Israeli right-wingers are mourning Donald Trump’s electoral defeat as if it were a great loss for Israel. There is something surprising about this is you look at it from their perspective: During his term in office, the U.S. president who showed the greatest support for the settlers’ fantasy of annexation gave up on it. Trump’s legacy that will resound throughout the Middle East is the normalization agreements with Arab states. One can even dare to use a much nicer word: peace.
Trump’s actions regarding Israel can be divided into two categories, symbolic and practical. The former includes moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The latter includes the decision to forgo, in return for normalization with the United Arab Emirates, annexing parts of the West Bank.
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Benjamin Netanyahu created a zero-sum narrative: We received peace without giving up anything. Like many things that the prime minister says, this is a lie. Israel gave up on annexation and agreed, with the urging of the United States, to risk – to a certain extent – its military superiority. This is an appropriate price when it comes to our security and future, but the most important lesson here is that the ultra-right leadership in Israel and the United States preferred peace agreements over annexation.
“I voted right, I got left,” they always complain on the right. But there is a reason for that – with all the populism, in the end there is reality – in other words, millions of Palestinians who are not going to suddenly disappear. In this reality, the possibility of sane, secure lives, in which Israelis will not have to send more of their children to needless wars, excites them more than the possibility of conquering the Greater Land of Israel.
In this reality, there is a world outside our borders: In addition to introducing defense cooperation to block Iranian aggression and strengthening the regional economy after the coronavirus crisis subsides, the new order in the Middle East will eventually include a peace agreement with the Palestinians. It is inevitable, and even Trump and Netanyahu know this.
While we are on the subject of facts, here’s another one: The settlement enterprise is a fiction. As the research of Shaul Arieli and others has shown, it lacks an economic foundation. The tens of billions of shekels that have been spent on the settlements – several times what has ever been spent on Netivot or on Tiberias – never succeeded in creating a sustainable economy.
One-third of the settlers – Haredi Jews – are poverty-stricken. Without the massive aid of the country’s taxpayers, they would not survive. Per-capita government spending on the settlements is three times that within Israel proper. Right-wing cabinet ministers have developed clandestine ways to send our money to the settlements because they are afraid that if the public discovers how much they are spending there, they will boil over in fury.
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The settlers have also not managed to “settle in our hearts.” Most Israelis do not cross the Green Line unless they are required to do so in their military service, and despite the attempts to justify the settlements based on security needs, the Israel Defense Forces is just waiting for the day when it can defend the borders instead of risking casualties because of the need to protect civilians who are surrounded by a hostile population.
It hurts to give up parts of the homeland. My friends on the right will be amazed, but it hurts for leftists as well. But life, and the country, are too dear to us. So dear that we prefer to look at reality and the facts. Nonetheless, it is already hard to be surprised by the denial of reality of the right-wing leadership. In recent years, we have found there climate-change deniers, coronavirus deniers and election-result deniers.
The ones who need to get their act together are the representatives of democratic Israel. The winning narrative – on the right too – is peace. It is the future. Now we need to cooperate with the Biden and Harris administration, which understands that in order for Israel to remain democratic with a Jewish majority, it needs peace and separation from the Palestinians.