“There’s no such thing as the right timing,” declared Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, trying to persuade members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to discuss a bill to annex the West Bank settlement this Sunday. His focus on the issue of timing implies that there’s no ideological disagreement between the settlers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, the last time Netanyahu torpedoed the bill, in January, he told ministers, “I support annexation, but we’ve been asked not to surprise the U.S. administration.”
But Netanyahu doesn’t support annexation the way the far right would like him to support it. While the extreme right wants to annex Ma’aleh Adumim as part of its one-state vision, Netanyahu wants to annex it as part of a “one-and-a-half-state” vision (one state for the Jewish people, and half a state – or a “state minus” – for what he views, in the best case, as half a people).
Netanyahu needs time to try to create a context, or at least the appearance of a context, in which it will be clear to the Americans that annexation doesn’t entail abandoning the idea of separation. That way, he will be able to annex now and separate later.
The far right is trying to declare victory: Look, Netanyahu is annexing, in accordance with our demands – the era of the Palestinian state is over. But that’s only show.
Within his inner circle, there’s a lot of tension over the question of whether the annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim is the first stage in a plan of creeping annexation (Ma’aleh Adumim first) or of creeping separation (in which Israel annexes under the imaginary map of division according to the “one-and-a-half state” plan). After all, Ma’aleh Adumim is part of the settlement blocs whose annexation Netanyahu demands under any final agreement with the Palestinians.
Therefore, it’s worth paying attention to what happens in the E-1 corridor between Ma’aleh Adumim and Jerusalem. This area was added to Ma’aleh Adumim’s municipal boundaries, but a great deal of international attention is focused on it because construction there would sever the northern West Bank from its southern part, making it hard to establish a contiguous Palestinian state.
The sponsor of the annexation bill, MK Yoav Kish (Likud), has already said he’s willing to exclude E-1 from the area to be annexed, in order to further the bill’s approval. This indicates that annexation shouldn’t be seen as abandoning the two-state vision.
In contrast to the Jewish nationalists, it seems Netanyahu understands that the annexation route is liable to drag Israel not just into a new reality, but a new perception of that reality – into the heart of a battle over civil rights. The prime minister seemingly understands that a few wrong moves and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could undergo a conceptual revolution: People would stop talking about it in terms of occupation and start talking about it in terms of apartheid. Even worse, they’d start talking about the conflict in terms of segregation.
While Europeans have a clear picture of what occupation is, Americans have a clear picture of what segregation is. And President Donald Trump is an American. He understands segregation, and it belongs to America’s dark past. If Trump thinks about the conflict in terms of segregation, he’s liable to demand that Israel take immediate steps toward civic equality.
Kashriel is wrong. There is nothing more important than timing in history. A paradigm shift is an irreversible change. If the world starts thinking of Israel in terms of segregation and supports a struggle for civic equality – in other words, one person, one vote, whether it’s a Jew from Petah Tikva or a Palestinian from Ramallah – the road back to the good old paradigm will disappear.
Paradoxically, those who believe that a single democratic state – in which Jews and Palestinians would live in equality on all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – is the right solution are liable to see light at the end of this very dark tunnel, down which Israel is striding thanks to the hubris of members of the Habayit Hayehudi party, who are convinced this won’t happen to them. But anyone who isn’t capable of seeing this democratic light would do better not to take any more steps toward it.
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