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While most Americans were recovering from Christmas and American Jews were digesting Chinese food, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vowing to his base that he would “deliver an American recognition of applying our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the north of the Dead Sea,” followed by “delivering an American recognition of applying our sovereignty over all the settlements in Judea and Samaria. All, bar-none.”
Bibi just easily won a battle over the leadership of his Likud party, and will lead it to another round of national elections in March. In his victory speech he laid out his goals for the coming years, if he stays in power. Annexation, or, as he put it, “determining our final borders,” was the top objective. “Make no mistake,” he told Likud activists, referring to his delivering an American endorsement of an Israeli annexation of the West Bank, “these historic opportunities that I just mentioned, and which I am already working on, are now within reach.” A day before, urging settlers to vote for him, Netanyahu referred to generating such an American recognition as “the next phase.”
So, there you have it. The next phase of the Israeli right’s annexation scheme will play out in the court of US public opinion. This court “is what counts,” Netanyahu said in his victory speech.
Americans who care about Israel’s future as a democracy, including American Jewish organizations, must do their utmost to thwart this scheme. They must rally to block this devastating drive to formally turn Israel into an international pariah. Netanyahu’s vision of a “final border” would deny Israelis and Palestinians the ability to live in peace in two neighboring sovereign states. It will condemn them to a future of perpetual conflict.
You may think that Netanyahu is bluffing, that his statements are but electioneering rhetoric, that he doesn’t really intend to annex the West Bank. That may be true. But we’ve witnessed what Bibi is capable of doing to pander to his right flank to stay in power, to avoid trial and a possible prison term. Don’t underestimate his brazenness. You may say that Netanyahu won’t be able to deliver, that even Donald Trump’s White House would not go as far as recognizing annexation. Well, Let me introduce you to David Melech Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and the architect of this White House’s Israel policy. His mission and passion are to normalize West Bank settlements and bring them under Israeli sovereignty.
Like the proverbial frog in the pot, many of us have ceased to notice the creeping, de-facto annexation policies of Netanyahu’s government through settlement construction, legalization of unauthorized outposts, and other measures. But the de-jure annexation that Netanyahu is now promising is a paradigm shift. Forget the pot of hot water. What Netanyahu is vowing to do is setting the ablaze the entire habitat, frogs and all.
Polls show that most Israelis support the two-state solution. Most Israelis oppose annexing the West Bank because they realize that such a move would make future peace with the Palestinians impossible. Netanyahu and his national-religious base – a minority within Israeli society – oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and view annexation as the ultimate tool to thwart it.
Annexation would serve the messianic dreams of the religious right, both Israel’s and America’s, but will severely harm Israel’s national security. Commanders for Israel’s Security, an organization that brings together the overwhelming majority of available retired IDF generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet and Police equivalents, strongly opposes annexation and explains why it is a major national security threat.
If the Israeli right’s road to West Bank annexation goes through Washington, then Americans who care about Israel have not only a legitimate role to play, but rather a duty to save Israel from this calamitous adventure.
An overwhelming majority of American Jews support the two-state solution. Most mainstream American Jewish organizations do as well -- at least on paper. And that includes the official pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
If there was ever a time for these groups to demonstrate resolve and courage, to show that they can be a responsible friend of the State of Israel, beyond serving as a cheerleader of its unhinged government policies, that time is now.