Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly cited July 1 as the date on which the process of “applying sovereignty” to areas of the West Bank would begin, in recent days he has tried to find ways of extricating himself from his promise. One way is through his disagreement with alternate prime minister Benny Gantz over the narrative that explains why the date of annexation would be postponed.
On Monday Netanyahu declared to his Likud colleagues that the annexation “is not up to Kahol Lavan, they are not a factor either way.” It’s not just Netanyahu’s fear that his partners in the government of unity and reconciliation will be portrayed as partners in the historic decisions. The clarification was made in response to Gantz’s comments to Avi Berkowitz, U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Gantz claimed that July 1 is not “a sacred date,” and said that the government needs to help Israeli citizens get back to their jobs and earn a living with dignity before making any political moves.
However, the argument between Netanyahu and Gantz about timing is designed to conceal the real dispute about the annexation itself. The reason why this dispute is not publicized is that opposition to annexation is seen as a left-wing stance, and both parties, each for his own reasons, are not interested in being labeled “leftists.”
That is the high price of the process of delegitimization that the left wing has undergone in recent years. Instead of conducting a basic and incisive discussion about a crucial issue, the only thing possible in Israel’s shrinking democratic space is a petty argument about timing. Netanyahu is caught in a catch-22 that he can’t admit. Even if he doesn’t want annexation, the fact that the U.S. administration has removed its opposition to it has led to the collapse of the systems of checks and balances that enabled him to play a double game with the settlers. Now he is trying to maneuver his way down – in a clumsy and confused manner – from the tall tree he climbed to safe ground.
Netanyahu and Gantz are well aware that Israel cannot annex the territories without risking a Palestinian uprising and a regional conflagration. They also realize that annexation undermines the two-state solution, which is still the only solution to the conflict. If Netanyahu is really concerned about his legacy, he must be taking into account the fact that annexation would pave a new way for turning Israel into a binational state, or alternatively, to official apartheid. Both of these scenarios would at some point lead to the toppling and shattering of the statue that was supposed to mark his legacy.
The millions of Palestinians living in the occupied territories will not disappear because Netanyahu and Trump decided that Israel is entitled to “apply sovereignty.” Not today, nor on July 1 of the next decade, will it be possible to annex without torching both the possibility of a diplomatic solution and Israel’s image as a democratic country.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.