IT probably wasn’t necessary for Benjamin Netanyahu, on the eve of the April 9 election, to declare that it was his intention to annex large chunks of the West Bank. He evidently did not wish to take any chances, though, despite the last-minute assistance from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Was it bluster? Probably not, especially if the far-right allies he needs to form his fifth coalition insist on that as the price for granting him immunity against pending corruption charges.
It is often said that the ability to indict a sitting prime minister elevates Israel above other semi-democracies in the Middle East, such as Egypt or Turkey. At the same time, there are not many democracies of any shade that would have re-elected a leader facing accusations of criminal misconduct.
On the other hand, the status quo would hardly have been upended had the new Blue and White coalition led by former military chief Benny Gantz been elevated to a position where it could have had the first go at forming the next government.
The two-state solution has been dead for years.
Ultimately, Blue and White fell just one seat short of Netanyahu’s Likud. Even with fewer seats, though, Likud may still have had a better chance of leading a fourth successive administration, given its willingness to form alliances with even the most retrograde elements on the political spectrum, including Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), representing the overtly racist heirs of assassinated rabbi Meir Kahane. His Kach party was outlawed by Israel in 1994 after a supporter killed 29 worshippers in a Hebron mosque; it was subsequently declared a terrorist outfit by the US.
Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) felt obliged to distance itself from Netanyahu on this count, but more broadly remains a devout admirer, devoting its energies to denigrating American critics of Israel such as Rep. Ilhan Omar and Senator Bernie Sanders. It is quite amusing how AIPAC, shortly after Omar called it out for devoting its resources to encouraging blind faith in Israel and was slammed as anti-Semitic for doing so, the lobby group began funding advertisements against Sanders, who happens to be Jewish and leads the preliminary tussle among Democrats for next year’s presidential nomination.
That, generally, is how most lobbying organisations operate, but it’s apparently anti-Semitic to associate Jews with money, even though some of them — such as Sheldon Adelson, a leading far-right fundraiser, who didn’t blanch or blink when Trump recently referred, at a gathering of Republican Jews, to Netanyahu as “your prime minister”, implying dual loyalty, a suggestion that would immediately have been slammed as anti-Semitic had it been made by a critic of Israel or Likud.
Having earlier technically shifted the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on the eve of the Israeli election Trump recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, taken over from Syria in 1967, and furthermore declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organisation. Netanyahu was quick to thank him, and promptly announced his intention to annex the West Bank, or at least substantial parts thereof.
The US president has for two years trumpeted some kind of a peace plan for the Middle East, masterminded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and, to boot, the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who is inclined to go even further than Netanyahu in his support of the settlements — illegal under international law, but mostly not under Israeli rules.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has previously expressed the opinion that God possibly made Trump president to save the Jews (never mind that some of the most deplorable components of Trump’s ‘base’ are unabashedly anti-Semitic, even if they are rather impressed by Netanyahu in particular and Zionism in general), recently noted that the annexation plans would not interfere with the White House-sponsored plan.
Small wonder, then, that the Palestinians have preemptively rejected it, and that rejection may well be used as an excuse for annexing Palestinian territories.
Netanyahu’s declaration on this front prompted a great deal of commentary along the lines that he was effectively killing any hope for a two-state solution. But that is nonsense. The two-state solution has been dead for years, even if it has not received a decent burial. The Israeli prime minister could certainly be accused of hammering the last nails into its coffin, but the gesture does not realistically mean much.
The question is, what is the alternative? Logic points to a one-state solution leading to a binational democracy. But even that suggestion is deemed anti-Semitic because it would erode the possibility of an exclusively Jewish state. The likeliest prospect is an indefinite extension of the status quo alongside a slow but steady diminution of the occupied territories. The vague flicker of hope at the end of the tunnel has dimmed further since last week. But who will rage against the dying of the light?
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2019