Will a wounded Netanyahu pursue a Palestinian land-grab?
Netanyahu’s extreme-right Cabinet allies are, meanwhile, talking up plans to annex large tracts of Palestinian land. The White House denied Netanyahu’s boasts that he was coordinating such projects with them. Nevertheless, it was Donald Trump’s unilateral attempt to alter Jerusalem’s status that provided a green light for such expansionist schemes.
Whenever I write about Israel, armies of trolls vigorously go on the attack, claiming that Palestinians don’t want compromise, saying: “They want all of Israel for themselves.” However, the real threat is that Palestinians will be left with nothing at all. It has become a right-wing talking point that “there never was a place called Palestine,” as if they could erase centuries of history, or that 70 years later Palestinians would simply forget their heritage. Even former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir acknowledged that, until the mid-20th century, Palestine represented the lands “between the Mediterranean and the Iraqi border.” “I’m a Palestinian,” she asserted. “From 1921 until 1948, I carried a Palestinian passport.”
Among the proposals for stealing Palestinian lands under discussion by Netanyahu’s government is the plan submitted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, annexing the entirety of “Area C” — or about two-thirds of the West Bank. Area C, as defined in previous peace proposals, constitutes rural areas and the vast Jordan Valley. Areas A and B are primarily urbanized, meaning that Palestinians would be left with a handful of besieged “islands.”
Israeli and American critics have questioned what would happen to the 300,000 Palestinians living within Area C. The laws of demographics are inexorably working against Israel; absorbing so many Arabs would swing the balance still further. The resulting forest of internal borders (at least 1,200 kilometers of fencing around 169 Palestinian “islands”) would furthermore be indefensible, given the inevitability of conflict if such a project was implemented.
But such reservations miss the point about how the Israeli extreme-right envisages a “final solution” to its Palestinian problem. Such a project would precipitate a third intifada, providing the perfect pretext for dislodging inhabitants from Area C and other marginal areas, and sending thousands into exile — exactly as extremists like Avigdor Lieberman have long demanded. Just as Ariel Sharon sought to extinguish the Second Intifada with huge walls that displaced tens of thousands of citizens, new walls boxing Palestinians into dense slums around Nablus, Hebron, Jenin and Ramallah are their solution to a future uprising.
Such events would destroy the Palestinian Authority and turn remaining Palestinian enclaves into refugee camps, requiring permanent humanitarian assistance. Commercial activity would be impossible under siege, particularly after stealing the agricultural lands upon which the economy is based. With America slashing existing Palestinian funding, where would the billions of dollars of additional assistance come from? Or would Palestinians be left to starve?
We must hope that the long overdue recognition by Israel’s judicial system that their prime minister is a criminal will give space for a very different kind of leadership, bringing to power center-ground parties that could actively pursue the cause of peace and marginalize extremists.
It has long been right-wing orthodoxy that the entire land was divinely bestowed upon the Jews, making compromise abhorrent. How are we supposed to argue with such blinkered fundamentalism? Netanyahu and his allies have consistently killed off all prospects of compromise deals, giving themselves the time and space to take everything.
A decade ago, such a brutal vision would have been inconceivable. However, the Trump administration has already happily handed over Jerusalem and doggedly fights Israel’s corner at the UN. When US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley patronizingly ticks off the Palestinian president for rejecting the theft of Jerusalem, this insults the dignity of all Palestinians. Haley, Rex Tillerson, Jared Kushner and Trump have zero understanding of Palestinian aspirations. They make matters a thousand times worse by enforcing solutions entirely on Israel’s terms.
Europe and the rest of the world have become embarrassingly irrelevant, and not just concerning Palestine: A massacre of civilians is unfolding in Eastern Ghouta, yet one feels that Moscow’s obstructionism is doing the West a favour by providing excuses as to why action is supposedly impossible. The Arab world, meanwhile, is caught between the hammer of Iran and the anvil of Israel. Only by assertively challenging the expansionist policies of both can Arab states safeguard their stability and sovereignty.
Netanyahu and Bennett’s plans fundamentally underestimate the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinian cause has been in a bad place for over a decade, under divided and rudderless leaderships. Such a dramatic onslaught would mobilize Palestinians who have already been galvanized by the Jerusalem issue. Courageous individuals like Ahed Al-Tamimi have risked everything to inspire a new generation against the evils of occupation. By making this a matter of life and death, Israel would be faced with an uprising of 4.7 million Palestinians, forcing this issue back into the world’s attention.
Such a plan would represent a massive overplaying of the Zionist right’s hand, proving that platitudes about a shared peace were always a lie. It would impact Israeli public opinion when they realise that such a land-grab undermines domestic security and turns Israel into a pariah state. Even most right-thinking Americans would be repelled by such policies. We have repeatedly witnessed the radicalizing impact of creating a dispossessed generation of young people with nothing to lose. If Israel sets such forces in motion, neither they nor traditional Palestinian leaderships could put this genie back in the bottle.
We hope that the long overdue recognition by Israel’s judicial system that their prime minister is a criminal will give space for a very different kind of leadership, bringing to power center-ground parties that could actively pursue the cause of peace and marginalize extremists.
The only solution for Palestine is a shared solution: Arabs and Israelis living side-by-side under the tenets of a just peace, as the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative envisaged. This means a shared Jerusalem and the evacuation of illegal settlements whose principle motive was preventing a contiguous Palestinian state. It is obvious to all those who care about justice and truth that deviating from such a wise blueprint can only condemn us to endless bloodshed and humanitarian catastrophe.