Veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar of Al-Monitor spoke at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC on February 20, in discussion with APN’s Debra Shushan. The focus of the event was recent steps towards annexation of the West Bank and the state of the settlement enterprise in the Trump-Netanyahu era.
Akiva argued that while Ariel Sharon’s plan in 1977 to settle one million Jewish Israelis in the West Bank over a 10-year period failed, the settlement enterprise and annexationist agenda have moved forward through other means. Pressed by Shushan to elaborate on the aspects of annexation, Eldar detailed a number of complementary forms of annexation (territorial, security, and legal/administrative) but alighted upon the mentality of annexation as the most potent development. By erasing the Green Line from textbooks, building bypass highways, and referring to “unauthorized outposts” (endowing other settlements with an air of legality), the Israeli government is blurring the lines between Israel and the settlements. Fifty years on from 1967, most Israelis know no reality other than occupation, which has become normalized.
Eldar and Shushan noted that recent legislation advancing through the Knesset seeks to “legalize” annexation (which is deemed illegal under international law). In particular, Eldar highlighted the so-called Regularization Law, which retroactively “legalizes” outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land. Among other developments, he noted a recently passed law which extends the authority of Israel’s Council for Higher Education to universities in the settlements. The arts are not exempt from this process: the Ministry of Culture has made funding for the arts dependent on recipients agreeing to perform in the settlements.
When asked by Shushan if Netanyahu favors annexation, Eldar indicated that Netanyahu does not favor annexation now. This could galvanize public opinion abroad and bring international condemnation of Israel. Instead, he advocates playing a long game, consolidating Israel’s existence, military power, and presence in the West Bank while anti-annexation norms gradually erode.
Shushan pressed Eldar to offer prescriptions for interrupting the slide toward annexation. Eldar argues that the US must play a principal role, as it did in the days when President George H. W. Bush conditioned Israeli loan guarantees on freezing settlements. With little hope for such bold action while President Donald Trump is in office, Eldar stressed the importance of American civil society, particularly the American Jewish community, in reshaping discourse on the occupation. Organizations such as Americans for Peace Now and J Street can and do play critical roles in highlighting the threat the occupation poses to Israel’s future and advocating for US policies that will help to bring peace.
This event was co-hosted by Americans for Peace Now, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and J Street DC Metro.