Opinion |

Netanyahu's Annexation Ploy Sacrifices Israel's War on Coronavirus to the Idol of Settlements

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech from his Jerusalem office on March 14, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech from his Jerusalem office on March 14, 2020.Credit: Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The coronavirus pandemic has created national, medical, social, economic and human crises throughout the world, including Israel. Elderly are dying, hospitals collapsing, unemployment multiplying, economies are at a standstill and despondency is creeping into every household.

It is a genuine emergency, one of the most acute Israel has ever encountered, one that demands unity, dedication of purpose and the sidelining of non-critical issues and policies.

Haredi leaders learn harsh corona lesson as Israel sends in the troops

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So what is the most urgent thing for Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing bloc at this time of unprecedented dire need? Annexation. Seriously. Vital-shmytal, unity-shmoonity, dead-shmed - what is uppermost on their minds, the pivotal make or break issue, is to change the legal status of the Jordan River Valley and settlement blocs and to do it now.

Netanyahu’s ultimatum to Benny Gantz on annexation, which has been holding up the formation of a so-called “national unity government” is so absurd that it strengthens widespread suspicions that it’s all a ruse. Netanyahu, according to this view, planted the annexation mine in his talks with Gantz so that it would blow up the coalition talks at the last moment and scuttle the chances of achieving an emergency government.

Moreover, Netanyahu seems to believe, Gantz’s opposition to annexing all the areas supposedly earmarked for Israel in Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will serve as a hammer with which Netanyahu can castigate Gantz and the center-left as defeatist wimps in the fourth consecutive election campaign, which, according to this scenario, has been the prime minister’s final objective all along.

The alternative explanation is even more appalling: Netanyahu is serious. He wants to sculpt his “legacy,” Netanyahu’s aides claim, and to exploit what may very well be the last months in what increasingly seems like Trump’s first and only term.

This is how Netanyahu and the right want to acquire the land of Israel: Not by suffering, as the Talmud instructs, but by subterfuge and chicanery, with the blessings of a wantonly reckless U.S. president and under cover of a terrible disease plaguing humanity. Let’s use this window of opportunity, the right is saying, while the goyim - and possibly Israeli public opinion as well - are otherwise engaged.

To put it plainly: At a time when Israel will need all the assistance and goodwill it can get, it will spit in the world’s face. Months before a Democratic president seems likely to take over the White House, Israel will show him the finger. Just when its biggest trading partner, the European Union, will start to revive and get its bearings, Israel will deliver a punch to the gut. And just when multilateral organizations and institutions start going back to normal, Israel will give them an open and shut case of breaking international law.

At a time when Israel needs regional stability like a patient needs oxygen, it could snuff out peace with Jordan. Just when coronavirus is reshaping reality and possibly relations with Palestinians, Israel is planting a roadside bomb. At a time when Israel needs solidarity, social cohesion and mutual support more than ever, Netanyahu and his sidekicks are hell bent on sowing division and discord over annexation.

Instead of focusing all the country’s energy on fighting coronavirus, the right wing will be inflaming internal tensions and rebuffing world criticism as blatant anti-Semitism. Wonderful.

Annexing the Jordan River Valley or the settlements blocs near the Green Line will help Israel fight corona no more and no less than moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem or recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights: In other words, zero, zilch, nada or as they say in Yiddish, gurnisht min gurnisht. The Greater Land of Israel, it seems, is more important to the right than the State of Israel and the wellbeing of its citizens, which, corona or not, will be sacrificed to the Moloch of settlements and eternal domination of the Palestinians.

Whoever lends his hand to such a move - Gantz first and foremost - is not placing Israel above all else, as his party slogan implies, but beneath all else. This is not the way patriots who love their country and cherish their people are supposed to behave. It’s more akin to idol-worshippers who cherish stones and symbols at the expense of humanity but nonetheless feel superior and strut around as if they were the last of the just. Amazing.