Israel put itself in a corner
Anyone following the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is sitting on the edge of their seat waiting to see if the new Israeli coalition government currently being formed will act on the green light the Trump administration has given it for additional acts of annexation of parts of the West Bank. Another act of annexation or not, Israel has already lost.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 16-hour trip to Israel last week raised red flags for some. Could it be that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, drunk on power and impunity, was taking Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and implementing it faster than the U.S. administration desires? Clearly, the world did not buy any part of Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” fiasco — not the Palestinians, not the Arab states, not the EU, and not many Israelis and devoted supporters of Israel as well.
The New York Times’ David M. Halbfinger and Lara Jakes reported that “If the United States, with President Trump’s peace proposal, gave Mr. Netanyahu a green light on annexation, it may have now changed to yellow.” (NYT, May 13, 2020). They went on to note that “A key, officials and experts said, was in the timing. [Pompeo’s trip] came on the eve of Israel’s seating its new government, one that appears divided over the immediacy of annexing about 30 percent of the occupied West Bank.”
Then, what was planned to be a Thursday evening swearing-in of the new Israeli government was hastily postponed to Sunday, raising more doubt about what exact influence Pompeo’s trip had in these internal Israeli politics. If it did, it would not be the first time the U.S. meddled in Israeli politics; it would have possibly been the exception if they did not interfere.
From the Palestinian side, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a Thursday press conference in Ramallah that President Mahmoud Abbas will chair a meeting of the leadership on Saturday to take the appropriate decision.” Speaking about the new Israeli government about to be sworn in Shtayyeh said, “we will listen to its political program that calls for annexation of Palestinian lands and the imposition of [Israeli] sovereignty over the settlements.” The assumption here being if such a political program is announced the Palestinians will act without waiting until July 1, the date the Israeli coalition parties agreed to before implementing further annexation.
Such bravado statements have become commonplace in Palestine, but this time around the Palestinian public’s feeling is that the Palestinian leadership is finally acknowledging that it has reached the end of the Oslo Accords rope and may be in a hurry to finally act, so as not to be hung by that rope once Israel formally lets go.
The European Union, that underwrote most of the past 25 years of U.S. failures in the Middle East Peace Process, is also up in arms about Israel’s possible annexation moves. Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote “West Bank annexation will bring an end to the EU’s cherished two-state solution. International norms and the EU’s own laws will now need to underpin post-annexation relations with Israel.” He goes on noting that, “Annexation — whether it starts with one settlement block or most of Area C — will cross a threshold which will be almost impossible to reverse back on. The full repercussions that such a move will trigger may be slow in coming, but they are real. This will challenge EU credibility and relevance. It will also undermine the fundamentals of the international rules-based order — in particular, the prohibition on the acquisition of territory through force.” He speculates that post-annexation, “Palestinians [will] live under an increasingly explicit system of apartheid.” It is no wonder that the EU, for the first time, is speaking about possible economic sanctions on Israel if they proceed with any form of annexation.
Who else is opposed to annexation? J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy and lobbying group in the U.S., sent out a mailing where they ask this question and provide an answer, among others, “The majority of the Israel security establishment.” The mailing linked to an ad signed by 220 high ranking former Israeli officers, including former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon, former Mossad Director Tamir Pardo, and former commander of the IDF Central Command Gadi Shamni. The ad warns that “Deterring unilateral annexation is both urgent and essential.”
Could it be that everyone is having a fit which is too little, too late, and for all the wrong reasons?
Whether it is a political survival tactic of a Palestinian leadership fearing total irrelevance, the EU’s supreme concern with being compliant with their own laws, or pro-Israel organizations and many Israelis who are shocked that their hollow motto of an Israel that is “Jewish and democratic” is rapidly unraveling for all to see, they all miss the point. It is past time that all stakeholders take note that the Palestinian struggle for freedom, independence and return home of refugees are the issues. Until these are addressed head-on for the just case they constitute, the conflict will not end.
This is not the first act of Israeli annexation, e.g. annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980. The world yelled and screamed then too, but effectively turned a blind eye even after two UN Security Council resolutions (476 and 478) were passed on the matter of Jerusalem’s annexation. Why expect anything different now from the international community?
If annexation happens, yet again, it makes sense for Palestinians to remain on track in their long-haul struggle and not play into the U.S.-Israel annexation game. Other than the U.S., a longtime accomplice in this ongoing crime against Palestinians, no other meaningful country will recognize Israeli annexation.
In due time, even the shrewdest of politicians fumble and Benjamin Netanyahu is as shrewd as they come. In his full-court press to stay out of jail on the three corruption indictments he is facing, he is taking Israel down a very deep hole, one they may never exit.
By making the de facto annexation de jure, Netanyahu has placed Israel in a corner, damned if it annexes and damned if it does not.
If annexation proceeds, as most expect it will, albeit incrementally as is Israel’s trademark, its rogue status around the world will continue to deepen in places unexpected — think Jordan, Egypt, and EU. Worse yet, for Israel, is its flagrant racism, structural discrimination, and blatant disregard for a rules-based world will be publicly visible for all to see.
On the other hand, if Israel wakes up in the eleventh hour and backs off, at least for now, it still loses. The Palestinians, along with the EU I expect, will claim victory in stopping the implementation of the first step of Trump’s “Deal of the Century.”
For Palestinians, we know that as long as we are still standing after 72 years of dispossession, discrimination, and military occupation, we are winning. For the EU, this latest episode of Netanyahu’s pyromaniacs may have awakened a sleeping dragon that may lead to finally seeing Israel being held accountable for its violations of international law and total disregard of common sense. Such accountability is long overdue.