The news that the Trump Administration no longer views Israeli settlements in the West Bank as “illegal” was not shocking, any more than the feigned outrage expressed by the very nations who continue to empower Israel no matter what it does. This prelude to the Israeli annexation of the West Bank is certain to further Palestinian misery by emboldened settlers and Occupation soldiers.
But that annexation in reality occurred decades ago. There is a reason why Israel has never simply said so.
On November 29 of 1947, the UN voted to recommend the partitioning of Palestine (UNGA Resolution 181), defeating a minority recommendation for a democratic binational state. Negotiators for the Palestinian cause took advantage of a 24-hour reprieve to propose another binational plan, with a constitution similar to that of the United States. The proposal was ignored, but the seventy-two years since have been a bumpy but unstoppable slow-motion return to the essential concept of a single democratic state.
Ironically, the Trump genie that grants Zionism its every wish, brings that liberation — and the end of Zionism — all the closer.
If Israel is accused of having annexed the West Bank, and thus of running it as an apartheid state, it would hold up “proof” to the contrary: the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians, we are told, vote for their own “government”. But shingles on PA office doors in Ramallah not withstanding, the on-the-ground reality is that the Palestinian Authority has no true “authority” over what happens to Palestine or its people. Certain functions associated with governance are assigned to it in name, but it carries these out only at Israel’s pleasure. Its political repression of its own “citizens”, for example, simply spares Israel the chore; and international aid to Palestine is in truth further aid to Israel, because it merely subsidizes its occupation and crippling of the Palestinian economy.
The Palestinian Authority, in other words, can be seen as merely a subcontractor and fig-leaf for Israeli’s ultimate sovereignty over the entire area — irrespective of the Oslo Accords’ theoretical division of the West Bank into areas A (Palestinian), B (Palestinian-Israeli), and C (Israeli). Israel began violating the laws regulating an occupying power immediately upon its 1967 conquest, and has ruled the entire West Bank (which includes East Jerusalem) and Gaza (whether directly or by siege) ever since.
Clearing away the smoke and mirrors, what’s left is this: Israel treats “Judea and Samaria” as its sovereign territory, but only its Jews (i.e., settlers) can vote, while non-Jews, by virtue of ethnicity, are denied even the most rudimentary human rights.
This mirage can not last indefinitely, but Trump’s latest gift can only hasten its day of reckoning. Its implicit invitation to the complete theft of the West Bank and ultimately all Palestine, Zionism’s goal for over a century, now looms tantalizingly close. Netanyahu needs do little more than “make it so” in a way that will assure the “international community” continues to behave as it did upon Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem four decades ago: protest, Resolutions, and total appeasement. Israel’s increased Trump-inspired repression could itself precipitate a new Palestinian backlash that would provide Israel the pretext for annexation.
But this Temptation promises a sobering morning after. Israel will suddenly “own” the West Bank. There will be no PA fig-leaf to cover it up. How will Israel explain that non-Jews cannot vote and remain subjugated in what it claims to be its sovereign land? What had always been the reality will be on full display for the world to see: Israel is an apartheid state.
It would face three options.
• One, it could ethnically cleanse a couple of million more Palestinians. But this is not 1948, and it is not 1967. Although Israel continues to enforce the ethnic containment of Palestinians by bantustan within the Palestinian side of the Armistice Line, its ongoing ethnic cleansing out of Palestine needs to remain discreet. In today’s world, not even Israel’s ever-shocking impunity would shield it from loading two or three million people onto trucks and shipping them to new refugee camps in surrounding countries.
• Two, it could allow West Bank non-Jews the same citizenship as non-Jews already “enjoy” in Israel other than East Jerusalem — second-tier citizenship to be sure, but they nonetheless can vote in national elections, and so the system could be passed off as a nominal democracy. It happens that we’ve a test case for such a scenario — East Jerusalem — and it demonstrates that citizenship for non-Jews would not result from annexation. Although Israel considers East Jerusalem to be fully part of Israel, its non-Jews are tenuous “residents”, not citizens, and have no voice in Israel’s national elections. This is all the more remarkable in that the non-Jewish population of East Jerusalem, unlike the West Bank’s, is far too small to threaten Israel’s demographic concerns.
• And so, by default, Israel would be stuck with option three: just continue as before, for as long as it lasts. The West Bank would be like East Jerusalem is now — but too big to fudge. West Bank non-Jews would be foreigners in their own land, “residents” with no voice in national affairs, and subject to ethnic cleansing through opaque laws engineered for the purpose. Inertia might bide some time for the apartheid state, but it would not be sustainable. It might last two years, or perhaps as long as ten, but once a critical mass of the world’s political and economic interests see Israel as a liability, the call for simply equality will be the Zionist state’s ultimate defeat.
The single-state democracy that should have been the obvious answer in 1947, will finally be realized, untold suffering later.
1. Regarding the new proposal following the vote on Res 181, see TNA, WO_261-571, Fortnightly Intelligence Newsletter No. 55, Part II, Partition of Palestine, p9, bottom (illustrated here). It is worth pointing out that, according to British documents, the reason the UN opted for partition over the democratic binational state was that it feared increased Zionist terrorism (see TNA, CAB 129/21, page stamped “52”, illustrated here, or the author’s How Terrorism Created Modern Israel, p236). Jewish anti-racists in the settlements, among them Hebrew University president Judah Magnes, also supported a single state.
2. Israel and US militarily negated the results of Palestine’s 2006 election, so the Palestinians did not actually vote in the present government (Fatah), but this is incidental to the present point. That election’s candidates were already limited by Israel through exclusion, imprisonment, and assassination.
3. Non-Jewish East Jerusalemite “residents” can vote in municipal elections. Non-Jews can apply for citizenship, but by doing so they implicitly forfeit East Jerusalem’s status under international law as Palestinian, and yet their citizenship is not equal to that of the city’s Jewish settlers. Non-Jews actually risk expulsion simply by making any application to the Israeli authorities, who may then demand documented proof of family residency back to the nineteenth century, whereas Jews from abroad need no such precedent — hence, for example, Palestinian reluctance to apply for building permits.