It seems the debate and conversation around Israel is characterized by notions long overtaken by events, including over Zionism itself. Many still argue that any criticism of an Israeli decision, however misguided, weakens the state and its effort to defend itself. Consequently, all American Progressives are easily dubbed anti-Israel; the Europeans and United Nations are viewed as uniformly hateful toward Israel; and all Arab countries and peoples, without exception, will never accept a Jewish state in the region. Today’s moment of annexation, however, helps prove how so many of these claims are either no longer reflective, or in some cases are the outright opposite, of today’s reality. 

By analyzing reactions to annexation – regional, global, and American – we gain significant insights into not just the positioning of Zionism as it exists in 2020,  but also how much it risks losing should annexation move forward. 

While annexing an area already under complete IDF control has no tangible contribution to Israel’s security – instead yielding primarily religious and symbolic gains – annexation has prompted truly unprecedented reactions from its closest neighbors. UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba penned the first op-ed ever by a Gulf diplomat in the Hebrew press earlier last week with his “Annexation will be a serious setback for better relations with the Arab world” in Yedioth Ahronoth, only to be followed shortly after by Saudi Arabia’s Nawaf Obaid in Haaretz on Tuesday. They predict harsh regional reactions, while notably pivoting to emphasize the positive elements of a future normalized relationship should Israel reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians. Otaiba specifically outlines such a vision for partnership, stating how both countries can together “form closer and more effective security cooperation…accelerate [economic] growth and stability” and “spur greater innovation and collaboration” across the region. 

From the words of these statesmen alone, coupled with other recent firsts such as Israel’s invitation for next year’s Dubai World Expo or Prime Minister Netanyahu’s state visit to Oman in 2018, it’s clear how far Zionism has come in the minds of many in the region. Representing nations that were hostile to – if not at war with – Israel, they now publicly dub the Jewish state as “not the problem, but part of the solution” to regional needs for stability, in stark contrast to the famous “three no’s” of the 1967 Khartoum Conference (no peace, no negotiations, no recognition of Israel). Is annexation worth reducing all this progress to a remnant of the past? 

Beyond the Middle East, many (if not most) of the reactions to annexation from European Union member states and the United Nation’s leadership have, in the same breath, emphasized their commitment to Israel, its security, and the two-state solution. E.U. members are Israel’s number one trade partner, as their relationship yields strong mutual benefits through innovation, tourism, security and more. To illustrate: it was none other than Germany that decided to sell Israel and partially fund submarines with strategic capabilities. And it was also the German foreign minister who was the first European to travel to Jerusalem in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to warn Israelis of the risks annexation imposes on these relations. Indeed, these robust relationships have been cultivated for decades, and they must not be taken for granted in the grand scheme of where Israel’s history began.

Here in the United States, two distinct camps have emerged: one promotes the belief that the democratically-elected government of Israel can do whatever it deems necessary and that the duty of its friends is to applaud. The other, equally convinced that Israeli decisions are exclusively for Israelis to make, nonetheless believes that its true friends should alert it when those actions appear counterproductive. The difference between these two schools, formerly containing relatively minute differences amidst a sturdy bipartisan vision, have evolved into a divide between Republicans and Democrats. It is not surprising then that more attention has been given to annexation from the left side of the aisle. Adding to a number of similar letters and statements issued against this policy, Senator Kamala Harris sent a letter to President Trump earlier this week, in which she prominently states that her support for America’s Memorandum of Understanding with Israel is “unwavering.” While the divide may currently exist, it is not over positions of support for Israel, its security, and certainly not its existence.

Zooming out from this rhetoric, the picture is far from gloomy. Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people as a whole have charted a path since inception that has allowed it to thrive.

To be sure, there are exceptions to these prevailing affirmations of support alongside their objections to annexation. In the United States, many are intimately familiar with the growing chorus of voices pushing for different directions in American foreign policy, including towards Israel. Throughout Europe, mounting data and evidence showcases disturbing realities towards treatment of Israel and its Jewish communities. And there is much work to be done to combat anti-Israel sentiments in various segments of Arab societies. Most importantly, no one can ignore the fact that the Middle East is a dangerous region prone to instability.

However, objecting to a certain policy such as annexation is not in the same universe as a hostile BDS-like effort to delegitimize the country and its right to live in peace and security. 

Therefore, Israel and its partners must maintain clarity between these very different groups of friends and foes. In doing so, they can better understand how a unilateral declaration of sovereignty over these contested lands serves to embolden its foes while isolating its friends. The question must be asked: are the benefits worth souring, if not rupturing, these carefully cultivated relationships and progress?

Former White House advisor in Republican and Demcratic administrations Aaron David Miller, who joined IPF Atid in helping introduce the new #OurFutureIsrael campaign last week, rightly reminded our audience that we must not be “lulled into complacency about winning the battle of annexation but losing the war” of reaching a permanent status agreement. 

However long and tortuous, responsible leadership and policies must be the North Star in enabling Israel to harness all the positive and forward-looking trends intently waiting in the wings.

With less than two weeks before July 1, champions of Zionist values and history cannot resign themselves to a reality that arms Israel’s adversaries for years to come and threatens its own short and long-term security. Rather, they must vocalize, organize, and join together with their partners in changing the course away from friction and towards a better future.


Adam Basciano is the national director of IPF Atid, Israel Policy Forum’s young professionals program.

To learn more about IPF Atid’s #OurFutureIsrael campaign, click here.