This week’s cliffhanger won’t be about the coronavirus making a fool of cocky states or the domino effect of toppling statues that righteously started with Confederate slaveholders, then journeyed to Christopher Columbus, and now has Abraham Lincoln cowering behind his marble chair on the Mall.
No, this week, for many people, the suspense rests with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presumed annexation of settlements in the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. Playing the role of Hamlet in the Holy Land, Netanyahu’s weight-of-the world decision has Israelis, Palestinians and American Jews in a moral panic.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas generated their own news. A rapprochement is being considered. If the prospect of annexation has reunited these warring factions, and the European Union firmly has cautioned the Jewish state against making such a move, perhaps Netanyahu should reconsider.
However, I’m not so sure. This cliffhanger might achieve a softer landing than what experts predict. Annexation won’t bring about the end of the world, and I don’t believe the Middle East will be the worse for it.
To annex or not to annex is not the question. The question is: Will anyone besides Palestinians, Jewish settlers and liberal American Jews, care enough to make Netanyahu regret the decision?
Israel bashers need no excuse to hate Jews. The PLO was created three years before Israel recaptured the West Bank, before there was anything to annex. There were no settlements. Not a single Jew lived in the West Bank or Gaza. And yet, plans were being made to rid the region of Israel. The very existence of Jews, and not the actions they take to defend themselves, is all the enticement an anti-Semite needs.
The United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was supposed to have unleashed the wrath of the world. So, too, the extension of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. The decertification of the Iran nuclear deal, with its re-imposition of sanctions, anticipated a conflict not seen since Sparta and Persia squared off at Thermopylae.
“Don’t ask where world Jewry would live if once more unwelcome everywhere.”
And after all that … nothing happened. Israel’s relationship with Arab states actually improved. A strategic alliance with the “Startup Nation” was to its advantage, especially as a bulwark against Iran. Zionism is becoming more tolerable than radical Shiite Islam. Sure, these countries pay lip service to the Palestinians but they likely have grown weary of the petulance that is intrinsic to the Palestinian cause.
Is the annexation of settlements more galling than the United States moving its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?
Throughout the negotiations of the Oslo Accords, with stops in Camp David, Md., and Taba, Egypt, it was always understood Israel would annex the large settlements in Area C, subject to land swaps. Isn’t that what Netanyahu is contemplating now, backed by a new peace plan?
The Oslo agreements never were complete successes. Israel has waited for the Palestinians to finally renounce violence and demonstrate a commitment to nation-building. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to meet with Israel without preconditions. At former President Barack Obama’s urging, Israel agreed to a moratorium on housing expansion to bring about such a meeting — but to no avail.
The solution involving two states for two peoples makes perfect sense to the world but, regrettably, not to most Palestinians. They repeatedly have rejected peace offers because in each instance, they would have to share a border with Israel.
It is true President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan includes more annexable land than what was contemplated before. But does that really matter, given that the Palestinians are avowedly more interested in reclaiming Haifa than Nablus? Palestinian self-determination, put simply, means eliminating the presence of Jews from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Moreover, the land swaps would be made without the benefit of a map of an actual country once called Palestine — because no such Arab country ever existed. The land that comprises the West Bank has been disputed since 1947, which means the creation of a Palestinian state always was going to be done from scratch — improvisational geography to achieve peace.
While immediate statehood was not included in the Trump plan, instant prosperity was. The Palestinians would become Trump’s newest “Apprentices,” the beneficiaries of $50 billion in new investment.
That, too, however, holds no interest for them.
A Joe Biden administration is looking more likely each day. “The Squad” and its increasing number of fellow-travelers will be griping about Israel not from the cheap seats, but from house seats inside the Oval Office. Bipartisan support for Israel may become a forgotten memory. American centrists are disappearing. The nation’s political spectrum has narrowed to shrieking extremists.
Historically, Jews have never done well when surrounded by mobs.
Neo-Nazis chant, “Jews will not replace us!” The leaders of Black Lives Matter see racial justice as entwined with Palestinian victimhood. They might be all too happy to replace Israel with a Palestinian state.
Don’t ask where world Jewry would live if once more unwelcome everywhere.
The European Union is no lifeline. It is too afraid of its growing Muslim populations to apply any moral clarity to the Middle East. Democratic socialists in America may soon make their true intentions known, and only liberal Jews will be surprised.
Given the forces arrayed against them, now is not the time for Israel to leave any uncashed checks lying around. There will surely be fewer rainchecks for Israel in America’s future.
And I write that as a liberal Democrat.
Would a two-state solution with defensible borders have been preferable? Of course. But nation-building also is better than suicide-bombing. What is Israel to do when that simple logic is not widely shared by all of its neighbors?
Waiting for a miracle, even in the Holy Land, is a mistake. Time has been passing by the Palestinians for decades. There is no reason why Israel must remain suspended in time, too.
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”