Block the Coronannexation!

I dislike hectoring from the sidelines while others are waging an uphill battle on my behalf. So I have scrupulously followed the Israeli authorities’ instructions, and kept to myself whatever criticism I had about specifics of their response to the coronavirus challenge. With some  serious exceptions, overall this response has been more than reasonably competent and effective — certainly in comparison with other democracies, especially the burgeoning disaster that the Trump so-called administration’s incompetence, irresponsibility and inefficiency have inflicted upon the United States.

I even held my peace so far about the unconscionable exploitation of this crisis by PM Binyamin Netanyahu to gain political points, extend his hold on power and drag out, if not prevent entirely, his comeuppance in court on corruption charges. Likewise Benny Gantz’s blinking first in the game of chicken that Bibi maneuvered him into, instead of clarifying that Netanyahu’s refusal to step aside was the only impediment to his own mandate from the President to form a broad emergency coalition.

The result of this capitulation was not only the breakup of Gantz’s jerry-built vehicle, whose only raison d’être was to avoid re-empowering a prime minister under indictment. More dangerously, it eliminated any viable opposition to the most irresponsible intention that Netanyahu, whether for his own motives or to satisfy his far-right allies, is trying to fulfill under cover of the corona crisis — though this design has nothing to do with countering the virus and indeed may badly hamper this really existential struggle. Therefore I’m permitting myself to speak out on this, while saluting the medical personnel, civil servants and other vital workers who are heroically seeing us through the corona ordeal.

As of this writing, other than “normal” squabbling over portfolios and perks, the main obstacle to concluding the coalition deal is reportedly Gantz’s remaining resistance to the Likud’s demand to enact an annexation of Israeli settlements and other areas of the West Bank within a month. The urgency, as Likud sources are letting out, stems from Trump’s diminishing chances of reelection as the corona disaster snowballs, thanks to his mendacity, deflection and dereliction of duty. If defeated, his “deal of the century for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” which was presented here as sanctioning the annexation, would be consigned to the ash heap of history along with the rest of Trump’s “legacy,” so we’d better make hay while the sun shines.

Netanyahu, indeed, had in the afterglow of the “deal’s” unveiling briefly toyed with the idea of declaring such annexation before the Israeli election on 2 March. (Gantz, trying to compete for Trump’s blessing and right-wing votes, just as briefly suggested to legislate the “deal” in the outgoing Knesset, which should have served as early warning of his post-election course). It took admonitions from two of the plan’s architects, Jared Kushner (!) and David Friedman (!!!) to remind Netanyahu that — even after three years of supposed preparation — there still was a lot of mapping and staff work to be done before such action could be taken. In other words: hey, we gifted you this charade as an election ploy; don’t you dare to expose its practical implausibility and our pretense by trying to implement it.

If any staff work or mapping was done since then, with all government attention justly  focused on the coronavirus, nothing has been heard about it. In any case, such work could hardly reduce Palestinian, Arab, and other international rejection of unilateral Israeli moves, even more than of Trump’s entire “deal.” The  Palestinian Authority has so far dealt with the coronavirus about as well as the Israeli authorities, and in cooperation with them — which was a fortuitous but welcome improvement after the chill that followed the plan’s publication.  Annexation would not only endanger that; it would risk a general flareup, which is precisely what the IDF and other security forces, who are now called upon to help fight the pandemic, do not need.  Jared has other fish to fry (and burn) right now, so I doubt that White House reception of an annexation would be warmer.

Even if I and better advocates have not yet convinced Gantz and his remaining cohorts  that the Trump “deal” is a long-term strategic pitfall for Israel, at least the immediate threat that annexation poses to the corona struggle should stiffen their backbone . The whole idea behind the putative coalition, unsavory as it is, was to concentrate on this struggle alone for the coming six months and refrain from  determination of other contentious issues. Stick to it!

About the Author
Gideon Remez, formerly head of foreign news at Voice of Israel Radio, is an associate fellow of the Truman Institute, Hebrew University. The views expressed here are his own and not the Institute's.
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