The Zionist Left Is Dormant as West Bank Annexation Nears

Ravit Hecht
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Trump puts his hands Netanyahu's shoulders as they deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal at the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020.
Trump puts his hands Netanyahu's shoulders as they deliver joint remarks on a Middle East peace plan proposal at the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020.Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS
Ravit Hecht

The annexation drama seems to be imploding. Less than two weeks before the target date, it appears that what will be left of the confetti thrown in the air after Donald Trump’s plan was unveiled in Washington is some declarative or symbolic scrap. As usual with Benjamin Netanyahu, there’s a lot of noise but little action (without making light of the noise’s potential to do harm).

The argument over annexation is happening exclusively within the right. The main dispute tearing the settlers apart these days is over the price the Americans seek to exact from Israel for applying sovereignty to any land in the territories, even an abandoned sand dune. The hard-line school, represented by the chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, David Elhayani, describes Trump’s “deal of the century” as nothing less than a partition plan in which a Palestinian state – a red flag to rightists – is the ultimate goal. This faction is currently busy stressing out and nurturing its own anxieties, framing the plan as an existential danger to Israel, no less.

LISTEN: How Netanyahu could fudge annexation, hoodwink Gantz and cling on to power

Ironically, some of its members are suddenly quoting Yitzhak Rabin, the man who signed the Oslo Accords, claiming that he vehemently rejected the establishment of any kind of Palestinian state. That’s how much they view Netanyahu as a non-rightist.

The moderate school, represented by people like Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, accepts Netanyahu’s explanation that applying sovereignty only requires launching negotiations, which the Palestinians are so far refusing to participate in, without any substantive Israeli commitments, and certainly not to a Palestinian state. So Israel – that is, the settlements – can only gain by adopting Trump’s plan.

This is the classic position adopted by Mapai, Israel’s first ruling party, and it also suits Netanyahu’s character. He has always favored buying maximum time with minimum action.

On Wednesday, Meretz MK Yair Golan, one of the great hopes of the shrunken Zionist left, announced that he would support annexation as long as Israel announces that is separating from the Palestinians. Support for the plan – minus explosive provisions that in any case will never be implemented, like transferring Israeli Arabs in the Triangle region to the Palestinian Authority – thus effectively stretches from Likud’s Yariv Levin on the right through Kahol Lavan’s Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi all the way to Golan on the left.

And here we come to the main reason why the left is almost completely absent from the debate over annexation, aside from the moral stance espoused by a few: The two-state solution, a dead donkey that was buried in the margins of Israelis’ consciousness during the second intifada, is now being given artificial respiration by Netanyahu.

If you adopt the position of the settlers’ hard-line school, which actually sounds logical given what the Americans are saying, then Netanyahu is closer to his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he first supported a Palestinian state, than to the law to legalize illegal settlement outposts – to the extent that he takes any action at all, rather than choosing his preferred option of doing nothing, in the style of Yitzhak Shamir.

The Zionist left has a fairly limited range in which to oppose to the plan, which is based on trafficking in centimeters and rhetoric. The real left-wing opposition to Trump’s plan, which indeed oppresses and humiliates the Palestinians, comes from the radical left’s ideological big bang, which proposes a new game board and an alternative geography.

The radical left proposes a new game that uproots Jewish superiority from every centimeter between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and alters the character of the Jewish state even within the 1948 lines. The idea’s Jewish supporters generally come from the heart of economic and class privilege, and it seems unlikely they would actually want to live in a country that probably won’t resemble their romantic fantasies.

But at least this is a distinctive, coherent position. And it offers a true mirror image of the ideological right’s foundational principle – making Jewish superiority a value and a goal by dint of divine right.