MK Eitan Cabel’s Annexation Plan, publicized in The Times of Israel last week, has caused quite the commotion on the Israeli Left as a whole – and in the Labor party (and the alliance it belongs to – the Zionist Union) in particular. Understandably so, too. For while the notion of a labor party MK trying to maintain a sense of relevancy during times of Right-leaning politics rule isn’t new in itself (see plans by MK’s Bar-Lev, Bar and others as examples of this), the contents of this particular plan were, for lack of a better word, outrageous.
In short, Cabel’s plan failed in four different ways.
First, it assumed a false reality to be true, wherein the political Right is “real” representative of “the people” and the Left is a hopeless, out-of-touch, minority. This of course stands in stark contrast to the 2015 elections where, while the Right indeed came out on top with 44 seats, the Left stood neck-and-neck with it, winning 40 seats despite a disastrous campaign and unappealing leader. Considering these numbers, it seems baffling that Cabel would assume that ideas that mostly resemble Naftali Bennet’s “annexation of the C area” plan from years ago (Bennet’s “Jewish Home” has 8 seats in the Knesset. Yes, Eight) Should be considered more reflective of “the people” than the Labor’s (24 seats).
Second, with regards to the actual plan: Cabel offers “action” for the sake of action itself – but without any strategic thought or clear endgame goal. Like his ideological predecessor, Bennet, Cabel’s plan proposes a direct annexation of large swaths of land (though ‘only’ 15% of the West Bank, as opposed to Bennet’s 60%). So large is the annexation proposed, that acting on it would virtually destroy any chance of a Palestinian state ever being established. An annexation of 15% of the West Bank means Israel can’t reimburse the future Palestine, as it simply doesn’t have land to spare in return beyond 4-5%, in areas where Palestinian leaders would have trouble accepting as it is (especially in the desert region in South Hebron Mountain). Olmert suggested a 5% annexation in 2008. Barak offered 6-9% in 2001. Cabel’s offer is nowhere near these offers – all vehemently rejected by the Palestinians.
Third, Cabel’s proposed annexations make very little sense: he suggests annexing the Jordan River Valley, almost 10% of the land where only 15,000 people live; annexing Ariel, a literal finger poked at the Palestinians, located some 15 kilometers east of the Green line, where only 20,000 people live. He doesn’t propose annexing Modi’in Ilit, a Green-line-adjacent settlement bloc where some 81,000 people live. The internal logic is, at best, flawed – and at worst, politically, rather than strategically, thought of.
And finally, fourth, Cabel doesn’t offer the Palestinians any carrots. As if insisting on learning nothing from 2005’s disengagement from Gaza, Cabel’s plan is built in such a way that serves only Israel’s interests (though that is, as I’ve mentioned, doubtful in itself) but gives the moderate Palestinian leadership zero to work with. It doesn’t suggest any evacuation of settlers from any settlement, but instead advocates an easily reversible building freeze in more remote communities. This isn’t “drawing Israel’s Eastern border”. This is looking oneself in the mirror and just plain lying to one’s reflection. Nor does it offer any co-ordination with Fatah leadership, financial agreements, or anything of the sorts.
Considering Labor party chairman, Avi Gabbay’s clear (and well-articulated) rejection of Cabel’s plan, there does seem to be one question hovering over the Left’s current plan. With Abu-Mazen seemingly losing touch with reasonability and common sense as he drifts away to the obscurities of antisemitism, with Hamas firmly holding onto Gaza and with Iran’s threat still hovering over Syrian land, the question that Cabel stirred up is indeed relevant: What, exactly, does the left propose?
Surely, even those – like yours truly – who haven’t given up on peace, know that the path is narrow at best at present time. Further, they know that any initiative on Israel’s part must indeed serve its interests primary – though, as opposed to Cabel’s, it must also lay the foundation for some future progression towards a viable middle-east. Yet, for all its repetition of the words “Clinton’s plan” or “Settlement blocs”, Israel’s left has failed in handling the ever-changing climate of the region. And if it has any intention of ever winning an election again, this need be addressed.
Here are a few suggestions for what Israel’s left can advocate in 2018.
First, a re-alignment: Cabel is correct in wanting to consolidate Israel’s hold on the settlement blocs – he is just wrong about the way to do it, and the identity of said blocs. By re-aligning its strategic focus so as to concentrate solely on Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Edumim, Modii’n Ilit and the Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem, Israel could keep up to 80% of the settlers, but no more than 4% of the land. Ariel is debatable, if only for how well its been inserted into Israeli minds that it must never be abandoned. For the sake of clarity, even after such re-alignment, Israel won’t annex those 4%. Not without an agreement. It will, however, re-design the separation barrier to reflect its change of stance, thus alleviating pressure from the IDF and leaving it much more available to handle bigger threats in the North and South of Israel, if needed.
Second, Israel should indeed begin, slowly and over time, withdrawing from the more remote settlements and posts. Legislation, well-funded media campaigns, all should be harnessed for this. Eli, Ma’ale Michmash, Beit’ El and Ofra are all hard-core religious settlements that can never become part of sovereign Israel, and the sooner it acknowledges this, the better. Moreover, it’s time for Israel’s politicians to drop the act and expose the single biggest lie they have been repeating for 50 years: Jerusalem is not united. Not now, not ever. The 20-plus Palestinian villages annexed to it in 1967 were never and never will be part of it. The map, as it is today, is a sham. A creation of two new entities – Jerusalem (in the west and the new neighborhoods) and al-Quds in the East, based on the Geneva plan’s drawing of the map, could do wonders for the rejuvenation, global acceptance and financial growth of the city. The left can and should make this a priority in its agenda.
Third, Israel must strive for international cooperation on Gaza. It must work in tandem with global powers to provide support for the people but not the government there, but at the same time abstain from use of force beyond what’s necessary. Not only is the Gaza predicament one that Israel cannot afford to lose – it is one where its chances of coming out on top, at least in terms of global acceptance of its actions, are slim to begin with.
Last but not least, Israel can and should push for global acknowledgment of its sovereignty over the Golan heights. The land, taken in 1967, has been under Israeli rule for 50 years (compared with only 21 years of Syrian rule). It is as overwhelming consensus in Israeli society as anything, the lack of an occupied people therein makes it much easier to carry, and the situation in Syria is working for us. It is possible that there have never been riper terms for such a move.
These are, of course, mere proposals, and very broad ones at that. There are many more, from many people, groups and ideologues. But regardless of how well these suggestions are viewed and whether or not they are eventually incorporated into the Zionist Union’s platform, it is clear that they meet Cabel’s honest understanding that initiative on the left is necessary – and at the same time, feed into the Left’s need for a new plan, as well as Israel’s security and diplomatic goals for the short and long run. In that sense, Cabel’s wrongs could inspire a Right. That is, the overthrow of the Right and its replacement with a left-leaning government.