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The Three Most Commonly Held Misconceptions About Israel's Annexation Plan

Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses during a tree planting ceremony in the Israeli settlment of Mevo'ot Yeriho in the West Bank's southern Jordan Valley.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses during a tree planting ceremony in the Israeli settlment of Mevo'ot Yeriho in the West Bank's southern Jordan Valley.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Michael Sfard
Michael Sfard

The public discussion about annexation got started very late, initially due to doubts over the seriousness of the intentions to pursue the move and later due to the coronavirus pandemic. The small window of time remaining for discussion increases the risk that misconceptions and deliberate deceptions surrounding its implications will not be dispelled. Here are three mistakes that have taken hold, even within the “deep” left.

The first and most egregious mistake is the claim that annexation will not change anything, since “In any event there’s de facto annexation” and “Even without annexation the Palestinians are suffering.”

This view leads to a dangerous leftist mutation: quiet support for annexation, in order to “remove the masks.” The approach is a misapprehension of the implication of applying Israeli law in the West Bank. Annexation will necessarily lead to the massive expropriation, automatic in some cases, of Palestinian land and property, the subsequent expulsion of individuals, families and entire communities from the annexed territories and a dramatic rise in the power of the settlers’ local governments, which today are a weak administrative entity that is controlled by the Israel Defense Forces.

Annexation will set off a process of Palestinian dispossession and Israeli development of these areas, the scope and speed of which are impossible without annexation. This process will, for the first time, depend much less on the Israeli government and its policy and much more on the leaders of the settlements. Note, for example, what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about the Jordan Valley in an interview with Israel Hayom last week: The Palestinian communities there “will remain Palestinian enclaved. You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two.” His remarks were not made by chance. There are around 50 Palestinian villages and shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley. As far as Israel is concerned they are illegal, hence come annexation their thousands of residents will become illegal aliens in “Israel,” subject to expulsion from the valley. A similar process will occur in the area of Jerusalem.

An advanced version of “Annexation won’t change anything” warns that fighting annexation while stressing the evils it will bring cast the current situation as not too bad. Indeed, there’s no doubt that the situation is terrible even without annexation, but that doesn’t mean that things couldn’t be worse. One can, and must, oppose both the occupation and annexation.

A second mistake that has gained popularity holds that according to the Trump plan a Palestinian state will be established in the territories not designated for annexation.

Read the proposal. Disregard the colonialist language referring to the conditions under which the Palestinians will be sufficiently advanced to receive a state and go to the part describing what they will get. Only in the American president’s Orwellian language could the term “state” be used to describe what the Trump plan offers the Palestinians. It is an entity that does not have control over the movement of people and goods to it or from it (Israel controls it). It does not have control over its airspace (Israel controls it). It does not have the right to sign certain types of agreements and conventions, its right to join international organization is restricted and even its authority in regard to zoning and planning are subject to an Israeli veto in areas near the border with Israel (nearly everywhere). It’s a state the same way that a chicken is a bird: It has wings and a beak, but it can’t really fly.

Netanyahu knows this. In the same interview with Israel Hayom he said: “[The Palestinians] need to acknowledge that we control security in all areas. If they consent to all this, then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state.... [A]n American statesman told me: ‘But Bibi, it won’t be a state.’ I told him, call it what you want.” Only fundamentalists like the settler leaders, for whom symbols and symbolism are sacred, could object to the Trump plan on the grounds that it calls the Palestinian Bantustan that it envisions a “state.”

A third mistake that has been widely adopted is the position that if we do manage to prevent annexation, the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will go back to the pre-annexation status quo, that is a struggle between the two-state camp and the annexationists.

This analysis ignores the political backlash that averting annexation would ignite. The right has been insanely lucky during the recent few years: Trump became president of the United States, Europe has been weakened by Brexit and other crises, the criminal cases against Netanyahu changed his political calculations and the coronavirus pandemic diverted public attention a moment before Israel initiated a unilateral tectonic shift. All of the stars aligned for the pro-annexation camp, and what appeared to be imaginary just a moment ago suddenly became realistic. Now imagine if the annexation were to be thwarted. For right-wingers, it would be as if the Messiah came and knocked on their door but they were unable to open it. How long would it take for such a perfect constellation to appear once again?

If annexation doesn’t happen within the next few months, it could very well disappear from the agenda for years, becoming irrelevant. The day after annexation is stopped, the occupation will be the same bad old occupation that must be fought, but the political situation will be new. As with every change, it could open the door to new opportunities.

Michael Sfard is a lawyer who specializes in human rights.

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