Israeli annexation of the West Bank, which the Netanyahu government has tentatively scheduled for implementation today, July 1st, has a cast of characters that can only be called a Ship of Fools. In a piece I published recently at Middle East Eye, I called it “a sham.” Everyone from Donald Trump, to Jared Kushner, responsible for the U.S. role in this tragi-comedy; to Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz; to Mahmoud Abbas representing the PA, have played their respective roles in this farce to the hilt.
The Israeli coalition agreement which brought together the strange bedfellows of Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu decreed that annexation would be addressed on July 1st. The Trump administration response to Israel and the world was: it’s your issue to deal with–we won’t interfere. The Palestinians original response to Trump’s Deal of the Century was to turn its back on both the Americans and the Israelis.
This has led Jared Kushner, in the run-up to July 1st to devise an absurd proposal which would “sweeten” the deal for Palestinians by exchanging Palestinian land for Israeli settlements. The Times of Israel headline said “US seeking Israeli gesture toward Palestinians to offset annexation.” Certainly, the Israelis will be happy to offer the Palestinians a gesture–the middle finger!
Here’s what Kushner was offering:
The Trump administration is reportedly pushing Israel to offer the Palestinians some sort of compensation in exchange for the unilateral annexation of some of the West Bank land they want for their future state.
Among the ideas is transferring an area to the Palestinians where they can build without limits, or redefining some Area C lands, where Israel maintains full control, as Area B, where Palestinians have civil control, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.
Israelis were naturally less than happy even with the Trump proposal and suggested taking even more land from Palestinians for their settlements. In return for giving up 30% of the territory of their future state, Palestinians would get “land in the Judaean Desert that Israel views as less integral..” That last phrase means that the land is worthless to Israel or almost anyone else except perhaps a Bedouin sheepherder. This is the equivalent of Peter Stuyvesant telling the Native American inhabitants of the island of Manhattan that instead of $24 worth of “trinkets,” he’d exchange their prime land for a piece of Nevada desert.
Gantz, who had made noises during the last election campaign that he too would support annexation, all of sudden developed cold feet. Or should I say lukewarm feet. He argued that annexation wasn’t the first issue on his agenda. He wanted to deal with the Covid19 crisis, which the government has essentially flubbed after reopening the economy and seeing a flood of new cases. Gantz tried to get himself off the hook by conditioning his own support on approval by both the Americans and the Jordanian king. Abdullah is enraged by the Israeli plan and has threatened to cut off relations if Israel proceeds. So Gantz has an out if he wants to use it.
Netanyahu has boxed himself into a corner: he only made the commitment to annex the Jordan Valley during an election campaign he was desperate not to lose. He knew such a proposal was like throwing red meat to his hyper-nationalist constituency. Now that he is in the driver seat as prime minister, he has to deliver. But if he does, he will earn the enmity of much of the world community. He will also immeasurably strengthen the BDS movement and its goal of bringing genuine political power and democratic rights to the Palestinian minority (among other demands).
The prime minister has little to worry about from the international community. Though the UN Secretary-General has warned against annexation, as has the EU, none of them are willing to put any teeth in their statements. The U.S. Congress, even progressive Democrats like Bernie Sanders and the Squad, are threatening to cut U.S. aid to Israel if it proceeds with annexation. Bibi knows that the Israel Lobby is strong enough to head off any such proposal.
He has rather cleverly driven a wedge in the Arab world by cultivating new relations with Sunni states arrayed against Iran. They in turn have abandoned their former Palestinian allies in exchange for Israel’s offer of an anti-Iranian diplomatic and military alliance. This defangs yet another potent opponent of annexation.
The Palestinian Authority has not acquitted itself any better: after adamantly refusing to talk to either Israel or the U.S. for years, as July 1st came closer, Abbas apparently panicked, fearing that he might look like the odd man out if the U.S. and Israel move forward with their proposals. So he offered a counter-proposal: that the Palestinians would resume negotiating with the Israelis under the auspices of the Quartet! That’s right, they proposed dusting off one of the many useless entities on which people had pinned their hopes decades ago to bring peace. The Quartet was an unwieldy creation of Tony Blair and George Bush, that was meant to devise a way out of the Second Intifada. It eventually collapsed into irrelevance as scores of such initiatives have in the past. Now Abbas seeks to summon this unwilling apparition and bring it back from the dead to perform some miraculous resurrection.