Opinion |

What's the Real Purpose of Israel's Annexation Plan?

Hagai El-Ad
Hagai El-Ad
A protest against the Trump administration's Middle East plan and annexation of West Bank territory in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2020.
A protest against the Trump administration's Middle East plan and annexation of West Bank territory in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani
Hagai El-Ad
Hagai El-Ad

The full-page ad published in Haaretz on April 24 by Commanders for Israel’s Security cogently explained why Israel has no practical need for a “unilateral annexation.” The ad explained on a solid factual basis, one that sanctifies and enthusiastically touts the current situation, why the way Israel is managing its control of the Palestinians maximizes the benefits for it and minimizes the costs and risks.

As the commanders point out, three main facts characterize the present reality, without formal annexation of all or part of the territory: Israel has full control of all the territory; hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers enjoy full civil rights equivalent to those of Jewish citizens inside the Green Line; and Israel has the Palestinian Authority, which spares it the need to directly manage many aspects of Palestinians’ lives that Israel would prefer not to deal with, certainly not to budget funds for them.

The Israelis don’t need annexation to continue successfully advancing, and at zero cost, the Israeli project on the backs of the Palestinians. The Palestinians don’t need it either to understand Israel’s long-term intention: It has already been doing as it pleases with them and their lands without formal annexation, and they have already realized that Israel has no intention of leaving and that it has no intention of giving them rights or liberty or self-determination or civil equality. So, why the need for annexation?

Years ago, the vast majority of Jewish Israelis made an ugly deal with themselves not to call a spade a spade – that it’s okay to keep on killing and dispossessing Palestinians, to seize their land and build settlements.

One can argue about the details and the pace, but as a rule, there is nearly wall-to-wall consensus to perpetuate the “existing situation” in one variation or another. Those who believe in this for ideological reasons are gratified by the continuation of the settlement-dispossession project. Those in the “center” or “center left” supported it – by their action or silence – as long as they could preserve enough room for denial via the obvious lies about the “temporary” nature of the situation (even after 50 years), its reversibility (even after 600,000 settlers and 250 settlements) and of Israel being a “democratic country” (regularly ignoring the millions of subjects without political rights who live under this same rule).

All this, aside from the main thing: We won’t pay for this. Meaning that all of Israel’s actions in the territories won’t have an international cost in terms of its foreign relations or economy. It was due to such international and economic costs that South Africa’s apartheid regime collapsed. But Israel learned the lesson and acted more cleverly: It didn’t put signs saying “Whites Only” on benches, and it focused on policy-level achievements. In this way Israel became the most successful model of a 21st-century ethno-state without becoming a diplomatic leper.

But after more than 50 years, people in Israel are ready to strike a new internal deal. The time has come to end the show, to remove the masks. No longer people being “dragged” into the situation and others doing the dragging, but broad agreement. This is the real objective of the annexation push: Making the existing situation a matter of open consensus, making it public and official, not something that is supposedly controversial, that supposedly is the subject of some meaningful internal debate.

And really, why settle for less? Annexation of the Jordan Valley is not an invention of extremists that was whispered about in private and held in abeyance until the “extremist” U.S. envoy David Friedman came along and replaced the “moderate” U.S. envoy Dan Shapiro. The copyright belongs to Israel’s Labor Party. In a moment of historic justice, this party has just joined a government that openly declares its intention to realize the vision it has had since the early 1970s, with an updated version of the Allon Plan. The consensus was there even then, despite the ensuing years of prattling about an ideological dispute between right and left – even as Israel effectively annexed the Jordan Valley long ago and operates with brutality to expel the Palestinian communities there.

To return to the ad – this is the “opposition”? Who are they trying to fool? The carefully presented text that opposes “annexation” is itself a racist text, one that is entirely concerned with the interests of Jews and that completely fails to take into account millions of Palestinians, certainly not as human beings with equal rights. Given the prospect of a formal annexation, If what they’re fighting for is just the existing de facto annexation, why should those who have already come out of the closet have to keep carrying on their backs this bunch of cowards that insists on perpetuating a lie in a full-page ad, as if it were really fighting against something?

Such stuttering in the face of this reality is nothing more than a hollow show that essentially constitutes ideological agreement with the existing situation, including the de facto annexation that has already occurred. For the devotees of this apartheid, any other position is always seen as betrayal and collaboration with “supporters of terror.” But such “betrayal” – to fundamentally oppose this apartheid – is the only coherent ideological alternative for anyone who wishes to create a just society here, one that will take into account all human beings, all those who seek life and insist on nothing less than liberty, equality and full rights for all.

Don’t want to be annexed to the – overt or covert – ugly deal that is our life here? Then don’t stutter. Oppose it, for real.

The writer is director of B’tselem.

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