Talk about annexation is as old as the occupation, and has accompanied, at varying intensities, Israel’s rule over the territories it captured in the 1967 War from the very beginning. The resurgence of annexation in the political arena and its return to public discourse present an opportunity to revisit a series of letters written to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol by Eliyahu Sasson, A leading political figure and authority on Arab-Jewish relations, entitled “The Fate of the West Bank”. In the documents, Sasson clearly explains why he staunchly opposes annexing the West Bank.
Eliyahu Sasson (1902-1978) held a string of key positions in the field of foreign policy and Arab-Jewish relations both before and after Israeli independence. He joined the policy department of the Jewish Agency several years after migrating from Iraq in 1920, and from the early 1930s to 1948, headed its Arab Department. After independence, Sasson ran the Middle East Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later served as a diplomat and ambassador in Turkey, Italy and Switzerland. In the 1960s, Sasson served as the Post Minister and then Minister of Police on behalf of the Labor Party (Alignment). Sasson was considered an authority on the Arab and Palestinian world.
After the 1967 War, as debate and discussion about the future of the territories that had been captured intensified, Sasson was a prominent voice against annexation and in favor of attaching the West Bank to Jordan or establishing an independent Palestinian state. In 1971, he spoke publicly about a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol soon after the war ended, in which he said: “We must hurry and find for them [the Palestinians], with their consent and through direct negotiations with them, a suitable and desirable solution for their problem within the borders of the territories we occupy – whether it is an independent Palestinian state or an autonomous unit tied in agreements to Israel or Jordan – whatever they consider best.” (A Missed Opportunity, Davar daily newspaper, February 10, 1971). The letter Sasson was referring to is posted here in its entirety.
Sasson was one of the first figures to speak publicly in favor of a Palestinian state. He criticized those who proposed various models of a political hybrid. Criticizing Ra’anan Weitz, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Settlement Department, Sasson wrote that if Weitz was talking about “an Arab-Palestinian state without full sovereignty, but an autonomous unit devoid of foreign relations and security powers – then it is Arabs from the West Bank who should run it, not lieutenant colonels in the Israeli military government” (An Agreement with Jordan is Better, Davar daily newspaper, April 22, 1971).
We post here three letters, all entitled “The Fate of the West Bank,” that Sasson, then Minister of Police, addressed to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and on which he copied all members of the government. The letters are part of a four-letter series Sasson wrote to Eshkol between July 1967 and March 1968 (we have not been able to locate the second letter in the series yet). In this correspondence, Sasson methodically lists his reasons for objecting to the annexation of the West Bank, given the voices in favor of annexation, chiefly the Movement for Greater Israel, which included public figures and activists from the entire political spectrum.
Sasson presented varied arguments against annexation, including ones still heard today, about protecting Israeli interests – from demography to international public opinion. Sasson, however, was also clearly outspoken about Palestinians’ right to self-determination and against violation of their civil rights. “Those presuming that we may, that we can, deny residents of the West Bank, should they be annexed to us, their political rights, are mistaken,” he wrote.
Sasson argued that despite the romanticism and fake nostalgia that washed over certain political circles, the West Bank belonged to its Arab residents and would continue to belong to them. “No historical evidence from ‘The Books of Chronicles,’ or other sources, Jewish or otherwise, can change that fact,” he wrote.