The July 1st deadline has come and gone, and annexation hasn’t arrived. But don’t celebrate yet. It’s delayed not cancelled. The Trump White House is divided on the details; the international protest is stronger than expected; and Israel has a renewed coronavirus crisis that ought to be getting its government’s full attention.
But with Donald Trump’s polling numbers in the US tumbling and rumours that he may even drop out of the November election if he thinks he can’t win, Prime Minister Netanyahu will be wanting to get the ball rolling on annexation as soon as possible.
And once it’s on the Knesset statute books will it ever come off? Like the Settlements project, annexation will creep forward month by month and year by year until the desired new status quo is achieved. That means enlarged Israeli sovereignty/apartheid (ultimately including the Jordan Valley), total control of security from ‘the river to the sea’ and disconnected, semi-autonomous Palestinian Bantustans. Trump will have been the enabler, but the political legacy will be Netanyahu’s to enjoy and the Palestinians to endure.
If you’re looking for a simple explainer for what’s coming, try this 7-minute video from the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.
What’s been notable over the last few months, is the way in which even the prospect of annexation has revealed so much about the nature of the Israel/Palestine situation. There is a parallel to be drawn with how Covid-19 has also been an exposer of truths about the unfairness and inequalities of societies around the world. Perhaps, annexation is just a subset of the surfacing of injustice which we’ve seen across the globe in 2020 and which has stirred locked-down populations to question their tolerance for institutionalised immorality.
Here’s three examples of ‘truth telling’ which annexation has revealed.
Annexation reveals the reality of the power relationships
Far too often in global political debate Israel/Palestine is presented as a conflict. A conflict between two ‘sides’; a conflict between competing nationalisms; or between a democracy and terrorism; or even a religious war between ‘Judeo-Christianity’ and Islam. We constantly hear that both ‘sides’ must ‘make peace’ through ‘direct negotiations’ as if they have equal standing and equal resources to make their case. Annexation has shown us how wrong all these presentations are. Israel/Palestine is about power – who has it and who does not.
Only Israel has the power, and the powerful friends, to act unilaterally to change the course of history. The Palestinians have no Settlements on Israeli land. The Palestinians have nothing to annex and no sovereignty they can ‘extend’. The Palestinians did not take land in war and then use legalised theft to dominate the territory. Trump’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ is not “the deal of the century” or even a “realistic two-state solution”, it is a final document demanding everlasting Palestinian submission.
This time though there is no convincing or coherent narrative of Israeli security to justify this expression of the power dynamic. There is no gathering of Arab forces on the border. There are no PLO ‘terrorist vipers’ in Beirut. No suicide bombers in Tel Aviv. No Hezbollah threat in southern Lebanon. No Hamas rockets landing on Sderot. No nuclear weapons directed from Tehran. This is the simple application of power by one people over another and it exposes, for all the world to see, the true dynamic on the ground.
Israel is a state willing and able to ignore international law; willing and able to deny Palestinians freedom of movement and future access to their land; willing and able to create apartheid for Palestinians while maintaining democracy for Jews.
Annexation is a truth teller.
Annexation reveals the only version of Zionism that matters
There’s a good reason why moderate (Liberal) Zionists have felt so concerned about the prospect of annexation. If it goes ahead, their preferred version of Zionism, one based on two states for two peoples, will finally get the decent burial service it’s needed for some time. And when that happens Liberal Zionism goes out of business.
It won’t be the first version of Zionism that loses its meaning and its relevance.
The cultural Zionism of Asher Ginsberg was over by the 1920s, if it ever really had traction.
The bi-national Zionism of Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, and Henrietta Szold never took hold.
The socialist state building Zionism of David Ben-Gurion was only ever socialism for Jews and was over by 1977 when Likud first won power.
The Oslo Zionism of Rabin and Peres was murdered by a right-wing Jewish fanatic and anyway amounted to less than it sounded.
The only variety of Zionism still on offer is the ethno-nationalist creed of Benjamin Netanyahu and the many politicians in Israel who sit to his right in the Knesset.
Annexation has revealed that the notion that there is a spectrum of Zionism (from left to right or moderate to extreme) is in practice a myth, or at best wishful thinking.
So how will Annexation play out in the UK where Liberal Zionism is the dominant outlook across the Jewish community?
Meanwhile, the Board of Deputies, the body which purports to represent British Jewry to the wider world, has made a vow of silence on the issue, pleading that its job is to hold the community together and not take sides in a divisive debate. It’s not a good look, nor, based on past behaviour, a very convincing one.
A letter by high profile Jewish figures addressed to the outgoing Israeli ambassador to London, concluded by saying that annexation would: “…pose an existential threat to the traditions of Zionism in Britain…”. They are right about that. The relationship between British Jews and Israel is on the brink of imploding. Not even the Board of Deputies will be able to hold a convincing consensus together.
And to escalate an already dire situation for Zionism in Britain, Israel has just appointed Tzipi Hotovely, an extreme pro-Settler politician with zero interest in a two-state solution to be its new ambassador to the Court of St James. It’s a truly disastrous appointment if you care about the survival of Zionism in Britain. But if, like me, you think Zionism has had its day, it will be fun to watch Hotovely pouring petrol on the fire.
Today, the only Zionism that matters is the version soon to arrive in London and primed to defend annexation. If you don’t like it, it’s time to find a new vision for the Jewish future and a new way for Jews to relate to the State of Israel.
And there’s a further conflict brewing between the Board of Deputies and the Labour Party. But this time the Board will not win. Last weekend, Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, announced that if Israel goes ahead with annexation, her party will call for a trade boycott against the West Bank Settlements.
“It is a shameful proposition to which the UK cannot be a silent witness.”
It’s too little and too late, but it marks a significant shift in Labour policy and goes further than Labour’s last manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn. The president of the Board of Deputies was not happy.
“The tactic of BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] is divisive and seeks to strike at the very legitimacy of the State of Israel, the Middle East’s only democracy and the world’s only Jewish State.”
It was the usual boilerplate response to anyone calling for sanctions against Israel of any description, under any circumstances. But this time is sounds like a bum note from a busted instrument – out of tune with how the public will view Israel, and indeed how a great many British Jews will see things too. Using words like “legitimacy” and “democracy” in the context of annexation and the further assault on Palestinian rights shows a shocking lack of ethical understanding, not to mention self-awareness. Sanctions against Israel may finally have come of age.
Annexation is a truth teller.
Annexation reveals the tortured relationship between Israel, Zionism and diaspora Jews
The annexation debate is revealing much that has always been peculiar and often incoherent about the nature of the relationship between Israel and Jews living in the diaspora.
If, like me, you grew up in synagogue community and a Jewish youth movement you would have learnt and been encouraged to feel that Israel is core to your Jewish identity.
In return, Israel gives us diaspora Jews a privileged status and the ‘right of return’ to our ‘ancestral homeland’.
I can think of no other country that claims to be the state, not of its citizens, but of a global ethno-religious grouping. I can think of no other group of people who sees its relationship to a nation state as not just historic or religious but metaphysical in its dimensions and complexity. It’s as if without this state I/we cannot truly exist, nor can my/our identity as a Jew be fully expressed.
In just 70 years a religious/political ideology, a reading of Jewish history, a world view about antisemitism, has created a deep emotionally constructed paradigm that now dominates every aspect of formal, organised Jewish life. No wonder we get so vexed about the politics of Israel and its global reputation. We have been super-sensitised to this state, and the Zionist thinking that underpins it, since the day we were born.
But annexation is cracking the paradigm open and surfacing truths that were always there if you were brave enough to look.
Our national refuge, our national redemption, has been built on the wrecked existence of the Palestinian people. And with annexation, we are about to begin the final phase of their long and tortured dispossession.
Our project of salvation was only possible through a colonialism informed by Jewish exceptionalism and an eccentric application of European nationalism. With appalling irony, we took the very elements that had plagued Jewish history for millennia and inflicted them on another people.
We cannot undo this history, but we can choose to confront it. Now would be a good moment.
Annexation is a truth teller.
Post annexation re-think
Covid-19 is generating much reflection about values and priorities all around the world. We are awash with post-pandemic re-thinking. Our tolerance for poverty, racism, unfairness and inequality has worn thin during these last few months.
That makes Zionism (certainly the only version of it that’s still left standing) looking more out of touch and out of date than ever before. Annexation will push it firmly over the line into the wrong side of history. Ideologies that use narratives of exceptionalism and security for one ethnic-religious group at the expense of another, need to be consigned to museums and academic history courses, along with statues of slave traders and confederate generals. We’ve had enough of it, and enough of the people who find excuses for it.
In the short term, the future looks bleak. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that change can happen rapidly, and public opinion can change radically. What looks unbreakable now can be shattered tomorrow.
Annexation is a truth teller. Listen to the truth.