The fifth Netanyahu government has started off, with its primary role being to tackle the Coronavirus. It is forbidden to discuss, legislate, engage with or even think about any subject other than Corona, which has become the glue binding together two people who don’t believe each other. It is not a coincidence that the coalition agreement looks most like a tenancy agreement that ensures the landlord will not evict the tenant from the property while the tenant will maintain the property and return it in good shape to the owner at the end of the tenancy. However, the shrewd landlord managed to sneak in a clause allowing him to completely alter the property without the tenant being allowed to object. The prohibition against discussing anything but Corona does not apply to one issue: annexation.
With or without Corona, Netanyahu is working to fulfill Trump’s promise of supporting Israeli sovereignty over the settlements. This is written in Article 29 of the coalition agreement, which states: “After discussion and consultation between the Prime Minister and the Alternate Prime Minister on the principles outlined above, the Prime Minister will be able to bring the agreement reached with the United States on the application of sovereignty as of 1.7.2020 to the Cabinet and Government , and for approval by the government and / or the Knesset. ” The annexation is undoubtedly a small frog that Gantz and Ashkenazi were forced to swallow. They attempted to include restrictions in Article 28 of the agreement, such as the requirement that annexation be made in coordination with the United States “while striving to safeguard the security and strategic interests of the State of Israel and the need for maintaining regional stability.” Articles 28 and 29, however, essentially conflict.
The military’s position is clear, expressed in an article written by Major General Amos Gilad, who headed the Defense-Political Division of the Ministry of Defense. On May 13, 2020 in Yedioth Ahronoth, Gilad wrote “The annexation plan is a blow that could harm Israel’s national security. … There is no need for annexation, because our status is recognized and annexation will serve to undermine it.” In other words, the need to annex is not a strategic security need but a political one, designed to address the whims of the ideological right in Israel and Trump’s evangelical supporters.
It can be stated that the army today perceives Netanyahu as acting to undermine the foundations of democracy in order to perpetuate his rule. The rift between the army and Netanyahu erupted in full force in March 2016 with the case of Elor Azaria. Azaria, a soldier, shot and killed Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, after the latter was already neutralized, wounded and sprawling on the ground following his attack on a group of soldiers in Hebron. Azaria was strongly condemned by both the Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, but he was warmly backed by Netanyahu, who even called Azaria’s father to express his support. This affair seems to have been a turning point in Israeli politics, as Ya’alon resigned from government and later joined former Chiefs of Staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi with the clear goal of ending Netanyahu’s political career.
Netanyahu, for his part, sees the army as part of what the right wing calls the Deep State. In Israel this term usually refers to a putative conspiracy of the law enforcement system – the High Court, the prosecutor’s office and the police – as well as the media, all of which are said to be aiming for a government coup. Here Netanyahu finds a partner in Trump, who also considers himself a victim of the relationship between the FBI, Justice Department, intelligence community and, of course, fake news, all of which seek to overthrow him.
The coalition agreement does not put an end to the conflict between the parties. Netanyahu continues to undermine the High Court’s status, threatening that any intervention in the content of this astonishing coalition agreement will lead to a fourth election; meanwhile, the date of his trial approaches and his attacks on the State Attorney’s Office increase. The annexation clause is intended to strike a winning blow against the Israeli left, end the illusion of two states forever and leave the Right with sole control over Israel’s political discourse.
The results of annexation are not just political, but also strategic at the highest level. In his paper, Gilad points out that annexation will lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the return of direct military occupation. This is also the stance of Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, who are counting on Trump’s common sense to prevent so irreversible a move. Yet Trump’s behavior in the Corona epidemic creates grave doubt about his common sense; on his way to the abyss, Trump seems ready to drag the Middle East and the rest of the world down with him.
The military’s representatives in the new government, Gantz and Ashkenazi, cannot rely on Trump’s sanity to prevent annexation. Yet annexation’s opponents, who seek a two-state solution, cannot rely on the military, which advocates for the status quo. There is no need to annex, military officials say, as nothing truly undermines our control of the West Bank. The military, as well as the General Security Services, see a huge advantage in continuing the arrangements set out in the Oslo Accords, most notably the security coordination between the PA and Israel.
Members of the Israeli left and the security establishment agree on one thing: “The big question is,” writes Gen. Gilad, “what would be the nature of Israel. If there were one state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, it would not have a Jewish majority – this is a real threat to our future.” This was the consensus of all the Jewish forces, from Yesh Atid to Meretz, that recommended Gantz to the President as the one to form a government. Everyone wanted to preserve Israel’s character as Jewish and democratic. The Arab Joint List, on the other hand, recommended Gantz out of hatred for Netanyahu and love for Abu Mazen.
Unlike Trump, Netanyahu has thus far demonstrated—both in managing the Corona crisis and in dealing with the PA—that he is connected to reality. He understands perfectly well that the PA’s collapse will confront Israel with a completely different political and security situation. While Trump’s Deal of the Century gives a green light to unilateral annexation of the settlements, it also seeks to obtain the PA’s consent. One might venture to say that if Netanyahu believes that annexation will result in collapse of the Oslo Accords and an end to the PA, he will not annex.
However, the 25-year existence of the PA demonstrates that its desire to continue control at all costs, together with its corrupt and tyrannical nature, allows Israel to do everything it wants while continuing security coordination between the parties. It is worth noting that this coordination continued even after the US embassy was opened in Jerusalem, even after the declaration of the Deal of the Century, and even after Israel deducted from the taxes it collects for the PA the amount the PA gives to the families of prisoners. And so, although the horizon for a political settlement leading to a Palestinian state has long since disappeared, Abu Mazen insists on continuing this farce, acting as the sole president and ruler of the Palestinian state.
In the end, the annexation won’t make much difference in terms of the reality on the ground. The occupation will be the same occupation, the settlements will remain in place and the Palestinians will continue to depend on Israel for everything. The only thing the annexation will do is expose what has been known to every Palestinian citizen for a long time, that the Palestinian state is nothing more than an illusion intended to cover the PA’s nakedness, allowing total Israeli control over the West Bank and its residents.
The State of Israel is Jewish and democratic in the imaginations of all who are afraid to look in the mirror. These people cover their racism and fear of the Palestinians with the illusion that democracy can be applied to the occupier and not to the occupied. One does not have to wait for annexation to realize that we are living in a de facto apartheid regime that controls a Bantustan whose citizens have no civil rights and are at the mercy of the occupier. Instead of repeating the “two-state” mantra, those who want to respond to the Right should put forward a genuine democratic alternative. In the current reality, this can only be the granting of civil rights to all Palestinian citizens, including the right to elect and be elected, within a single egalitarian state without distinctions of nationality, religion or race.