Dan Perry
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble"

Unilateral WB moves would be a terrible idea

US President Donald Trump greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for meeting on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US President Donald Trump greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives for a meeting on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, January 27, 2020. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Such is human nature that Benjamin Netanyahu probably has considerable support for his “promises” to seize on the imminent Trump Plan to try to annex parts of the West Bank. That it is clearly an election ploy by Donald Trump to help Netanyahu is mostly overlooked amid the collective air of a servant being grateful.

How happy would these patriots all be if such a move sparked a new intifada and unprecedented Islamic State terrorism; killed the peace treaty with Jordan; ended diplomatic warming with the Gulf; accelerated moves against Israel at the International Criminal Court; and begat a variety of unpalatable sanctions from the developed world (with the exception of Trump’s United States)?

I am not saying all these things will happen. But they could, and a subset of them almost certainly would. It is likely to include people dying who would not have died had Hillary Clinton run a better campaign in 2016.

The infantile zeitgeist whipped up by a decade of Netanyahu’s spin machine basically holds that the American landlord has “given his permission” for a “historic” move that must not be “wasted.”

So I wish to remind readers that no government including Likud governments had ever annexed bits of the West Bank unilaterally (excepting the Jerusalem environs) because everybody agreed it was a terrible idea. America’s opposition to such folly was far from the only reason. If the US temporarily does not oppose it that is far from sufficient reason to jump from the roof.

We are currently in a moment of relative quiet in the West Bank in which there are indications the Palestinians are feeling deflated enough to (just maybe) support a leadership that exhibited more flexibility than seen in the past on borders, refugees and even Jerusalem.

With the right arrangements a plan like the Trump plan could help nudge them toward that. These moves would include negotiations instead of unilateral moves and a historical level of financial compensation made available on easy and rapid terms; openness toward a new arrangement in the Old City; and a sincere apology for the expulsions of 1948-9.

Humiliations and unilateralism will likely achieve the opposite. Some predict the Palestinians would not dare misbehave because of their dependence on work permits in Israel and the benefits they themselves enjoy as a result of the security cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the IDF. They forget that the Palestinians were riding pretty high in 2000 and no rational interest prevented the explosion that came when the stars aligned that way.

It’s not all Trump’s fault — except for the timing designed to help Netanyahu. Trump is not a man with good judgment and he doesn’t know much, but I wrote a year ago that his penchant for wild moves might beget a useful plan that reshuffles a deck that needed reshuffling. He may have actually done a partial, inadequate version of this. There is no harm in accepting it, but implementing anything like annexations unilaterally would be a fool’s errand.

On the positive side of the Trump ledger:

  • It’s not nuts to support for keeping Jerusalem in Israel, because dividing it, as I have written before, is practically impossible and a huge security risk.
  • It is obviously good that the Trump plan expresses support for setting up a Palestinian state in perhaps two thirds of the West Bank; as an opening position that might usefully nudge them toward the 85% that makes some sense in the grand scheme of things.
  • The security limitations placed on this state are not wrong either; the Palestinians need sovereignty and a national home, not an army to fight Jordan.
  • It is clearly good that there is a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza.

But there appear to be problems:

  • It makes no significant provision regarding the Old City, which is a killer.
  • The financial element is lacking beyond vague promises of investment.
  • Annexing the settlements is a terrible idea, one of the most foolish to have been aired by a political figure in any country in decades.¬†The settlements are disconnected islands of land and they are all over the territory. The maximalist calls to annex them all would, if heeded, be seen rightly by the world as a West Bank annexation that simply denies the Palestinians rights in what in effect becomes Israel. Israel’s already distressed claim to being a democracy, which rests precisely on the non-annexation to date, would wither. That way lie sanctions.
  • The music is all wrong; far from cajoling the Palestinians and generously creating good karma, this has the air of imposition. They might react very badly and will certainly not acquiesce. Indeed, even Trump seems not to expect this. Netanyahu does not care.

Netanyahu is clearly hoping for a boost in the March 2 elections to get him to a 61-seat majority without need of Avigdor Lieberman’s truculent undecided party. That way there is a chance he will gain the votes to stop the Supreme Court preventing him holding onto power during the coming bribery and corruption trials. It would be a genuine tragedy for Israel, and judging by the right-wing parliamentary cabal, there would be a good chance: they really have no limits.

One can only hope Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and the Blue and White leadership understand all this – and will avoid being tricked into supporting a reckless annexation move while at the same time not losing too many votes.

It appears they do. Gantz wisely went to DC and politely attended a separate meeting, but he is saying that job one is to deny Netanyahu immunity and peace moves will come only after the election.

It may be a case of dirty trickery successfully repelled. The question now is whether the annexation foolishness can be averted as well.

About the Author
Dan Perry, a media and tech innovator, was the Cairo-based Middle East Editor of the AP, and chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel. Previously he led AP in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Follow him at: twitter.com/perry_dan www.linkedin.com/in/danperry1 www.instagram.com/danperry63 https://www.facebook.com/DanPerryWriter/
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