Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s weekend announcement that if re-elected, he will annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank makes explicit what has long been implicit: He has no interest in peace and is willing to sacrifice the human rights of Palestinians and the safety of Israelis in service of a dangerous vision of greater Israel.
Through expanding existing settlements and their buffer zones, establishing new settlements, destroying Palestinian villages, green-lighting Israeli roads and archaeological projects on Palestinian land, and subsidizing settlement residents, Netanyahu’s government has slowly been erasing the Green Line, Israel’s only internationally recognized border, and normalizing more than five decades of military occupation — a situation that international law intends as temporary.
Annexing the settlements would violate international law and will further codify the denial of basic human rights, including civil and political rights, to the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.
Most mainstream and progressive Jewish organizations are on record as supporting a two-state solution, which remains the most feasible option for ensuring the self-determination and human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. Polls show that the vast majority of American Jews agree. Holding fast to this position requires condemning annexation in the strongest possible terms. But words will not be enough. Our community must also refuse to support initiatives that uproot Palestinians from their homes, normalize American Jewish experience of settlements as “Israel” during visits, and entrench a permanent occupation. Nor should our organizations reassure themselves that certain areas are “consensus” settlements because maps drawn during earlier peace negotiations allotted these to Israel; without agreement by both parties, there is no consensus.
We also call on President Donald Trump not to accept any annexation moves that Netanyahu may make if re-elected, an acceptance that would reverse decades of U.S. policy. Any agreements about land swaps must be truly consensual — that is, they must be negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian representatives as part of a comprehensive peace agreement.
In 1967, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, the preeminent American Orthodox rabbi of the 20th century, argued for returning territories if doing so will save lives:
One does not have to be a rabbi or a posek to know that the Land of Israel was granted to us in its entirety. . . However, the preservation of a single life pushes aside the entire Torah. . .It is prohibited for rabbis or anyone else to declare in the name of the Torah that it is forbidden to return any part of the land, when stable peace can save the lives of thousands and ten thousands of our brethren who dwell in Zion.
If Netanyahu wishes to lead Israel toward a better future, he must not take unilateral steps that will make peace harder to achieve, entrench an occupation that violates Palestinian human rights and endangers Israelis, and permanently threaten Israel’s standing in the international community. This is a time when Israelis and Jews around the world must stand up for what is best for both Israelis and Palestinians in the long term and not merely what is politically expedient for a prime minister determined to retain his grip on power.
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights mobilizes a network of 2,000 rabbis and cantors from all streams of Judaism that, together with the Jewish community, act on the Jewish imperative to respect and advance the human rights of all people. Grounded in Torah and our Jewish historical experience and guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call upon Jews to assert Jewish values by raising our voices and taking concrete steps to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories.