Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s vow to annex a third of the occupied West Bank if voters return him to office Tuesday is much more than a desperate bid for far-right votes.
The Israeli prime minister has been trying every tactic to hold on to power. But his pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which covers about one-third of the occupied West Bank, as well as all Israeli settlements in that occupied territory, is a game changer.
It officially puts Israel en route to a “one-state solution” in which Palestinian Arabs will soon outnumber the Jewish population in Greater Israel.
Bibi insists he must do it now because he wants to profit from the “unique … opportunity” provided him by the Trump administration. Yet President Donald Trump — who still promises to unveil his long-delayed Mideast peace plan after the Sept. 17 ballot — is blind to the long-range calamity he is helping unleash on the Jewish state.
It is more than 50 years since the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War that Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser foolishly forced on the Jewish state.
After the 1993 Oslo accords, hope bloomed that the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab Jerusalem might finally morph into a Palestinian state that lived peacefully, side-by-side with Israel.
The post-Oslo push for a two-state solution was led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin until he was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing Jewish fanatic. No dove, Rabin believed Israeli security required Jews and Palestinian Arabs to have separate states. If Israel retained the entire West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the Palestinian population would eventually outnumber the number of Jews in Greater Israel.
In that case, Israel would be faced with two impossible choices: Give all Palestinians the vote, which would rule out the idea of a Jewish homeland and guarantee endless conflict -- or rule over a disenfranchised Arab majority in an apartheid mode.
Sadly, the Oslo process failed – no room here to list all the reasons, which included Rabin’s murder and Yasir Arafat’s failures as a Palestinian leader. Irrespective of blame, the demographic conundrum remained.
That’s why many top Israeli generals and security experts pressed for renewed negotiations, for the very reason that Rabin did. For example, around 300 retired IDF generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel’s internal Security Agency), and police equivalents formed Commanders for Israel’s Security in 2015 to push for a regional peace deal; they warned sharply against annexation of the West Bank.
In the past couple of years, emboldened by Trump, members of the Netanyahu government have introduced bills calling for partial or even complete annexation. Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights encouraged a far-right fantasy that the annexation of part or all of the West Bank would be cost-free.
In a recent poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute, nearly half of Jewish Israelis said they would favor annexation of Area C of the West Bank – about 60% of the territory – so long as it was supported by the Trump administration.
Now Bibi – desperate to avoid an indictment on corruption charges that he faces if he leaves office -- has made annexation a central issue. Perhaps this is only an election ploy, but the Israeli leader clearly believes a green light from the White House makes all things possible. He is also counting on Gulf Arab leaders’ worries about Iran to outweigh any concerns about the Palestinians.
Yet Bibi ignores the internal threats that annexation poses to Israel – threats that Rabin understood.
“Even a limited annexation is likely to lead to severe Palestinian violence,” Chuck Freilich, a former deputy Israeli national security adviser, writes in Haaretz. Palestinian security forces would likely cease their vital security cooperation with Israel, forcing the Israeli military to retake military control over the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority might well collapse, forcing Israel to restore direct rule over nearly three million Palestinians.
“Violence is probable in Gaza, too,” Freilich adds. Along with further alienation of Israel’s Arab citizens.
With far-right annexationists setting the agenda, Israel is heading for a one-state reality. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Trump’s former bankruptcy lawyer, said in June that Israel has the right to annex. And the long-delayed peace plan hatched by First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner has taken on an aura of farce.
So Netanyahu and the Israeli far right proceed, indifferent to “the magnitude of the storm they’re about to bring down on Israel’s security and its most foundational ideas,” warns Freilich.