The age old threat to ‘annex’ the West Bank has been proposed by Israeli politicians since the land was first occupied in 1967.
However, these threats have become more pressing as Netanyahu has negotiated a deal with Benny Gantz to bring parts of Palestinian land under permanent Israeli control. This proposal is not only a far cry from being the “peace plan” President Trump suggests, but it would bring the possibility of a two state solution to an end.
Whilst Israeli law has consistently absorbed settlements, not since 1980 has a government so overtly attempted to annex Palestinian land, directly undermining of principles of Oslo.
Moreover, there is something exceptionally sinister about the fact that a global pandemic seems to have thrust this plan to the forefront of the agenda.
This Israeli government has undoubtably chosen this moment of worldwide disruption to advance its long held ambition; allowing Netanyahu to avoid scrutiny from the international community as the eyes of the world are cast elsewhere. This major breach of international law could sweep through the Knesset and the Trump administration with impunity.
Furthermore, Netanyahu’s political career has been predicated on stoking voters’ anxieties — sending the country into a frenzy in 2015 about Arab-Israeli voters ‘moving in droves to the polls’. At a time when anxiety runs high across Israel as a result of the pandemic, Netanyahu is exploiting such apprehension. His plea for ‘national unity’ is a thinly-veiled attempt to justify his plan to bulldoze his way onto Palestinian land. Indeed, Bibi is using the pandemic to reaffirm his role as the indispensable saviour. Following his repeated failure to secure a majority in the third inconclusive election in the past year, the crisis has offered a perfect opportunity to re-boot his political fortunes, giving him the necessary support for annexation that he hopes will deliver electoral success in the future.
Additionally, under the current circumstances Netanyahu appears to be taking advantage of the authoritarian measures made ‘necessary’ by the pandemic wielding this power into the wider context of the conflict, under guise of protecting law and order. Haaretz reports that Israel is the only democracy using its security services and military to track Coronavirus victims — obtaining a secret national databases with personal information on every citizen and directing hundreds of IDF soldiers to patrol the streets and enforce restrictions. The fear is that this leader – with pre existing authoritarian tendencies – is using such power to advance the cause of annexation and strengthen his hold over the Israeli state.
Going further, Bibi’s ability to shut down the court system (ahead of his trial for corruption) and to close the Knesset is also enabling a lack of internal scrutiny. It is not mere coincidence that the plan for annexation is coinciding with the dismantling of institutions that would normally invoke checks and balances.
Unilateral annexation destroys the possibility of a viable model for peace. Over the past three decades, much of the Anglo Jewry and wider community have clung to the idea that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict lies in a two states model. At a time where Netanyahu is capitalising on a lack of scrutiny , if one genuinely supports a two state solution, and this is not just rhetoric, then now is the time to speak up. Whilst we may be in the midst of a pandemic, Bibi is playing to the populations anxieties, evading international scrutiny and utilising extensive powers to pass through a measure which could destroy any prospect of peace.