Annexation: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

As I write this, it’s not clear at all whether Israel’s new government—despite the date of July 1st set for it in its coalition agreement—will indeed go ahead with the annexation plan of some thirty percent of the West Bank, including all settlements blocks and the Jordan Valley. Contrary to common belief and perception, Netanyahu himself might not be so keen on executing this plan, without a clear mandate from Trump. Also, now that the most ardent political rightwing party supporting such a move isn’t in his government, but in the opposition, he may hesitate to take all the blame himself on such a problematic, historical step. And he will, therefore, possibly, continue to maintain the status quo, ‘managing the situation,’ in which he’s so good at and have done so for so long. It worked well for him until now, so why change it? Let’s examine.

The Good: As someone who not only has opposed to the annexation throughout his life, following the Six-Day War, but also has protested and detested vehemently the settlement endeavor, how can I now find any good in it? Well, let me tell you. Simply because this said annexation, for all intends and purposes, is a fait accompli. It’s a done deal, for quite some years now. There’s no conceivable Palestinian state to be found, unfortunately, and no two-state solution either. It is dead. And not from today. In actuality, there’s only a ‘One-State’ solution. Only Israel and Netanyahu are keeping it under wrap and disguise. There’s no going back. It’s much better for the Palestinian leadership to understand and accept this—which I believe most Palestinian people know and accept—and go from there. They should insist on sharing responsibility to the old/new Israel-Palestine State, with equal rights to all its citizens.

The Bad: There’s no way that Israel, and Israel’s citizens, will accept the above solution. As it will mean—sooner or later—the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Alternately therefore, it will mean Israel will continue to control the West Bank in its entirety, will continue to harass and terrorize the Palestinian people, and mostly but clearly: It means an Apartheid-like state. Which is not only bad but disastrous internationally for Israel. A state, a country that was established and built on the ashes of the Holocaust, and generation and centuries of pogroms, persecutions, and denial of basic human rights to Jews not only in Europe, but throughout the world. To do so, inflict the same on another people, on the Palestinians presently, will mean not only the end of Israel as a democratic nation, not only would open a wide chasm with Jews in America and Europe, but will pull the rug from under the entire Zionist dream and endeavor.

The Ugly: As detailed here in a previous blogpost – ‘The Battle That Never Ended” (March 25, 2018), and was published also in Moment Magazine online – before the short and decisive Six-Day War was over, a group of respected Palestinian leaders and elders (and remember, the Palestinian people didn’t initiate, nor participated in that war), wrote a letter to the Israeli government proposing basically the principles of a Two-State solution, with full recognition of Israel by the Palestinians. To this day, they’re still waiting for a response. The reason they didn’t receive a response yet, and the reason why—despite numerous attempts, by some leaders in Israel and abroad—there was never a chance they would get a response, is because Israel never really intended on pulling back from the West Bank. The settlement movement enjoyed the support of all Israeli governments, and except President Bush the father, the support of all American administrations. And the support, until lately (now that it’s too late), of the vast majority of American Jews. Some European countries, who had read correctly the sign on the wall, never really did anything meaningful except shouting “wolf!”

But now that the “wolf” is here, these countries are shouting it yet again. It won’t help. The ugly reality is that Israel has brought upon itself the conundrum it finds itself in. It never meant to withdraw. The occupation—and therefore the annexation—started the day after the Six-day War, and never ceased to exist and prosper. Nothing can change that situation now. The last chance, the last leader who had the power to reverse course—and apparently realized his own and Israel’s grave mistakes in their obsession with “facts on the ground”—was Ariel Sharon. But like Sadat, Rabin, and Arafat (though unlike them he wasn’t assassinated) he paid for it with his life, though in somewhat different circumstances. We, Israelis and Jews, are now stuck with it.

One Final Word: We live in a time of grave global pandemic, the coronavirus. In Israeli hospitals, Palestinian and Israeli Arab doctors and nurses played a significant role in taking care, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion, of the sick and the dying. Their contribution, and ability to work side by side with Israeli doctors and nurses, might signal the way to go. The future of coexistence, under one state to come, might be here to stay.

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The Lesser of Two Evils

The announcement and signing of the agreement to form a unity government in Israel early this week, between interim Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and his main rival, the leader of the Blue and White party Benny Gantz, did not surprise me. Since Gantz’s speech to the nation the previous Thursday, which I found—unlike many observers and pundits—to be truthful and inspiring, I expected the result of that speech to bring home to Netanyahu the inevitability and urgency of such a deal. A deal that, with all its shortcomings and dangerous elements, I support.

Now how a ‘leftist/peacenik’ like me, you may ask, who detests everything Bibi Netanyahu’s stands for, and sees in him a real and present danger to Israel’s democracy and future; a longtime supporter of the Two-State solution such as myself, in opposition to the settlers movement since its inception following the Six-Day War, is now breaking ranks with his camp and supports Benny Bantz’s move in forming this unity government? In one word: Realpolitik. But of course, that’s not enough of an answer, and demands a further explanation. So allow me to elaborate.

I’ll start with what could have happened, or the ‘evil’ that was about to take a firm hold in Israel had Gantz not agree, and indeed pushed for the successful completion to this broad coalition deal. But before that even, one thing must be said at the outset: The unforeseen outburst of the coronavirus pandemic, and the grave danger to life and livelihood had dramatically changed the equation. Count me among those who believe that an emergency government WAS necessary in Israel in order to properly deal with it. And that to leave it all at the hands of Netanyahu and his cronies WAS a grave danger to the health of Israel’s citizens, and its democracy and freedom.

Following the signing of the agreement Gantz tweeted this (that’s the world we live in, ain’t it?): “We prevented fourth elections. We’ll safeguard democracy. We’ll fight the coronavirus and look out for all Israeli citizens. We have a national emergency government.” Again, I support these goals. And I believe he is sincere in his wish to achieve them. Of course, opposite him stands a fierce rival, a political animal like no other in Israel’s modern history, much more experienced and unprincipled than him. Also, against this tide, there exists a reality with strong currents that can topple this ship before it can sail into clear waters. But Gantz, who was the IDF chief-of-staff, is a fighter first and foremost. And he already achieved, entering Israeli politics a little over a year ago, more than most who spend a lifetime in it.

Now let’s examine the first evil: i.e. what would’ve happened had Gantz not soldierly marched on into this ‘lion’s den’ that is Netanyahu’s government. Netanyahu became the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister while serving as a caretaker, which is longer than a your now, following three inconclusive general elections. Sans a deal, he would be primed to continue serving in this capacity as PM. It thus provides him with the power to rule unopposed. There was a proposal, from the opposition actually, to freeze all political process and elections for six month in order to fight the pandemic. And so, it’s entirely possible that he would’ve remained in power for another year or so, even without forming a new government.

In that period of time, who knows what more he could’ve done in order to prevent his day in court, on bribery and breach of trust, and to subvert the fragile democracy and the rule of law to his will and dictatorial ambitions. (Remember, his mentor and teacher is not Trump, but Putin. And just like Putin, Netanyahu may use Gantz to stay in power for the long run.) Furthermore, the latest polls indicate he’s gaining ground significantly, with projection of 40 Knesset Members to his Likud party in the next election. This is a real threat. And it’s the result of what is called ‘rally round the flag’ effect in a moment of crisis. And Netanyahu, mind you—unlike Trump—is a real master-of-manipulation, taking full advantage of this terrible pandemic situation. Another six months or so with him alone in power, alone at the TV podium, and 40 seats in the Knesset might become 50 seats. In short, the chances of Netanyahu escaping justice and solidifying his rule over Israel for many years to come, were much larger without this deal.

Now let’s look briefly at this deal, the other ‘evil.’ It safeguards, enshrined by law, a transition of power. In 18 months, Gantz would become the next prime minister. It gives his party and block (together with two small fractions) hardly 19 Knesset members—Netanyahu has 59!—half the ministers in the new government (no doubt too large of a government). Including in that are the three most important ministers, to my mind, other than the PM: Defense, Foreign and Justice. It safeguards a transition of power, and it ensures that Netanyahu will go to court, once the courts are opened soon (his trial is scheduled now for May 24th). And, should the Israeli High Court prevent Netanyahu from holding office, Gantz automatically will become the interim PM, until new elections.

True, the deal also mandates that in July the decision to enforce annexation of large parts of the West Bank will be put in front of the Knesset. How can Gantz (and I) support that disastrous decision? Here’s how: real politics again. As I pointed many times before here, the settlers movement had won the battle. Hands down. There is no going back. The Two-State solution is dead. Gantz in fact, following his visit to the White House, endorsed the ‘Deal of the Century,’ and so are the majority of Israeli citizens. That’s doesn’t make this wrong right, of course not, but rather inevitable. It is the reality on the ground. (What the Palestinians should do, you ask? What they should’ve done long ago: Throw the keys at Israel and demand to be Israeli citizen in a ‘One-State solution.’)

Again, it’s true also that Netanyahu safeguarded in this deal his ability to remain in power for the next 18 months (at least, since the possibility he might not relinquish it still exists). He has control, and veto—but so is Gantz—over appointments of judges and other important positions in the legal system. But not without obstacles, with the Justice ministry in the hands of an astute Gantz’s appointee, and with time running out on him fast.

There are many who oppose this deal who are saying Gantz had the chance to lead. Had the chance to enact laws that would’ve prevented Netanyahu from subverting the law of the land to his will, and prevent him from staying Prime Minister. Not so. Two members of his party were opposed to these moves, and so is another member of the closely attached Labor Party (that expect to disappear in the next elections). I don’t believe this opposition had a real chance to unitedly do so. It was fragile at best, impossible at worst.

Finally this: Netanyahu threats of ‘masses in the streets’ (blood in the streets is how I see it) in case the High Court or the Knesset would to prevent him from staying as PM were very, very real. Remember the murdered PM Yitzhak Rabin? And all that in the midst of a severe pandemic. The conclusion therefore is: Tough situations demand tough decisions. And in this tough, dangerous days, the ‘evil’ of this unity government—fragile and unpredictable as is—was, still is, a much lesser evil than the alternative.

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