US President Donald Trump’s Middle East “peace plan” is clearer in the original Hebrew. The Israeli version is bold on annexation, bleak on peace and low on diplomatic humbug.
And thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing politics, the “peace process” has been exposed for what it is – a colonisation operation. This surreal process has long served as a cover up for deep Israeli entrenchment in the West Bank and Jerusalem, rendering civilian and military withdrawal improbable if not unthinkable for most Israelis.
Having secured Trump’s approval, Netanyahu will go forward with annexation despite warnings of an international backlash, the demise of the two-state solution, and the erosion of the “democratic Jewish state”.
Netanyahu will likely once again rebuff such warnings, relying on unconditional US support.
With Washington on its side, Israel has long acted with impunity. Its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights are a case in point. International fretting and frowning eventually subsided after the Trump administration recognised these annexations.
Israel has long opposed the establishment of a truly sovereign Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The governing Likud party supports only limited autonomy for the Palestinians, or at best, half a state on half of the West Bank.
Regardless of annexation, Netanyahu knows all too well that Israel is not in reality a “democratic Jewish state”, not when a quarter of its population are not Jewish and mostly oppose its Zionist creed.
In fact, for the Palestinians, Israel is neither democratic, Jewish, nor a normal state. It is a colonial occupation, a garrison state, always at war, expanding its frontiers and deepening its domination of Palestine.
For these reasons, annexation is only a matter of when, not if, it will happen.
The more complicated question is, how and to what end?
From the Galilee to the West Bank
To understand where Israel is going in the West Bank, which is home to 60 percent of all Palestinians living under occupation, look at its record in the Galilee where some 60 percent of all Palestinian citizens of Israel live.
The similarities between Israeli policies towards these two predominantly Palestinian regions are as disturbing as they are instructive.
In 1947, the UN Partition Plan allocated much of the Galilee to a future Palestinian state. After the Palestinians rejected the ridiculous unenforceable plan and war broke out, Israel occupied the Galilee and imposed military rule for almost two decades with three goals in mind.
First, confiscate large swaths of Palestinian land, especially rich agricultural land belonging to Palestinian refugees, to settle Jews and eventually create a Jewish majority. Second, thwart the return of Palestinians to their homes and towns. And third, break up Palestinian contiguity to block Palestinian national unity and prevent a potential secession.
The plan worked.
After Israel’s 1967 war and occupation, Israel carried out similar confiscations of Palestinian land to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem.
In both regions, Israel established three major Jewish centres in the south, middle and north to break up Palestinian contiguity of the newly occupied territories: Nazareth Illit, Karmiel and Ma’alot in the Galilee, Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel in the West Bank.
To solidify the enlarged Jewish presence in the Galilee and later in the occupied West Bank, Israel connected the Jewish settlements with bypass roads and outsourced regional development to networks of exclusively Jewish councils at the expense of Palestinian localities.
The newly erected apartheid system empowered new expansive and affluent Jewish settlements to the detriment of tightly controlled Palestinian peripheries in all the regions under its control.
After five decades of occupation, Israel has now decided the time has come to extend its sovereignty to the illegal Jewish settlements over a third of the West Bank territory.
Netanyahu reckons the Trump administration is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go for the kill.
He aims for a gradual annexation. He could start with annexing the three main settlement blocks followed by the areas adjacent to the Jordan River.
This will pave the way for overall permanent Israeli control over historical Palestine.
But Netanyahu will not stop there.
Hoping to overcome his reputation, indeed his legacy of corruption, he is reinventing himself as a latter-day “King of Israel”, who fulfils the theological fantasies of the Israeli and American evangelical right for full Israeli control over Palestine.
In that way, Netanyahu aims to consolidate and annex dozens of smaller settlements deep inside the West Bank as Israel has done in the Galilee, enabling Israel to keep its military in, the Palestinians down, and the refugees out.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has signalled its willingness to compensate the Palestinians for the loss of their national rights, with money and autonomy – Gulf money and Israeli-controlled autonomy.
To do so, Israel and the US have been pressuring rich Arab and European states to help turn their “peace into prosperity”. They convened a conference in Bahrain especially for that purpose last year.
And they may attempt a similar regional initiative in the coming weeks to present the Palestinians with an ultimatum: acquiesce to their plan or face the consequences.
The future of Israeli hubris
While Israel bets on weak Arab dictatorships to succumb to US pressure, the Palestinians share the Arab masses’ eagerness for freedom and rely on their sweeping rejection of Israel.
They overwhelmingly oppose the Trump-Netanyahu plans that facilitate Israel’s illegitimate control over their lives, rendering them powerless guests in their own homeland, utterly dependent on Israel’s goodwill.
They wish the international community would stop pleading with Israel over annexation and start punishing it for all its military transgressions and crimes in Palestine.
But if Israel goes ahead with annexation, the Palestinians will have no choice but to drop the goal of a mini-state on one-fifth of their homeland, and struggle for equal rights in the entirety of their homeland, seeking freedom from Israeli control and justice after decades of dispossession.
Contrary to the hopes of the Israeli right, the Palestinians will not be bribed or intimidated to pack and leave; they will remain steadfast in their homeland. If anything, it is the Israelis who seemingly are leaving. According to Israel’s embassy in the US, 750,000-1 million Israelis live in the US alone. Thousands still are moving to Europe and seeking EU citizenship.
With an equal number of Jews and Palestinians living in very close proximity between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, political and physical barriers will come down sooner or later, albeit after shedding much blood and tears in the process.
If Israel devours all of Palestine, it will be a matter of time before Israel becomes Palestine.