Two days before a beaming Donald Trump announced the Deal of the Century at the White House, while standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and backed by a prominent group of settlers, US secret services briefed the President on the appearance of the novel coronavirus in China. He was warned on January 26 that the virus was spreading outside China and that the first infected person had been identified in the state of Washington. Participants at the White House ceremony were smug and content. Trump staged a performance to satisfy his evangelical supporters while providing Bibi with a victory picture for Israel’s third election round in March. Neither of the men imagined the world would be upended.
Trump’s big gift to his friend Netanyahu and his settler companions is annexation of the Jordan Valley and extension of sovereignty over the settlements. Prosperous economies in the US and Israel promised Trump another four years in the White House, while providing Netanyahu with weapons against his domestic rivals. But then one tiny virus swept through the world, the economy went downhill, numerous businesses disappeared and millions of people were suddenly unemployed. What was to be a future electoral feat for Trump, and an immediate one for Netanyahu, evaporated. Trump is dropping in the polls against his rival Joe Biden, both for his utter failure to manage the health crisis and his disgraceful stance on the protest movement that emerged after the murder of George Floyd. Netanyahu for his part rushed to declare victory over the coronavirus and to announce that he would annex the settlements as early as July 1. It’s an historic opportunity, he declared, and who knows what will happen after the US election, especially when Biden has already announced his opposition to unilateral annexation.
Yet the fate of the Jordan Valley and the settlements is of little interest to the Israeli public. People who live in a state that cannot operate the trains, whose schools are closed, with a quarter of its labor force unemployed and thousands of destroyed businesses, are not free for political exercises that have nothing to do with the real world. The public does not understand why Netanyahu is engaged in annexation while the economic crisis is at its height and the health crisis far from over. As for the Deal of the Century, like the rest of Trump’s plans it turns out that it cannot be implemented.
It’s no secret that Trump’s declarations and their execution are two separate things, not necessarily connected in reality. The Deal of the Century created a map dubbed at the time by Palestinian Authority head Abu Abbas as “Swiss cheese,” for it gives the Palestinians a state perforated by 150 settlements, leaving no possibility for territorial contiguity. While the Israeli public does not understand what Netanyahu wants, Israel’s security establishment does not understand his urgency: Why undermine the relative peace and stability guaranteed by security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority? Why threaten relations with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which allows Israel freedom of action in its territories when crossing its border with Iraq? In any case, Israel rules unimpeded, so why stick its finger in the eyes of the Palestinians and Jordanians? Netanyahu, though, is suspicious of the army. In his opinion, the generals have already demonstrated that they are leftist and, like the judiciary and the police, are part of the “deep state.”
Netanyahu is now beset by unexpected trouble. His settler friends, those who celebrated with him in Washington, have discovered that they would wind up being the holes while the cheese remains Palestinian. Judea Samaria and Gaza Council Chairman David Alhayani suddenly understood this, and in a June 3 interview with Haaretz, he revealed that Trump and Kushner “demonstrated that they are not friends of Israel and do not think about its security and settlement interests. They solely wish to promote their own interests and help Trump ahead of the upcoming election.” The dazed Americans were quick to protest the settlers’ behavior, calling them ungrateful, while discovering that their plan is creating a crisis that could ruin the prospect of an agreement.
At the same time, the Deal of the Century faces opposition from what remains of the Left. In an anti-annexation demonstration in Tel Aviv on June 6, Palestinian flags stood out beside the red flags of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), as well as Meretz and relics of Labor, all calling once again for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The shrinking Israeli Left appears to deny the reality created in the past 26 years, a reality that it helped create. In the minds of Hadash supporters, for example, communism is still alive and kicking, the PLO is still leading the struggle for national liberation, the Oslo Accords are still relevant, and nothing that has happened since then has altered reality. The fact that Gaza has disengaged from the West Bank, with Hamas and Fatah fighting each other, does not change their two-state paradigm.
Common to the opponents of annexation, from both Right and Left, is their disregard for the realities on the ground. The extreme Right wants sovereignty over much of the West Bank. It wants to transform the Palestinian Authority into a municipal authority controlling most of the Palestinian population, thus keeping them, despite annexation, from getting civil rights in Israel. The Left fears that Israel will lose its Jewish majority and cease to be democratic. Both Left and Right are unwilling to grant the Palestinians the right to vote and be elected in the framework of a single state. They want to give the Palestinians a state in name only, but one which in essence will be no more than a limited governmental authority. In both instances, those who want to impose sovereignty over the entire territory and those who want to “part as friends,” find that this is not possible. The Palestinians are connected to Israel in all walks of life, from use of the same currency to workplaces and to the popular Rami Levy supermarket chain.
Away from the settlers’ demonstrations and the legions of the Old Left, both publics, Israeli and Palestinian, lick their corona wounds. While the Left and Right are united in their opposition to the Deal of the Century, the Palestinian public remains indifferent and does not understand why this quarrel is occurring. For it, annexation would not change its lived reality. Like his Israeli counterpart, the Palestinian worker in the Palestinian Authority was furloughed and promised NIS 700. This isn’t much, although it’s something. Yet, like the other promises of the Palestinian Authority, it remains unfulfilled. The Palestinians do not believe that a Palestinian state can arise, and they certainly don’t want to live in what would be called a state under Abu Mazen or Hamas.
It seems that like its predecessors, the Deal of the Century is to be thrown into the garbage bin of history because no one is interested. Trump is preoccupied with the chaotic reality he created with his own two hands. Abu Mazen is threatening and grumbling. Netanyahu faces a settlers’ uprising, the opposition of the security establishment, and the indifference of the Israeli public, whose big dream is not to return to its biblical homeland but to the good life it had pre-Corona. The failure of the Deal of the Century proves to those who have not yet been convinced that a partition-based solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer applicable.
The reality that the Left and the Right are trying to ignore is that we live in one country, under one sovereignty, share one currency, one tax regime and one geographical unit that can no longer be divided. This country is split into two contradictory political regimes: Israel gives its citizens democracy, freedom of movement and rule of law. In contrast, Palestinian residents live without basic civil rights, without freedom of movement, without rule of law and without democracy. It is an apartheid regime for all intents and purposes. The solution therefore lies not in partition but in one democratic state that gives all its citizens, Palestinians and Israelis, absolute equality of rights.