It was to have been the crowning pre-election promise. With it, Benjamin Netanyahu, the man who has dominated Israel for much of three decades, calculated on delivering the coup de grace to his political rivals on the settler right. Avigdor Lieberman the kingmaker? No more.
But Netanyahu’s announcement that he was going to annex the Jordan Valley, and with it nearly one-third of the West Bank, did not turn out like that.
Netanyahu boasted that he would be able to annex all the settlements in the heart of his homeland, thanks to “my personal relationship with President Trump”.
But US President Donald Trump, this time, refused to play ball.
The White House issued a statement saying there was no change in US policy at this time, and to reinforce the point, Trump sacked his national security adviser, John Bolton, long seen in Jerusalem as their man in Washington.
Maariv correspondent Ben Caspit claimed that Netanyahu had asked Trump for the same recognition of the annexation of the Jordan Valley that he had received for the Golan Heights. Bolton was up for it, but Trump refused.
Caspit and other correspondents all pointed out that Netanyahu did not even need to ask Trump’s permission to annex the Jordan Valley, which turns out to have a very different legal history from the Golan Heights, which is captured Syrian territory.
Netanyahu only needs a simple majority in the Knesset to annex the Jordan Valley, because the law that enables him to do this already exists. A law passed by left-wing MPs in 1967 amended an ordinance dating from the British Mandate, which authorised the government to issue a decree stating which parts of Palestine the jurisdiction and administration of the state of Israel would apply to. This law allowed the government of Levi Eshkol to annex East Jerusalem in 1967.
No matter. One spectacular no-show was followed by another – his own.
Netanyahu had to be hustled offstage by bodyguards in the middle of a campaign speech in Ashdod, in southern Israel, when rockets fired from Gaza set off air-raid sirens. This was a reminder to Netanyahu and all Israeli settlers of the land in which they had pitched their tent.
The PA fiction
No amount of annexation will stop this conflict. It’s irrelevant to Palestinians how their lands are occupied, or whether indeed another 33 percent will be ripped off the 20 percent of historic Palestine left to them.
It’s sophistry for them to know in which enclave, bantustan or prison they are held; or whether indeed the Palestinian Authority (PA) is dissolved; or whether President Mahmoud Abbas hands back the keys to the West Bank to the nearest Israeli army commander. As it is, Abbas has to apply for Israeli military permission every time he moves.
The PA does not really exist, except as a means by which Israel gets Palestinian policemen to clear the streets before their forces enter on nightly raids all over the West Bank
The PA does not really exist, except as a means by which Israel gets Palestinian policemen to clear the streets before their forces enter on nightly raids all over the West Bank.
The autonomy of Area A is largely a fiction. If the PA were to dissolve, Israel’s only concern would be for around 100,000 arms held by Palestinian security forces.
Due to their hollowed-out nature, all Palestinian institutions and structures have become largely irrelevant – except as a source of income – to Palestinians themselves. It matters not who carries out the occupation, or how many laws are passed depriving them of their national identity, property rights and state.
Whatever happens and however many enclaves are created for Palestinians, the demographic core of this conflict will remain the same: there are now more Palestinians than Israeli Jews between the river and the sea.
The deputy head of the Civil Administration, Maj Gen Haim Mendes, presented the following figures at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee last December: there are now 6.8 million Palestinians between the river and the sea (five million in Gaza and West Bank, and 1.8 million inside Israel and East Jerusalem). This compares with 6.6 million Israeli Jews announced by the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel.
The only way the core of the conflict would be changed is if, or when, Israel conducts another mass expulsion or act of ethnic cleansing, as happened in 1948 and 1967.
Israeli Jews are becoming the minority in what they claim to be their own land, and can only impose their supremacy through apartheid
Barring that, life for Palestinians will not change. This means that whatever statements are made in election campaigns, Israeli Jews are becoming the minority in what they claim to be their own land, and can only impose their supremacy through apartheid.
While this does nothing to change the state of subjugation imposed on Palestinians in their own land, it does change Israel’s narrative among political elites in Europe and the US, on whom Israel has lavished billions of shekels courting.
Before annexation, and when “land for peace” was still the dominant narrative of the Oslo process, the political class of left and right in Britain, the US and across Europe could espouse mutually exclusive visions of a solution to the conflict at one and the same time.
They could vow to be “supporters of Israel”, while simultaneously espousing the right to Palestinian self-determination in a putative – but never realisable – Palestinian state.
Forfeiting international legitimacy
As far as this applied to Israel, the myth they were perpetrating was that there was something called “Israel proper”, which was internationally recognised – and then, alas (heavy sigh), there were things called settlements, which were illegal, but (another heavy sigh) what can we possibly do about that? Closely allied to this was the thought that if only the two sides could compromise, a territorial solution could be found.
With annexation as the official policy, all of that changes. The moment the state of Israel considers settlements as part of it, is the moment when “Israel proper” ceases to exist. The whole of Israel becomes one settlement. The state of Israel forfeits its international legitimacy.
If annexation is toxic to Israel’s international image as an advanced European state in a desert of wild, unreasonable and excitable Arabs, it is even more lethal to the prospect of building and maintaining a Jewish state internally.
The most damaging concession that Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organisation made during the Oslo process was not the recognition of the state of Israel, but the abandonment of Palestinians – 20 percent of the population – living in it.
Fighting for sovereignty
This created all sorts of anomalies. Jerusalem was the heart of the conflict and the capital of the Palestinian state, but the PA, as such, had no authority over the Jerusalemites living there.
For large parts of the peace process, the 1948 Palestinians – those who were allowed to stay behind, or who were internally displaced when the state of Israel was created – formed no part of the struggle against occupation. They had Israeli citizenship and were called by their masters Israeli Arabs.
Annexation changes all of that. It wipes out, at a stroke, all the carefully erected walls that Israel has built to divide Palestinians from one another, creating a monitored gradation of prison blocks. Gaza, the West Bank, the ’48 Palestinians and the diaspora all become one people fighting for sovereignty in their own land.
Without knowing it, annexation is destroying the Zionist dream of a Jewish majority state from within.
However many Arab leaders they buy, Israel continually stokes the wrath of Arabs and Muslims wherever they live
Those Palestinian leaders who were not assassinated or jailed by Israel were vital for the maintenance of the status quo, under which areas such as the Jordan Valley were effectively annexed, although not in name.
It is not as if Palestinians can use and farm the Jordan Valley, their most fertile land, now. It spans some 160,000 hectares and comprises almost 30 percent of the West Bank. Israel exploits almost all of the Jordan Valley for its own needs and bars Palestinians from entering or using about 85 percent of the area, be it for construction, infrastructure, shepherding or family.
In 2016, there were 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 settlers living there. This means that a minority of the population are allowed to roam in 85 percent of the land.
A slow death
Israel does not need to annex the Jordan Valley. It has done so effectively already.
With the Palestinian leadership in terminal decline, the generations of Palestinians who will come after will be looking at a very different landscape. They will be forced to rethink their strategy, correct the mistakes of the past, and consider themselves again part of one people displaced from one land.
A Bedouin shepherd walks with his herd of sheep in the Jordan Valley on 11 September (AFP)A Bedouin shepherd walks with his herd of sheep in the Jordan Valley on 11 September (AFP)
Annexation is the death of 1948 Israel, a Jewish majority state.
It’s the birth of a Jewish minority state that can only survive by suppressing and controlling its Palestinian majority. To do this in an Arab- and Muslim-majority continent is to consign yourself to a slow and lingering death.
However many Arab leaders they buy, Israel continually stokes the wrath of Arabs and Muslims wherever they live. No wall, no army, no fleet of drones, no nuclear arsenal, no US president will protect a Jewish minority state in the long run.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
David Hearst is the editor in chief of Middle East Eye. He left The Guardian as its chief foreign leader writer. In a career spanning 29 years, he covered the Brighton bomb, the miner’s strike, the loyalist backlash in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in Northern Ireland, the first conflicts in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in Slovenia and Croatia, the end of the Soviet Union, Chechnya, and the bushfire wars that accompanied it. He charted Boris Yeltsin’s moral and physical decline and the conditions which created the rise of Putin. After Ireland, he was appointed Europe correspondent for Guardian Europe, then joined the Moscow bureau in 1992, before becoming bureau chief in 1994. He left Russia in 1997 to join the foreign desk, became European editor and then associate foreign editor. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he worked as education correspondent.