Skip to main content

Why are Israel's allies suddenly concerned about its latest annexation?

Israel has repeatedly stolen Palestinian territory throughout its seven-decade history
The first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, officially proclaims the state of Israel on 14 May 1948 in Tel Aviv (AFP)

Israel’s announcement of plans to annex 30 percent of the occupied West Bank has caused much concern among its friends in Western governments, Jewish organisations and pundits about the potential negative repercussions befalling not the Palestinian people, but Israel. They are worried about the loss of Israel’s alleged “Jewish and democratic” character, and fear it would have to sacrifice one for the other. 

As for Israel’s Arab friends, including the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and several Gulf states, they are concerned about the death of the “two-state solution”. Jordan’s King Abdullah II told members of the US Congress that he feared annexation “would radicalise Palestinians and empower violent extremists. Hamas would benefit from annexation”. He also worried that annexation would negatively impact Israel’s ongoing efforts “to build relationships in the region”.

No negative repercussions

This reaction stands in contrast to the accommodation that all of Israel’s Western and Arab friends, and even the United Nations, have proffered to the “Jewish state” for decades, despite its illegal annexation of territories after its establishment in May 1948. 

That year, Israel annexed half the territories allocated to Palestinians by the 1947 UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Israel later annexed Jerusalem in 1967 and more formally in 1980, and Syria’s Golan Heights in 1981. It is true that the UN and many countries condemned some or all of these annexations, but there were never any negative repercussions for Israel as a result. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Israel considered the territories it conquered from the projected Palestinian state and the UN territory of Jerusalem as part of Israel

Taking their cue from Resolution 181, which remains to this day the only legal basis for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, Zionist militias embarked on 30 November 1947 - the day after the resolution’s passage - on conquering as much of Palestine and expelling as many Palestinians as they could. By the end of their invasion, Zionists had occupied all the territory allocated to them by Resolution 181 and half the territory allocated to Palestinians. They also occupied West Jerusalem, which Resolution 181 placed under UN jurisdiction.

All in all, rather than taking over 55 percent of Palestine, Zionists took more than 78 percent. This presented a problem when Israel submitted a membership application to the UN on the first anniversary of Resolution 181, while it still occupied Palestinian and UN territories.

The Security Council reviewed the application and adopted Resolution 69 in March 1949, recommending that the General Assembly admit Israel as a “peace-loving” state. The vote was 9 to 1 in favour, with Egypt opposing. The UK abstained, as it had on Resolution 181 in 1947.

Refusal to compensate refugees

The General Assembly was reluctant to admit Israel until it responded to queries from member states on its violations of two UN resolutions. This related to Israel’s refusal to declare official boundaries, its occupation of half the territory allocated to the Palestinian state, its occupation of West Jerusalem, and its refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes inside the territory on which Israel established itself, along with its refusal to compensate those refugees for lost property, as stipulated by Resolution 194, adopted on 11 December 1948. 

Resolution 194 also established the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine, which was during this period negotiating with Israel on the demarcation of its borders. 

Nakba: The forgotten 19th century origins of the Palestinian catastrophe
Read More »

Israel’s ambassador, the South Africa-born Abba Eban, responded to these queries on 5 May 1949. He assured the General Assembly that the matter of boundaries could be resolved through “a process of peaceful adjustment of the territorial provisions laid down” in Resolution 181, and that “the adjustment should be made not by arbitrary changes imposed from outside, but through agreements freely negotiated by the governments concerned”. 

In addition, Eban insisted that the “refugee problem” could not be settled before the issue of borders was settled through separate negotiations with each Arab state, and that Israel would not be able to negotiate effectively without first becoming a member of the UN. 

On Jerusalem, Eban stated that Israel would have favoured UN jurisdiction were it not for the Arab states’ “armed resistance” and the refusal of the UN to take control of the area. He clarified that Israel would cooperate with the UN, however, to establish control over all the holy places in the city, the largest majority of which were located in Jordanian-occupied East Jerusalem. 

Based on these assurances, the UN General Assembly admitted Israel as a member on 11 May 1949 by a 37-12 vote adopting Resolution 273. But the resolution stipulated that Israel must abide by Resolutions 181 and 194. Nine countries, including the UK, abstained.

Territorial 'adjustment'

The next day, the Conciliation Commission held a conference in Lausanne attended by Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, during which Israel refused to repatriate or compensate Palestinian refugees and proposed to annex all the territories it occupied illegally as a form of bilateral territorial “adjustment”. Arab states rejected this, understanding that the Israeli “proposal involved annexations rather than territorial adjustments”.

Indeed, Israel considered the territories it conquered from the projected Palestinian state and the UN territory of Jerusalem as part of Israel, even though the only international document that granted Israel any form of legitimacy were the boundaries stipulated by the non-binding Resolution 181.

This is why, despite increasing pressure from the US, Britain was adamant not to recognise Israel, arguing that it would only do so after the “frontiers of the State shall be clearly defined”. 

Jewish forces stand guard behind a barricade in Jaffa during fighting with Arab forces in 1948 (AFP)
Jewish forces stand guard behind a barricade in Jaffa during fighting with Arab forces in 1948 (AFP)

This led the US representative at the UN to argue that when his country gained independence in 1776, “the land had not even been fully explored and that no one knew where American claims ended and where European states’ claims began”. It would seem that white European settler-colonies are the same, whether established in the 18th or the 20th century. 

British de facto recognition of Israel would only come on 30 January 1949, but it took place as a result of hard bargaining with the US. The US, under Zionist pressure, had refused to recognise Jordan’s independence from Britain in May 1946, presumably as the Zionists were not yet fully decided how much of Jordan they might want to conquer.

The British, however, needed to protect their client state and its leader, King Abdullah I, who had reached an understanding with the Israelis to keep the eastern and central parts of Palestine that his British-led army had captured at the end of the war. 

Saving Jordan

The Palestinian Arab Higher Committee had already established the All-Palestine Government (APG) in Gaza in September 1948; it was recognised by Arab League states, including Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, but not Jordan. The APG claimed jurisdiction over all of Mandatory Palestine. 

King Abdullah I, a traditional enemy of Palestinian self-government, orchestrated two conferences, one in Amman in October, the other in Jericho on 1 December 1948, in central Palestine, with the voluntary and/or coerced participation of Palestinian personalities. The conferees declared him “king of all Palestine”.  

Even its new Arab friends, including Egypt, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization, made peace with it, without demanding that any of the annexations be reversed

By January 1949, the British wanted to ensure the permanent control by King Abdullah over Jordan and central Palestine (later the “West Bank”), and therefore needed US recognition of Jordan as the price for their recognising Israel - a deal that would sacrifice the Palestinians to Israel and save Jordan from the Zionists. And so it was: the British recognised Israel on 30 January 1949 and the US recognised Jordan the very next day. 

Later that year, on 5 December 1949, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion unilaterally annexed West Jerusalem and declared that Israel was no longer bound by Resolution 181, not only with regards to the Palestinian territories it had conquered, but also UN control of West Jerusalem. The UN General Assembly issued Resolution 303 four days later, declaring that Jerusalem would be placed under a permanent international regime. 

Israel rejected the resolution, and on 14 December, moved Ben-Gurion’s offices and the Knesset to West Jerusalem. Ben-Gurion declared: “Jerusalem always has been and always will be the capital of Israel.” Britain recognised Israel de jure only on 27 April 1950, while still voicing its reservations on the question of borders, including Jerusalem. 

Annexation of Jerusalem

By the time Israel conquered the rest of Palestine in 1967, the international context was even more favourable to its ongoing annexations.

UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which the Arab states accepted, legitimised the illegal Israeli annexation of half of the Palestinian state as a done deal, as did the UN, which demanded the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”. The resolution made no mention of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and UN territories in previous “conflicts”. 

After the 1967 war, Israel declared both parts of the divided city of Jerusalem “unified”, extended West Jerusalem’s municipal borders to encompass East Jerusalem, and placed the entire city under Israeli sovereignty and civil law. In 1980, the Knesset formally annexed the city, declaring all of Jerusalem “the capital” of Israel.  

Why Israel cannot be called a democratic state
Read More »

In August 1980, the UN’s Resolution 478 condemned the annexation, deeming it “null and void”. Yet, that very same annexed Jerusalem has expanded since then, at the expense of the West Bank, from six square kilometres, which was its size under Jordanian control, to 300 square kilometres, and possibly as much as one quarter - some say 40 percent - of the West Bank

In 1981, Israel annexed Syria’s Golan Heights, with more UN resolutions condemning it. Finally, in 2002, Israel built its apartheid wall on West Bank land, taking another 10 percent of the West Bank, which now lies on the Israeli side of the wall. 

None of these annexations had any repercussions for Israel’s relationships with its Western friends. Even its new Arab friends, including Egypt, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization, made peace with it, without demanding that any of the annexations be reversed - not those of 1949, 1967, 1980 or 1981. Indeed, Britain would reestablish its close friendship with Israel, to the point of launching a joint invasion of Egypt in 1956. The British never again raised the issues of borders or annexation. 

Expulsion and occupation

Why, then, are Western and Arab governments and pro-Israel Jewish organisations suddenly concerned about Netanyahu’s annexation of 30 percent of the five-decade Israeli-occupied West Bank, in line with US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century”? 

Those opposing annexation because of their support for what they call Israeli “democracy” seem to forget that this alleged democracy, with its dozens of laws that discriminate against non-Jews, became possible precisely through annexation and expulsion in 1948. This “democracy” was maintained through more expulsion and annexation and occupation since 1967. Why, then, would they suddenly experience moral pangs about yet another annexation? 

A Palestinian refugee and her child are separated from their home after the 1948 war (AFP)
A Palestinian refugee and her child are separated from their home after the 1948 war (AFP)

If the worry is about Israeli Jews becoming a minority, they have already been a minority for years, without their dwindling numbers affecting Israel’s “democratic” or “Jewish” image. If the continuing denial of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Jerusalem is the problem, the denial of equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel never undermined Israel’s “democratic” image as far as its friends were concerned. 

Could it be that the sheer formalisation of this illegal structure of Israeli racism and apartheid, without the usual cosmetic cover, is what worries Israel’s allies? Would they feel better if Israel accompanied its annexation with more massive expulsion of Palestinians, which would restore Jewish demographic supremacy and re-ensure its Jewish and “democratic” character? 

Israel's very establishment as a settler-colony on stolen land in 1948 and after sealed its future from the beginning

If so, this is indeed what worries Jordanian authorities and pundits, many of whom, with notable exceptions, have expressed much more concern about what would befall Jordan, not Palestinians, as a consequence of more annexation - namely, more Palestinian refugees - ending up in Jordan. 

Israel is based on theft of territory (formally termed “annexation”) and expulsion of populations. But none of this has ensured Israel’s permanence. Just like Western and Arab opponents who worry that Israel will not survive the next annexation, Netanyahu is convinced that annexation will ensure Israel reaches its 100th birthday. None seems to realise that Israel’s very establishment as a settler-colony on stolen land in 1948 and after sealed its future from the beginning.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Joseph Massad is professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, New York. He is the author of many books and academic and journalistic articles. His books include Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan; Desiring Arabs; The Persistence of the Palestinian Question: Essays on Zionism and the Palestinians, and most recently Islam in Liberalism. His books and articles have been translated into a dozen languages.
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.