New bloodbath looms
We still do not know if or when it will happen, but the annexation of parts of the West Bank is not a contingent outcome, but the logical conclusion of Zionist colonialism, argues Paul Demarty
The chief protagonists of the annexation saga are united, above all, in their brinksmanship.
So far as Binyamin Netanyahu goes, his promise of a grand new stage in Zionist expansion was a piece of bottom-drawer politics designed to get him off the hook in respect of mounting corruption charges. His coalition partners - so recently his pious enemies, dedicated to cleansing the blackened honour of Israeli politics - may have cited the Covid-19 pandemic as their justification for a unity government, but surely a third successive indecisive election pushed them in the direction of a not-so-historic compromise. It is a gamble, to be sure, but, as the late Kenny Rogers put it, “You’ve got to know when to fold ’em”.
Netanyahu’s hypertrophic cabinet duly agreed, in principle, to the annexation of the Jordan Valley and more. But contrary to ‘anti-Semitic conspiracy theories’, they are hardly the big dogs in this fight. That would be the good people on the far side of the Atlantic, on whom Israel is utterly dependent for its continued vitality as an expansionist state. The decision ultimately falls to the Tango-tanned president of the United States, who has taken more than one gamble in his time (even in the casino business) and has an acknowledged habit of ‘putting it all on red’.
We find Donald Trump in something like Netanyahu’s old position, although the matter at hand is not corruption (no more than usual, anyway). Trump faces a re-election battle in a few short months’ time that is not exactly getting off to a flier, thanks to small problems like a disastrous pandemic death toll and infection rate, which - alas! - is disproportionately hitting people in states like Florida that might be expected to actually play some role in deciding who gets to occupy the White House for the next four years. He is polling badly, nationally and in such ‘battleground states’; there is a suggestion that the Trumpite attempt to make a culture war out of the corpse of George Floyd may have backfired, with less hostility recorded among Republican voters to this wave of Black Lives Matter protests than the last one in the mid-teens (there could hardly, of course, have been more).
Trump has only one move in his political locker - rile up his base and use that base to terrorise the ‘moderate’ Republican congressmen into acquiescence. And - given the steady ratcheting of witch-hunts of anti-Zionists, the Islamophobic cast of American chauvinism in the last two decades, and (for that matter) the extreme importance of Israel to key Republican support groups like millenarian Christians, who expect the end times in that general area any minute now - there could scarcely be a better gambit than backing Netanyahu’s scheme. But, of course, that is very much against the better judgement of the state department wonk army and diplomatic corps. Since the inevitable result of annexation would be a sharp decline in the general stability of the Middle East, the US establishment would be faced with defending or abandoning its favourite attack-dog ally - neither of which would go down well. In the former case, it would be forced to back Trump; in the latter, it would rapidly find a firehose of chauvinist rage directed against it and (in the case of Republicans up for re-election in the autumn) the real threat of deselection.
The reaction in this country, as in Europe more generally, is both pathetic and somewhat telling. The government has made its position clear - it combines the expression of firm disapproval of any such annexation with a total lack of resolve to actually do anything about it. Not-so-brave Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, proposes a ban on imports from any lands seized in this way. Of course, goods from the occupied territories at present form a tiny fraction of total Israeli imports into this country, and such a ban would be essentially unenforceable (is the UK government supposed to trace the origin of every sesame seed in a jar of tahini?). Mumbles leak out about potentially recognising the ‘Palestinian state’, as if that is some sort of serious threat to Israel, rather than merely to the integrity of the word ‘recognise’ - for the Palestinian Authority can hardly be described in that way.
We observe, then, the pattern of high politics when the State of Israel threatens to do something so obviously repellent that the usual diversionary measures of smearing and whataboutery are unavailable: we are instead treated to the kabuki dance of impotent disapproval. It was still enough to put out Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies and a true cynic’s cynic, who claimed that Nandy’s policy would be “divisive”. The nature of the complaint, however, is telling. Not anti-Semitic, but merely divisive - an accusation so clichéd it is not even wrong.
This is certainly a dilemma for Israel’s defenders abroad, and a more and more pressing one. The sheer vitriol directed at pro-Palestinian sentiment, even when made by grovelling cowards like Rebecca Long-Bailey, is in reality a sign of underlying weakness - a bogeyman must be invoked only when it is not ‘obvious’ that Israel must be supported against the ‘terrorists’ arrayed against it. The far-rightward trajectory of Israeli governments - especially over the last quarter-century - is, of course, now reflected in many more polities, including our own and that of the USA. It is nonetheless the case that very large minorities (perhaps, in America, even a majority - remember that Trump lost the popular vote, though many people did not vote at all) do not identify with the chauvinist nationalism of the Trump-Netanyahu school at all, and those minorities include many who would have been happy supporters of Israel circa Oslo, but can no longer be, now that the bloody essence of Zionism is not so well hidden. In particular, the decline in pro-Israel sentiment among young Jewish people in the USA (disproportionately ‘blue state’, urban and liberal compared to the general population) is a severe cause for concern, and the Netanyahu-Trump carve-up of the West Bank would only accelerate it.
Symptomatic in this case is a leaked memo - circulated among officials of the Anti-Defamation League, a Zionist lobby group unconvincingly dressed up as a civil rights organisation - in which the rather treacherous terrain opened up by the recent wave of anti-racist protests is explored.
Black Lives Matter has historically taken a clear pro-Palestinian position. (The UK branch of the franchise has been pleasantly vocal on the annexation issue in recent weeks, much to the consternation of ogres like Mike Katz of the Jewish Labour Movement.)
Now, with pro-Israel sentiment ever more identified with the American right, the ADL memo lists “eight top political and community engagement implications” that could arise from annexation, including:
- “complicate ADL’s relationship with the Tri-Caucus (the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus) and the Progressive caucus”;
- “pit ADL on the wrong side of the Black Lives Matter movement”;
- “be used to label Israel as an occupier, racist and apartheid state”; and
- “challenge relationships between ADL and many civil rights organisations and coalitions”.1
The discomfort of the ADL and similar outfits is a silver lining to what is a peculiarly ominous cloud. As I write, things are on something on a knife-edge, with alternate prime minister Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party apparently telling White House envoy Avi Berkowitz that it would be a bad idea to take such an initiative while there is still a pandemic, and Netanyahu mentioning on June 30 talks with the US “over the next few days”.
But if Netanyahu and friends are serious about this - and we should have no reason to imagine that they are not - then his best bet is almost certainly to convince Donald Trump to give the go-ahead. If we get to the end of this week without annexations, then there is still time (until January 2021, when Trump’s lame-duck period ends, should he lose in November) to make another go of it. Trump’s erratic political character, his prickliness about insults (and the immediate Palestinian rejection of his nightmarish ‘peace’ deal will certainly be treated as such) and his reliance on ‘wedge’ issues for electoral success - all rather suggest that Netanyahu has a good chance.
The consequences, if and when they come, look to be truly dreadful. The resumption of war in Syria and Iraq at least, the real possibility of war between Israel and neighbouring states or even Iran, and new waves of mass terror and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Arabs are all in the offing. All attempts to portray this outcome as an unfortunate, aberrant choice by an unwise government must be rejected: it is the very core of the Zionist project, which represents a bizarre, vestigial survival of European colonialism, whose political economy depends on the progressive marginalisation of the Arabs and - ultimately - their placement on the other side of those margins altogether.