Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that, despite being indicted for corruption and press manipulation, Binyamin Netanyahu can take office as prime minister next week in a government of national unity that has him rotating the office with rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White coalition after 18 months.
Netanyahu’s first order of business is to annex vast swathes of Palestinian territory, including much of the Jordan Valley.
Arab48.com summarizes the argument of the Hebrew University’s Professor Elie Podeh for why Netanyahu’s Likud Party thinks they can get away with this move if they take it soon. First, the gaze of the world’s countries has turned inward over the coronavirus issue, so there isn’t as much focus on Israel and the Palestinians. Second, Trump is in the White House and supports unilateral actions by allies, and is unbothered by a lack of international consensus. (The European Union and China have both warned Netanyahu against annexaction). Third, the Arab world is also focused on internal problems and is paralyzed by the pandemic.
It is an astute analysis, and in the world of political Realism, Netanyahu’s calculation is correct. He can get away with it in the short to medium term without suffering any immediate undue harm. Egypt is not going to turn hostile, Syria and Iraq are basket cases, Jordan and Lebanon are tiny and weak. Turkey has never ceased trading with Israel, including the arms trade, despite President Tayyip Erdogan’s pro-Palestinian stance. Iran’s economy has been devastated by the Trump administration’s financial and economic blockade and now by the coronavirus. Europe has no will or means to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the shadow of the Holocaust prohibits most of its major countries from condemning Israel or taking any practical steps to punish it.
Here are some longer term downsides, though.
1. The Israelis had been hoping for a new wave of normalizations, this time with the conservative Gulf monarchies, most of which are wary of Iran. The common enemy was driving Saudi Arabia and some others toward some form, de facto or de jure, of peace treaty with Israel. Oman hosted Netanyahu to this end, and Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman seems enthusiastic for this step. However, the momentum toward it will grind to a halt if Israel gobbles up a third of the Palestinian West Bank. The publics in most Gulf countries are substantially more committed to the Palestinian cause than the governments, and the latter are at least a little afraid of the former.
2. For Israel to annex the Jordan Valley allows it completely to encircle the Palestinians living in the West Bank, who will no longer have a border with Jordan. But this step also puts them in the center of Greater Israel, rather as though they had been swallowed. Netanyahu intends to keep them as an internal colony, but annexation will make this Apartheid, Jim Crow strategy, which already exists, glaringly obvious and difficult for the world community to ignore. I was at an event in DC years ago with David Makovsky, and he tried to schmooze me with the line that the Israeli settlers had only settled on 5% of the West Bank, so things were not so dire for a two-state solution. But that sort of kick the ball down the road argument fails even more obviously if Israel has taken 30% of the West Bank. There is no more fig leaf.
3. Pressure on Israel over the coming decades to redress the statelessness of the Palestinians will grow, and since Netanyahu has forestalled a two-state solution by annexing all the land where a Palestinian state might exist, there are now only two futures for Palestinians: a) Apartheid and permanent statelessness or b) Israeli citizenship (a third of Palestinians already say that they would welcome it). For Israel to grant citizenship to the Palestinians will make it a binational state like Belgium. Netanyahu and his far right cronies seem to believe that at some point they will be able simply to expel the Palestinians to Jordan or that they can keep Apartheid going virtually forever. Neither of those hopes is very realistic, and both bring in their train dire dangers.
4. The international movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS) will be given enormous new energy. Netanyahu established a cabinet position to fight this movement (going so far as to attempt to abolish the US First Amendment to ensure Americans can be sanctioned for adopting it). It is already the case in 28 states that state contracts are denied to people who boycott Israel. Or to people who refuse to pledge to the state that they won’t boycott Israel. At the moment BDS advocates who are professors or journalists who speak on the campus of a state university in states like Georgia cannot be paid an honorarium. It is just that bad. But the courts are striking down these provisions whenever they are challenged, and this sort of state legislation is a stop gap measure doomed to fail. BDS is a plank in the growing Democratic Socialists of America, which is becoming an important component of the Democratic Party.
5. And that brings me to the fifth danger, which is that Israel will become, in the terms of US politics, a project solely of the Republican right wing. The Democratic Party faithful are done out with Netanyahu.
I mean, we live in a country where progressive people increasingly start their events by honoring America’s original inhabitants on whose land we stand. Anaga Srikanth at the Hill wrote of this year’s Oscars:
- ““The academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion picture community lives and works,” New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi said before introducing the winners of the academy’s honorary prizes.”
For people who go out of their way to remember the displacement and the land grabs inflicted on American Indians (that’s what most of them prefer to be called), turning around and saying nice things about an Israeli government that is at this very moment plotting a Trail of Tears for the Palestinians is a pretty big piece of cognitive dissonance. I mean, any pro-Israel meeting would have to begin, “We would like to acknowledge that we are supporting a state that has incorporated into itself lands of the Palestinians of the Jordan Valley.”
Since the right wing of the Republican Party is actually a small minority, they can’t depend on being in power all the time (they were reduced to having a few states in the Deep South in 2008), and if they are the only ones firmly supporting Israel, then US government backing for the latter could become pretty feeble at some points in the near future.
So Netanyahu is plotting out the eating of a very rich cornucopia. Whether Israel will be able to digest it in the coming two decades is the big question.