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The Plague of Annexation

The cartoon on the opinion page in today’s Ha’aetz shows Netanyahu sitting comfortably at his desk in his office. Some distance away is a pot with a plant in the shape of Benny Gantz, ostensibly Israel’s next prime minister. Even those of us who were enthusiastic about Gantz joining the Netanyahu government in order to bring stability to the land and save the country from yet another, probably inconclusive, election, are having second thoughts. I would like to hope that Gantz will be able to curb Netanyahu’s excesses, but I fear that I am hoping in vain.

The burning issue is, of course, the annexation of part of the West Bank. due to take place next month. Many countries, including those friendly to Israel, have urged Netanyahu not to go ahead with it. And, of course, we left-leaning liberal Jews have signed petitions urging him to desist also hoping that, in the end, Trump will curb Netanyahu’s enthusiasm and stop him, or at least “postpone” the deed. Trump has, of course, more serious problems at home. Having made a mess of the response to the pandemic and acted irresponsibly and irrationally in the face of the riots in his country, he may now have neither the inclination nor the authority to spend time on Israel. Some of his former supporters seem to be turning away and even the bishop of the church outside of which he posed for a photo op Bible in hand has harshly criticized the stunt. He has, therefore, bigger problems to deal with than Israel and the Palestinians. But that may not necessarily stop Netanyahu. He may take the opportunity to act while Trump is still in office irrespective of the latter’s support, indifference, or powerlessness.

That the Palestinian Authority (PA) is opposed is not surprising. That it does not take any active steps to try to prevent the annexation reflects its powerlessness and confusion. After all, the Trump plan presupposes the creation of a Palestinian state, albeit not in all areas currently under the control of the PA, but the Palestinians still dream of a state on pre-1967 borders. Instead of facing reality, many of its leaders prefer the dream of another intifada.

Though the annexation plan would bring the West Bank Jewish settlements – in addition to other areas –  de facto under Israeli sovereignty, the settlers seem also to oppose the annexation plan, because their dream is the mirror image of that of the PA: they want all of the land to be part of the Jewish state (and to deny Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians).

It seems unwise to try to predict the outcome of it all: Netanyahu’s intention to increase Israeli territory without giving anything in return; Gantz’s unwillingness or inability to act as a corrective; the outrage among the nations and even among chunks of Jewry in Israel and in the Diaspora; the impotence of the PA, etc. etc. But it is prudent to anticipate turbulent times: Gantz, as minister of defense, has already asked the armed forces to prepare for unrest with potentially much more devastating consequences for Israel than the effect of COVID-19.

Hence this nagging question: Israel has dealt rather well with the plague that has gripped the world. How will it deal with the plague of nationalist ambitions behind Netanyahu’s intention to annex parts of the West Bank? I am not the only one in Israel who does not know the answer, and I am not the only one who fears the consequences of human greed and folly more than the effects of a vicious virus.

Plagues caused by humans are often more lethal than those brought about by nature.

Jerusalem 4.6.20                                                                                                                                   Dow Marmur

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