve “the greatest crisis since the middle ages,” as Prime Minister Netanyahu somewhat exaggeratedly termed it. Apparently there is not enough time to fix the broken health care system, help families who face bankruptcy and stop the hemorrhaging of Israel’s national budget. No, all that stuff can wait. Somehow, Israel must annex, and must do it now.

Don’t let all this determined talk fool you. The government has yet to carry out any serious staff work on the subject of annexation. Its supporters haven’t the slightest idea of what is in store for Israel the day after they get what they want. So many questions remain unanswered. What will happen to the peace treaty with Jordan? Will our security be compromised? What about security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority?  Will we have to mobilize military reserves? Will we reestablish our rule over millions of Palestinians?  How will this impact on a future settlement with the Palestinians?  Will this affect the decisions of the International Criminal Court, which is already in the process of listening to accusations (whether spurious or founded) of Israeli violations of international law?  What about the reaction of the international community?  And how much will all this cost?

These are all fateful questions which, as far as I can tell, have not even been considered. Those who need to decide the issue should demand answers, or at least the benefit of a serious discussion of these and other related questions, before making up their minds about the timing and extent of annexation.

One organization did bring together a team of experts to examine the matter from all perspectives, formulating answers to each of these questions, and making them public. The team, convened by Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), concluded that annexation – whether extensive or limited in scope – is likely to set in motion a chain reaction which Israel will have no control over its pace or final results.  The team mapped out the ‘domino effect’ and the concomitant damage it would cause to Israel’s security, economy, relations with its neighbors and other countries in the region, and more. Why, then, does the government not listen to its conclusions, or at least appoint a committee of its own choosing to examine the issue?

No one has a monopoly on knowledge – certainly not of future developments. It is conceivable that a government appointed team of experts would arrive at conclusions that differ with those of CIS. Yet, to make a decision without first hearing what the experts have to say is utterly irresponsible.

Israel is in the midst of a campaign against the Corona epidemic, whose economic damage is already far reaching. There are over 1.2 million unemployed. People do not know how they will be able to pay the bills. No one can say how and when it will all end. Compared with other countries, Israel has given its citizens very little help. The hole in the budget has now reached tens of billions of shekels, the government has not been able to approve a new one and is operating on the basis of a pro-rated version of last year’s budget. All these factors must be taken into account before embarking on an annexationist adventure.

The CIS study includes a chapter that presents the findings of a team of senior economists, among them three former directors general of the ministry of finance:  David Brodet, Yoram Ariav and Prof. Avi Ben Bassat. This team analyzed the economic aspects of various annexation models, from extending sovereignty to specific settlement bloc, through the Jordan Valley and the very vague concept of annexing “all the settlements,” through the reestablishment of Israeli sovereignty over the entire territory and its inhabitants.  It concluded that the direct cost of reasserting Israeli control would be tens of billions, while the fixed cost of ruling over the territory and the Palestinians therein would be NIS 52 billion per year [the equivalent of four times the annual US security assistance to Israel].

Concurrently, a team of CIS security experts estimated the number of troops required to retake control over the towns, casbas and villages of the West Bank, when the Palestinian security forces cease operating: Israel’s entire conscript army would be mortgaged to this task, along with additional reserve forces.

Our national priorities have become unhinged. It is essential that we complete the struggle against the Corona epidemic, rehabilitate the economy and the health care system, prepare to meet military threats north (Syria, Hezbollah) and east (Iran), and heal divisions within Israeli society, before we add an enormous crisis on multiple fronts and of our own makings.

An elected government is entitled to put its world view into practice, but it must do so transparently, and in a responsible fashion. It might choose to proceed with the matter of annexation but not before having secured our people from the COVID 19 pandemic and restored economic stability; and only once the implications of annexation have been carefully and fully examined and explained to the Knesset and the public.

The government must present the Knesset and the public with its exit strategy in the event that the CIS predictions materialize and things go wrong. Then, and only then, should the government consider taking such an unprecedented step with such far-reaching consequences.

This article was originally published in Hebrew in Walla! News.