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Annexation is happening whether Netanyahu is reelected or not

Netanyahu’s declaration that he will annex parts of the West Bank is alarming, but it only names a process that was long ago put into action, and which is now part of the mainstream Israeli discourse.

Illustrative photo of Israeli troops rush through an opening in the separation wall surrounding the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, West Bank, March 28, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Illustrative photo of Israeli troops rush through an opening in the separation wall surrounding the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, West Bank, March 28, 2018. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Four years ago, on the eve of Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu promised in a television interview that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch. He retracted the statement a few days after winning, but only those who wanted to believe him actually did. Opposing Palestinian statehood has always been Netanyahu’s policy. He has diverged from it on rare occasions, when he was under enormous pressure to do so, and even then with a conspiratorial wink to his supporters.

On Saturday, again on the eve of Israeli elections, Netanyahu stopped winking. Asked point blank in a television interview if he will annex a bloc of West Bank settlements in his next term, he responded unambiguously in the affirmative.

“Will we move to the next stage? The answer is yes,” the prime minister said. “I will apply [Israeli] sovereignty — and I don’t differentiate between settlement blocks and specks of isolated settlements. Each of those specks is Israeli and we have a responsibility as the government of Israel.”

Netanyahu’s pledge to annex parts of the West Bank should not surprise anyone who has followed Israeli politics in recent years. Others in his political coalitions, and even his own party, have been talking openly about annexation for years. More centrist Israeli thinkers are talking openly about plans for creeping, or de facto, annexation that are almost indiscernible from the right wing’s plans, or at least their desired outcome.

Case in point is Micah Goodman’s recent article in The Atlantic, published simultaneously in Hebrew and English, that lays out what he claims would be a consensus eight-point plan to “shrink” the conflict instead of solving it. Goodman, a rising public intellectual who claims to spurn labels of right and left, is peddling an idea that is no less an annexation plan than Netanyahu’s.

After laying out the various ways in which Israel will continue to control the West Bank more or less as it does today, albeit while granting Palestinians a few more building permits and replacing a few checkpoints with segregated bypass roads, Goodman offers the following:

“So what is this plan’s objective? Truthfully, it has no specific end point in mind. These steps and principles are not a waystation en route to a final destination—the way itself is the destination.”

Goodman’s plan, unlike Netanyahu’s ploy to rally the right-wing base on the eve of elections, is, in his words, designed to be something all Jewish Israelis can get behind, from the left to the right. Irrespective of the language one uses — annexation or shrinking the conflict or even managing the conflict instead of resolving it — the idea that the occupation will never end is now a mainstream position in Israel.

Netanyahu has declared on many occasions that Israel will never give up security control of the entire territory west of the Jordan River. Among the leaders of mainstream Zionist parties to his left, there is hardly anyone willing to discuss giving up that control. The question that remains is, what does permanent Israeli control over the West Bank and its millions of non-citizen residents look like.

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Annexation may have a technical definition, which Israel may or may not ever fulfill. But opponents of annexation are worried not just about crossing an imaginary line in the sand drawn by international law; they fear what permanent Israeli control over the occupied territories would mean, regardless of what form it takes.

Any step meant to further entrench the occupation — whether by declaring its permanence, as Netanyahu pledged, or by facilitating its permanence, as Goodman’s plan outlines — must therefore be regarded as indistinguishable both in spirit and objective. And if they achieve the same outcome — keeping the territories under permanent Israeli control — then any rhetorical attempt to distinguish between them is either an act of deceit or of being deceived.

It’s also important to note that annexation as envisioned by both Netanyahu and Goodman doesn’t look all that different from the situation on the ground today. (Netanyahu on Saturday did not suggest annexing the entire West Bank, only the Israeli settlements that disfigure it.)

As +972 Magazine’s Noam Sheizaf has argued for years, the binary choice between a one-state solution and a two-state solution ignores the third and most likely scenario, one that Israelis have chosen consistently time and again — maintaining the status quo.

And if the status quo —with Israel as the acting sovereign between the river and the sea — is made permanent, then the debates and warnings of annexation become nothing more than a rhetorical distraction from reality.

Netanyahu might not be reelected, although I certainly wouldn’t bet against him. But considering that Benny Gantz, the only viable alternative, is reasonably likely to adopt an approach similar to Goodman’s, it doesn’t really matter who wins on April 9. The style might differ, but the substance has long been barreling us down the same path at full speed.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      The two state solution has been a convenient fiction since around 1890. The time has come for all Palestinians to declare that Israel has won and demand equal rights and the vote – then we can start talking about apartheid in earnest.

      Reply to Comment
    2. itshak Gordine

      You push open doors. Everyone knows that Judea and Samaria will be part of Israel and not just for security reasons. They are part of the historical, national and religious heritage of the Jewish people. Areas with a large Arab population are already administered by the Arab Authority in Ramallah, which is making huge profits. This system is excellent because it provides the Arab workforce enough to have decent living conditions. If for one reason or another Ramallah should collapse, there is no doubt that those in the world who have supported the creation of this artificial entity, mainly in Europe and the US, will have to put their hands in their pockets.

      Reply to Comment
      • You say that “Everyone knows that Judea and Samaria will be part of Israel” No-one knows what the future will be,

        You say that “Judea and Samaria are part of the historical, national and religious heritage of the Jewish people”. Judea yes, Samaria, no. Samaria is the homeland of the Samaritans, the Northern Israelites whose kingdom was Israel, which was much larger in area and population than Judah, the homeland of the Jews. What happened to the Samaritans? Mostly they converted to Christianity and/or then Islam, becoming Palestinian Arabs. Genetic studies have shown that the Palestinian Arabs in Nablus in particular are closely related to the remaining small Samaritan population.

        The Palestinians have a much stronger historic claim to Samaria than do the Jews who currently rule over it.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Hope you lot are ready to make that tough choice between ethnic cleansing and granting Palestinians citizenship (or, I guess you could just have them live in stateless limbo, moving back and forth via a South Africa-style “dom pass” system). The more settlements, the more displaced Palestinians, so that religious fanatics from Brooklyn can “return” to a place their ancestors supposedly came from (supposing it wasn’t Egypt, or Rome, or Greece, or anywhere else with a huge Jewish presence prior to the “exile”) too long ago for any rational person to give a damn about.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ellyn Harris

      Land for peace didn’t work! Time to try something new. The Palestinians who want to stay & not immigrate will have to negotiate a citizenship, like Puerto Rico did with US.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        George H Bush took action to prevent Israel from building more settlements but ultimately it didn’t work; Israel eventually built more. So something stronger is in order – cutting off all military and financial aid to Israel.

        https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-how-an-ultimatum-from-president-george-h-w-bush-transformed-u-s-israel-relations-1.6702047

        With a possible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in the air, the 41st U.S. president refused to approve $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel cope with a wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, and subsequently demanded that Israel freeze its settlement building before agreeing to the request.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Your Puerto Rico analogy is an interesting one chiefly because of the way it fails. Which is revealing. It reveals the way Israelis compare historical apples and oranges, the way they blithely truck in 15th-19th century colonialist assumptions, and the way they blithely assume self-determination is a thing for Jews only.

        (First of all, though, land for peace did not fail, it was never actually tried. The Israelis worked constantly to make it untried. But I digress.)

        If you want to use the Puerto Rico analogy you’ll have to realize that Spain colonized the Puerto Rican archipelago starting in 1493, visiting on it all sorts of colonialist oppressions and crimes over the next four centuries (including the forcible displacement and assimilation of the indigenous Taíno population, the forced migration of African slaves, and the importation of settlers); and that the relationship of modern day Israel to Palestine is as that of colonial Spain to Puerto Rico four centuries ago, not the US to Puerto Rico in the 20th century; and even a Treaty of Paris-like deal (by which Puerto Rico was handed from Spain to the US as a territory to occupy following the Spanish American War) would never happen today in anything like the same way, after the 20th century, it’s two world wars, and the Geneva Conventions and all that.

        Israel is in the 16th century Spanish phase, not the 20th century American phase of the Puerto Rico analogy.

        You truck in the blithely unexamined and false assumptions about how the people of Puerto Rico “negotiated citizenship” and how that applies to Israel-Palestine today.
        There are other problems with your analogy but let’s pause here.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Michael Omer-Man’s assessment of Micah Goodman is correct.

      Goodman wants you to buy into the hasbara that the left’s project in Israel-Palestine is utopian and “redemptive,” rather than grounded in sober realism and a sense of limitations and of sheer humanity; and wants you to buy into the idea that Israel, so proud of being capable, “startup nation” in all other matters, is inexplicably helpless to do the most needed startup, the big startup, the startup of a strong, functional, collaborative (in the best sense) Palestinian state. Goodman is just the latest sophisticated purveyor of Israeli feigned helplessness, a swooning and fainting lassitude that suddenly afflicts Israel when the idea of actively fostering a strong and peacefully collaborative Palestinian State is on the table.

      All of this in the service of the underlying true Israeli helplessness: Facing down the fanatic post-redemptive but no less fanatically land-coveting settlers, refusing to give up the land-coveting, the stone-worshipping, the (organized crime) “enterprise.”

      What is most telling about Goodman’s writing is that it is, for all its pretensions to be saying something new, totally Israeli-Jewish-centric, and the human beings called Palestinians are condescended to as if they were either children in a day care, prisoners in a giant prison, or zoo animals to be managed for another 50 years, anything but autonomous human beings with rights.

      Goodman regales us with all the Israeli leaders he’s talked to but not one Palestinian! Israeli experts will decide everything and the Palestinians are the lab rats in the cage. No need to ask them what they think. Goodman is thus the typical Israeli, blithely, arrogantly contemptuous. And completely, blissfully unaware of it. All too Israeli. Pretending he is something fresh.

      Goodman says his plan will “dramatically shrink the occupation of the Palestinians” and this will be a “journey” and the conflict will be “reorganized as a clash between neighbors rather than between rulers and subjects” — and yet the Shin Bet will continue to operate in all parts of the West Bank, the IDF will continue to conduct pursuits and arrests in all parts of the Palestinian (‘autonomous’!) areas, Israel will retain a permanent military in the Jordan Valley, the airspace and electromagnetic field will remain under full Israeli control. Goodman’s idea of being a neighbor is very strange. But hey, we’re Israeli, what’s the problem?

      Goodman in the final analysis is a charlatan, a huckster. And Omer-Man is right.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben

      The dishonesty of Micah Goodman’s trying to pass off “shrinking the conflict” as something new and as something benefiting everyone, rather than being a kind of stealthy scheme to further the permanence of the occupation status quo (another Oslo-type trick really), is well-identified by Michael Omer-Man.

      The dishonesty floating through Goodman’s piece is exemplified by two examples.

      On leaders: Goodman says he spoke to both Israeli and Palestinians here but he only takes account, at least in the Atlantic article, of the Israeli side! Nothing is heard of what Palestinians think.

      Later, in the kind of neat, simplistic turning upside down I am gathering Goodman likes, he says:
      “In other words, if the Israeli right’s old argument was that an overly strong Palestine would threaten Israel, its revised argument is that an overly weak Palestine would threaten Israel.”

      In reality the right wing has always used a fusion of both of these arguments, and to this day. (Just look at Itshak the redemptive, contemptuous pusher on doors, who, just like Bibi, gets others to pay his bills, in this instance for the cost of the occupation. Contempt supreme. Really it’s mind boggling the entitlement of the late 20th-early-21st century judeosupremacists. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.)

      But what we in fact have on the ground is an Israeli right that works unceasingly to KEEP the Palestinians weak, divided, fractious, fragmented. By every means possible. (No feigned helplessness here.) This same Israeli right then says, “we have to keep them weak because they would otherwise threaten us” and “because the Palestinians are weak we have to control them.” THAT is the “Catch-67” that Goodman glaringly elides. What Micah Goodman, self-styled Catch-22/67/whatever aficionado, does not admit is that this is the real “Catch.” Israel makes the Palestinians weak then says that the Palestinians’ weakness is a threat. Without ever admitting that, if it actually wanted to, Israel could make the Palestinians strong in the right way, in a productive way, and so make a Palestinian state side by side with Israel usefully strong and a great success, an actual beacon of light in the Middle East.

      This is why I think Micah Goodman’s conceptual scheme is the latest Israeli hasbara in the continuing effort to avoid an honest solution. And why I think Michael Omer-Man is right about Goodman and about the lack of a real choice in this election.

      Reply to Comment