Under cover of COVID-19, with full U.S. backing, Israel is poised to take a step that will dramatically alter its character and risk its future security.
As Israel swears in a new government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preparing to unilaterally annex around 30% of the Palestinian West Bank.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is visiting Israel this week, has said annexation is “ultimately Israel’s decision to make.” The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has said Washington will recognize the move, which is likely to come within weeks.
Yet this U.S-backed territory grab will put Israel firmly on the road to a one-state reality in which Arabs outnumber Jews in a Greater Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. That is a formula that leads to the end of a Jewish democratic state.
So why is the Trump administration reversing decades of U.S. policy supporting a two-state solution? Even though Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have long been moribund, the situation on the ground is stable without any pressing need to rule out the prospect of two states when the region is more stable in the future.
The answer is that President Donald Trump is promoting his own so-called “peace deal,” concocted by first son-in-law Jared Kushner, that totally adopts Netanyahu’s longtime vision for the West Bank. (This is why Palestinians have already rejected it.) No doubt his vision is driven more by the prospect of pleasing his evangelical base than by any grasp of the region.
He likely has little appreciation that he’s driving Israel toward the stark opposite of “peace.”
Once Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, along with 132 Jewish-recognized settlements (some the size of cities) and 124 Jewish outposts, Palestinians will officially be divided into many disconnected cantons of land, connected by tunnels and bridges (including a link to Gaza).
As described by Netanyahu, it would be a “state-minus, autonomy-plus,” meaning Palestinians would be essentially limited to local control over disconnected cantons of land. Israel would maintain overall control over borders, sea and airspace, foreign trade, bandwidth, water, etc., for the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian voting rights would be limited to choosing mayors or leaders of this Swiss cheese patchwork territory, which had almost no powers of its own.
Ambassador Friedman, a major backer of the Israeli settlement movement, claims that Trump’s plan “gives Palestinians a clear path to statehood and a huge influx of economic investment.”
Not only is the “path to statehood” a mirage, but so is the promise of prosperity. As has been proven time and again, investors will shy away from the West Bank and Gaza so long as their political status remains unsettled, with uncertainty of whether goods can get to market.
A state-minus of noncontiguous patches of territory won’t become Singapore – the rich statelet cited by Kushner as a model – but will remain dependent on doing low-end jobs for Israeli companies and firms.
In other words, far from offering the Palestinians a great opportunity for a state, as the White House claims, Israel’s upcoming annexation plans make Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza permanent. And Trump’s support for annexation spells big trouble for Israel down the road.
I say this not just because annexation will fuel the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement around the world, including in Europe. Or because I believe it will cause trouble with Israel’s Arab neighbors (yes, it will create a dangerous rift with neighboring Jordan, but most Arab countries are focused on other serious problems right now).
But rather, the deep danger will come within Greater Israel. Deprived of any chance of their own state, Palestinians will inevitably gravitate toward demanding equal rights within Greater Israel – meaning one person, one vote – a movement that is likely to garner global support and comparisons with apartheid South Africa.
Already, the number of Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, plus Palestinian citizens of Israel, is approximately equal to the number of Jewish citizens of Israel. In a one-state solution, Palestinian Arabs would outnumber Jews.
Having covered the Israel-Palestine issue for decades, including six years based in Jerusalem as a Middle East correspondent, I believe a binational, one-man, one-vote state is a fantasy. In a region where all politics is intensely communal, neither Israelis nor Palestinians will accept control by the other.
My feelings echo those of Joel Singer, a noted international lawyer who worked for both Likud and Labor governments for almost 25 years negotiating peace and other agreements with all of Israel’s neighbors, including the Palestinians.
Singer told me: “A Swiss cheese reality cannot stand,” referring to the West Bank. “A one-state movement is inevitable in the long run.
“The real threat to Israel is becoming a Palestinian Jewish country with possible eternal cycles of violence and (temporary) peace with no way out. Israel will be like Northern Ireland or Lebanon, with a new reality of endless civil war.”
This is the road down which the Trump peace plan is pushing the Israeli state.
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Write to Rubin at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101, or by email at email@example.com.
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