Promised land

July 01, 2020


Mahir Ali
Mahir Ali

TODAY is the promised day for the Promised Land, the deadline Benjamin Netanyahu set himself for initiating his plan to annex Judea and Samaria, better known as the West Bank, and at least vaguely recognised internationally as Palestinian territory. At his latest — and perhaps last, though it would be imprudent to bet on it — swearing-in ceremony as the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu talked up the proposed annexation as “another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism”.

During the third election campaign within 12 months, the prospect was dangled as bait to attract the right-wing vote. It wasn’t a monumental success, given that Netanyahu’s Likud party had to struggle to form a coalition, which now includes his most prominent rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, as defence minister and “alternate prime minister”.

Gantz is not quite as enthusiastic about annexation as his boss but hardly in a position to oppose it outright. In fact, some of the strongest opposition comes from a slightly surprising source: the most virulent elements among the West Bank settler leadership.

It’s not the idea of annexation itself that upsets them. It’s the likelihood of a semi-annexation. The contours of Netanyahu’s plan were unclear at the time of writing, but reports suggest it involves the Jordan Valley and about 30 per cent of the West Bank. According to the Trump administration’s version of the plot, the ostensible idea is that the remaining 60pc or so would provide the basis for Palestinian ‘statehood’.

Even the White House has switched its green light to amber.

That is far too ridiculous a proposition for even a halfwit to seriously entertain, so the more deeply embedded settlers’ fears of being adjacent to, let alone surrounded by, a Palestinian state are unfounded, but their intolerance stretches to not wishing to live anywhere in the vicinity of territory where there is even a semblance of Palestinian self-rule.

Hence they favour total annexation of the West Bank. Many of them would probably be shocked to learn that such a stance effectively puts them on the same page as those on the left who argue that pushing the 1967 occupation to its logical conclusion — a goal that most Israeli regimes since then have at least secretly aspired to — would finally lay to rest the absurdist fiction of a ‘two-state solution’ and compel Israel to choose between either becoming a multiethnic democracy or formalising its long-standing essence as an apartheid state.

Choosing the latter course would, in the ideal scenario, eventually entail acknowledging its untenability, as South Africa did some four decades after formalising apartheid.

The one-state solution may, for the moment, be a pipe dream. It holds out the possibility, though, of an imaginable future in which Israel transforms itself into the kind of entity it has always pretended to be: a genuine democracy in a region dominated by autocracies, instead of an American-sponsored malignancy envied by its Middle Eastern neighbours near and far — from Egypt and Jordan to Saudi Arabia and the UAE — for all the wrong reasons.

The threat of annexation has sparked predictable responses, with a broad range of nations and organisations advising against such a move, and some even ‘threatening’ to impose sanctions (even if it’s only on products from the West Bank). Perhaps somewhat more alarmingly for Netanyahu, even the White House has switched its green light to amber, suggesting it may be opportune to wait a while.

But the impressionable Donald Trump can easily change his mind, so it’s not hard to imagine the Israeli hierarchy monitoring his Twitter feed for relevant signals. With his polling numbers dwindling, the US president must be keen to preserve one of his most solid constituencies — not Am­e­rican Jews, many of whom traditionally vote Dem­o­crat, and whose younger generations are anyhow not particularly wedded to the Zionist ideal, but evangelical Christ­ians, who have long entertained dark fantasies about an apocalyptic final conflict involving Israel facilitating the ‘rapture’ and the ‘end times’.

It’s one thing for Trump to relish such support, and quite another for the Israeli leadership to buy into an eschatology that entails its destruction — and just last week the Jewish state demonstrated the limits of its indulgence by pulling the plug on the proselytising satellite channel God TV. More generally, though, it’s happy to play along. And even the foreign current critics of its annexationist tendencies seem more concerned about how this will turn out for Israel — in terms of its security and international diplomacy, than about Palestinian rights.

A partial annexation will, at most, be followed by a chorus of admonitions, but little or no meaningful action, especially from the Arab states that have long been cosying up to Israel even as it continued to establish ‘facts on the ground’ to consolidate its occupation.

And yet, whichever way Netanyahu chooses to go, there could be surprises in store.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2020