Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

An American-born Israeli Ponders This Moment: Late June, 2020

Some are voicing severe disappointment with Benny Gantz as the hoped-for brake on Israeli annexation of any part of the west bank, after remarks he made yesterday that referenced the “deep shit” of Palestinian politics, into which, he said, Israel would not wade. Rather, he said, Israel would/ should chart its own course as the clock which Netanyahu and the coalition agreement with Gantz set for possible annexation of parts of the west bank winds down.

I find nothing particularly new that Gantz is saying now, different than what he said during his three campaigns for Prime Minister. He has said since the unveiling of the Trump plan  that he accepts and supports it, and annexation, conducted according to that plan, which includes a Palestinian state, something that right-wingers reject in any form; annexation, he says, done with “international agreement,” which of course, does not exist. In short, this was never a blueprint for policy. He did make conciliatory statements during the early campaign, seeking discussions with Palestinian partners, something that distinguished him then, and now, from Netanyahu. He is hardly alone in assessing Palestinian politics and diplomacy as being in “deep shit,”as Palestinian commentators have long been characterizing it; and in being unwilling to harness Israel’s decisions to those being made, and not made, in Ramallah. Is anything else to be expected?

Palestinian sources describe the PA leadership as utterly ineffectual and flailing. The far more likely effective response to any Israeli annexation will come from certain European capitals, not from Ramallah, or from other Arab capitals.

So, regarding, Gantz, I see no change and no basis for disappointment. He is no messianist regarding the territories but neither is Netanyahu, who is playing a very different game with all this. Gantz is also very weak, in parliamentary terms, if not also in others, and is in no credible position to do something bold vs. Netanyahu. He has 19 seats vs Netanyahu’s 34 in Likud, plus the haredi parties. If he brought this government down, it would make Netanyahu’s day. Brief: he has no cards.

The fact that there is no map, meaning, no plan, at this late date speaks to ongoing indecision, extemporizing, by Netanyahu about what he will do. Clearly, things are heavily in the hands of– Jared Kushner, a chief architect of the Trump plan. Who has been acting to restrain Israel.

Reports are that there is no massive engagement about annexation in Palestinian society, which is far more concerned with making a living in an economic crisis, and with corona, of which there is an upsurge on the west bank, as there is in Israel. Polls show that 1/3 of those asked back armed response, which does not mean that 1/3 or anything near that will participate in armed actions, though some percentage will, if there is any version of annexation, and what version of annexation will matter. I think the likelihood of that being the 30% the Trump plan references is zero. 80-something percent of west bank Palestinians polled say they are concerned with daily life. They will not take to the streets, attack the IDF, or undertake terror attacks against Israeli civilians, though some will.

Hamas, on the other hand, is threatening a resumption of violence from Gaza in the event of any annexation—violent demonstrations at and directed against the border fence; missiles, rockets, and balloon-borne incendiary devices and bombs launched at Israel. Which threat the Chief of the General Staff of the IDF, Aviv Kochavi, takes seriously, saying that such could descend into another Gaza war, not six years after the last one. Whose sole purpose and outcome would be spilled blood.

Abbas tried to hold a big rally in Abu Dis against annexation; it was a flop. He ended up corralling his security forces to show up because regular demonstrators did not. He is said to be exasperated at the lack of popular response, uproar about possible annexation. Compare this to the parallel flop of Likud’s demonstration in Tel Aviv last night, at which, maybe, 200 showed up, despite tremendous organizing effort and money Likud put into getting a big turnout; 20,000 was the goal. Can Netanyahu read tea leaves, never mind, a big pot of soup? I believe he can.

There is a significant upsurge of corona in Israel, the result of irresponsible, un-thought-out easing of restrictions in the absence of coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated public health policy, effective communication with the public, and consistent enforcement. There is economic devastation as a result of the virus, which will be with us for the foreseeable future.

Kitsur, we all need annexation like a hole in the head.

The army and security establishment are saying that clearly. How do you spell, “gratuitous”? In Hebrew, the word is, “meyutar.” On whose headstone shall that be engraved? Whose child, which family, shall pay the price for this game?

How all these men (sic, including Abbas, who used to have a much better hand and refused to play it, and that is on him), navigate all this, climb down from the tall, leafless, and so weary trees they have climbed, we will find out.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history, author of four books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, and the Jerusalem Post.
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