When I visited the West Bank in 2018, staff from a local organization that receives support from Mennonite Central Committee took us on a tour of the Jordan Valley. The valley is strategically located and important for its agricultural production.
For many years, Israel has had de facto control of the valley and much of the West Bank through its military occupation and ever-increasing settlements as it has moved its citizens into occupied territory in violation of international law.
Now Israeli leaders are moving toward more formalized control with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, including the entire Jordan Valley. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main political rival, Benny Gantz, have agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that could lead to formal annexation as soon as July.
The move would be a clear violation of international law. But the Trump administration has lent its support to the proposal, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying it is “an Israeli decision,” giving Palestinians no say in whether their land is taken.
The U.S. administration sees annexation as part of its “peace plan,” which endorses Israel’s position on almost every issue. In order to be sustainable, any peace agreement will need to address the concerns of all sides, not just one.
Kairos Palestine, a Palestinian Christian movement, says the Israeli plan for annexation “directly threatens Palestinians’ freedom, health and human rights.” It calls on people of faith around the world to ask their governments to oppose the plan.
Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Palestinian Christian leaders Munther Isaac and Jamal Khader say the annexation plan would be “a mortal blow to a dynamic Christian presence in the birthplace of Jesus.”
Palestinian Christians are the “living stones” who trace their history back to the early church. But they, along with all Palestinians, are losing the land they have farmed for generations and face severe movement restrictions, realities that will be exacerbated by this plan.
For decades MCC has worked in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, supporting Palestinians and Israelis working toward a just and peaceful future.
As Israel prepares to move forward with annexation, European leaders and others are debating possible responses. Given the strong support by the U.S. administration, it is critical that members of Congress speak out against this move and against the long-running military occupation of Palestinian lands.
In January more than 100 members of the House and a dozen members of the Senate signed letters expressing their dismay at the contents of the president’s “peace plan.” As of this writing, letters opposing Israeli annexation of the West Bank are circulating in both the House and the Senate.
But Congress could do much more. Each year the U.S. gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid, with few conditions attached. These funds enable Israel to maintain its military occupation, which is not only financially costly but undermines Israeli security in the long run.
There is a better way, one that recognizes the equality and humanity of all. Again, Palestinian leaders Isaac and Khader: “As Christians, we pray and call for all those who care about equality, freedom and just and lasting peace to come together to honor the inalienable rights of everyone — including the people of Palestine.”
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach is director of the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.