It was yet another slap in the face of the United States, Israel’s main patron without whom its existence, never mind its ability to maintain an ever intensifying occupation without fear of mentionable consequence, would be very much in question.
In direct response to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to establish a set of “security arrangements” that would, some day (Kerry apparently is suggesting after another decade), allow some level of Palestinian control over the security of the West Bank (wasn’t that supposed to happen during Oslo? And isn’t it in fact already the de jure arrangement in Areas A and B?), the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to annex the Jordan Valley permanently to Israel.
This is, by no means, the first vote or decision taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government to challenge the Obama Administration’s attempts to play at peace-making in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In fact, announcing settlement expansion plans whenever a senior US official is visiting Israel to “jumpstart” or “save” the “peace process” has long been standard operating procedure for the Israeli government, as the Obama Administration learned early in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden was greeted upon arriving in Israel with the “highly inflammatory announcement” of plans for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. The Americans feigned anger at the “brutally contemptuous rebuff” to their good-faith efforts to resuscitate Oslo, but no one should have been surprised at the actions of the Netanyahu then, or now. Indeed, Netanyahu has been outmanoeuvring Obama since day one of their relationship.
This latest slap in the face comes after PA President Mahmoud Abbas once again “renounced claims” to Israel within its 1967 borders, this time singling out the one-time Palestinian-populated towns of Jaffa and Haifa, and accepted on-going settlement construction in return for freeing Palestinian prisoners. A few hundred Palestinian “detainees” are wonderful bargaining chips to play in lieu of actual policy changes whenever negotiations get serious.
Not surprisingly, the vote on annexation provoked the usual outcries by Palestinian officials, who decried the “indifference” to and “disrespect” for international law the vote represented.
Falling on deaf ears
This evaluation is certainly true, although the PA attacking Israel for disregarding international law is about as meaningful as the US criticising Saudi Arabia for refusing to let women drive. That is to say, it’s utterly devoid of meaning as long as they continue business as usual, which for the PA means doing whatever is necessary to keep the foreign aid, and salaries, flowing through its coffers.
But this latest attempt to annex the West Bank, as 2013 came to a close, offers both a tantalising glimpse of the future of Israel/Palestine and a good opportunity for Palestinians to start the New Year off in a way that throws the Israeli government back on its heels. It could also turn the tide in the century-long conflict over the territory of Mandate-era Palestine. It was not the PA, however, but the liberal Zionist Party Meretz that have taken the lead in doing so however.
Will 2014 be the year Palestinian and Israeli exhaustion with Oslo and fear of a bleak and chauvinistic future creates the unstoppable force that finally buries Oslo and moves both peoples and the land they inevitably share, towards a common future?,
Rather than denouncing the latest attempt to annex the West Bank as marking yet another nail in the coffin of a long rotted Oslo peace process, Meretz publicly declared it would no longer oppose votes to annex the Jordan Valley, which increases the likelihood such a vote could in fact pass the Knesset.
Meretz leaders have neither suddenly become territorial maximalists nor have they joined the one or bi-state camp that most self-described Zionists, regardless of how comparatively liberal their politics (from an Israeli perspective), still broadly refuse to support. But I don’t buy the refusal of Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon even to discuss a one-state future as reflecting the true nature of the shift inside Israeli liberal politics. As the Israeli right becomes ever bolder in asserting territorially maximalist policies and the religious establishment more blatantly bigoted, there is simply less space for liberal Zionists to operate as both liberal and Zionist.
The fact is that soon Israeli liberals, who are still a sizable minority of the population, are either going to vote with their heads or their feet – if the mainstream of Israeli political culture keeps moving to the right. A democratic state with rough demographic parity with Palestinians suddenly would offer a more positive alternative than an ultra-chauvinistic Jewish state that holds them in almost as much scorn as it does “Arabs” and “Africans”.
A new coalition?
The question is: When will the majority of Palestinians, who long ago lost faith in Oslo and in their hearts would prefer a one-state solution, give up the two-state illusion and come out in force demanding precisely what the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to do – be annexed to Israel and have the same voting rights as their fellow Palestinians across the quickly evaporating Green Line. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of just this eventuality as the doomsday scenario facing Zionism, which is why a man who did more than almost anyone to create a Jewish-dominated Jerusalem became a firm supporter of two-states.
The PA will never go down this route because it would mean its dissolution and the loss of jobs, money and power for the entire political class, and perhaps the fatal weakening of Fatah along with it. Neither, strangely, would Hamas accept it as it would become moot in a one or bi-national solution.
Of course, while the Israeli right would actually welcome Palestinian acquiescence to the annexation of the West Bank, whose population can be absorbed into Israel without creating a Palestinian majority, their plan for a Greater Israel specifically excludes Gaza, whose incorporation would tip the demographic balance immediately and permanently in the Palestinian’s favour. A test of wills and political strategisation would emerge between the two sides as to whether Israel could convince West Bank Palestinians permanently to separate their fortunes from benighted Gaza, or Palestinians once “inside” Israel would constitute a large enough force with 1948 Palestinians and liberal/left Israeli to push, however fitfully, for a bi-national or even parallel states solution.
This leads to a final question:Will 2014 be the year Palestinian and Israeli exhaustion with Oslo and fear of a bleak and chauvinistic future creates the unstoppable force that finally buries Oslo and moves both peoples, and the land they inevitably share, towards a common future?
Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle Eastern History at University of California, Irvine, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Lund University. His new book, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States, co-edited with Ambassador Mathias Mossberg, will be published by the University of California Press this spring.