There’s a famous Jewish parable about a man who goes to his rabbi to complain about his family’s miserable living conditions. The rabbi tells him to move all the farmyard animals into his house. The man follows the rabbi’s advice and then comes running back to him, crying that things are even worse. The rabbi advises him to remove the chickens one day, the goat the next, and finally the cow. The man then goes back to the rabbi to thank him because, with all the animals gone, his home is now spacious.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu’s grandiose plans to annex 30% of the West Bank are slowly being whittled down to annexation of so-called “consensus areas” or may be shelved entirely, I am reminded of the crowded house and the animals. After having announced that his government will effect a gross and far-reaching violation of international law by legislating annexation, it’s beginning to look as if Netanyahu is planning to wind things back in the hope that the world will breathe a sigh of relief and reward his “restraint” by accepting the de facto annexation of the occupied territories that has been going on for over half a century.
Signs of the success of this strategy are beginning to emerge as Europe is debating implementation of the policy of differentiation between Israel and the settlements in response to the threat of annexation. It’s as if Europe has forgotten that differentiation is anchored in UNSC Resolution 2334, which was adopted back in December 2016 in response to the occupation, long before Netanyahu dared to utter the phrase “applying sovereignty,” his euphemism for annexation.
Tying differentiation to annexation essentially pulls the rug out from under this watershed resolution, which clearly states that settlement activity imperils the viability of a two-state solution and calls for significant steps to reverse the negative trends on the ground. In the four years that have passed, Israel has not only ignored the resolution’s call for a settlement freeze but actually enacted the Regulation Law, which was designed to legalize its land thefts. True, this law was recently struck down by the High Court on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, but many Likudniks are talking about reintroducing an amended version of it.
To see how the fears of annexation are drawing attention away from the evils of the occupation, one need look no further than this week’s call by Lisa Nandy, the British Labour Party’s shadow foreign secretary, for a ban on settlement products should annexation go forward. Nandy, who has been an outspoken critic of the Israeli Government’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and who called on Foreign Secretary Raab to exert the British Government’s influence to prevent annexation, fell into the trap of turning steps that should be taken against the occupation into punitive measures to be used only in the event of de jure annexation.
Another such misguided approach is that of Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, who proposed that the EU recognize the State of Palestine if Israel moves forward with annexation. Recognition of Palestine should not be waved around as a warning to Israel. On the contrary, it should be seen as an affirmative step which Europe could take to help create parity between the two sides to the conflict and signal to the Palestinians that adhering to the diplomatic path yields results. By turning recognition into a threat, Asselborn undermined it as a legitimate option to be used to bolster the waning stature of the Palestinian Authority.
With its threats of annexation, the Israeli Government is diverting attention from the crimes it has been committing in the occupied territories for over 53 years. Nandy, Asselborn, and others apparently need a reminder that the settlements are illegal, whether formally annexed or not, and that every move Israel takes to entrench its hold on the occupied territories, including its encroachment on Palestinian lands, its demolition of Palestinian homes, and its violations of Palestinian human rights, constitutes a violation of international law and requires a fitting response.
If the international community succeeds in deterring the Israeli Government from proceeding with formal annexation but continues to let Israel enjoy impunity when it comes to the occupation, it will have won a Pyrrhic victory. Having warded off the greater evil, the world must leverage the momentum and take action to bring about an end to the occupation, which is nothing short of annexation masquerading as a temporary hold on territory that is up for negotiation.