Yesterday, Benny Gantz, the “liberal” rival to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced his vow to annex the Jordan valley if elected. The move would be a war crime, and finally cement in Israeli law the encirclement and Bantustanization of Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied West Bank.
The two have been competing on who is to be credited for the crime involving a third of the West Bank. Netanyahu had vowed to make the move in September, ahead of Israel’s second elections within five months. When he announced his plan, Gantz’s Blue and White Party responded by saying that Likud has stolen their idea.
Now, ahead of Israel’s 3rd elections within a year, Gantz is trying the trick. Netanyahu’s response:
Why wait until after the election if we can apply sovereignty over the Jordan Valley right now with broad consesus in the Knesset? Benny Gantz, I expect your answer by tonight, unless Ahmad Tibi vetoes you.
Netanyahu was referring to a Palestinian member of the Knesset, the co-chairman of the Palestinian Joint List, whom he regularly uses as his “Arab” mocking-puppet, saying that Gantz depends upon Arabs for political survival, as in slogans like “a vote for Gantz is a vote for Tibi”. Read: Gantz needs Arabs, we don’t.
Gantz appears desperate to bring in more right-wing votes. After all, Blue White is a kind of Likud-light party for all practical purposes, and if they can offer the same ‘benefits’ without the problem of Netanyahu’s criminal corruption, then why not?
Yossi Alpher, interviewed by Americans for Peace Now just ahead of Gantz’s announcement, said:
Blue-White, now assured that it will have a Zionist partner to its left for a coalition, has begun moving politically to the right to try to poach votes from Likud. Lately it has dropped hints about considering or advocating Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley “in coordination with the international community”. Annexing the Jordan Valley is a Likud platform plank designed to dovetail with a Trump “peace” proposal that just may be unveiled by the administration in Washington before March 2. The idea is that Israel’s right-religious mainstream, which likes Trump and his initiatives regarding Jerusalem and Israel’s borders, would interpret Trump’s endorsement of Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley as significant support for whichever candidate, Netanyahu or Gantz or both, aligns with this position.
Indeed, when Gantz was asked yesterday about Trump’s deal of the century, he was impatient:
I hope that President Trump will hurry and release his plan. Several weeks have passed. Many dramatic things are happening in the Middle East, and I’m looking forward to the plan’s release.
Those “dramatic things” appear to have been happening in the past two weeks alone, because earlier in the month Gantz claimed that release of the Trump plan ahead of elections would constitute “outright intervention” in Israeli politics.
A long history of annexation
Despite the competition over which party should be credited for the idea of annexation, it has a very long history, at least from the time that the two Benjamins were kids. In the immediate wake of the 1967 war, where Israel territorially completed the “unfinished job” of 1948, Labour Minister Yigal Allon introduced what became known as the Allon Plan. The plan was basically about annexing the Jordan Valley, the West Bank’s breadbasket, for supposed “security reasons”, and slicing the remaining western portion of the West Bank into two. The plan started with a “Palestinian option” meant to create a Bantustanized Palestinian autonomy under Israel, then morphed in 1968 into the “Jordanian option” in which a corridor to Jordan was added, so that Jordan would have control over the Arab population enclave.
The whole guiding notion of this was the Zionist equation, as voiced in more recent years by Blue White co-leader Yair Lapid:
Maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians.
The plan did not get realized as such, but the notion of it has guided Israeli politicians ever since. And bear in mind, Yigal Allon was a Labor leader.
Under the Oslo Accords of the early 1990’s, the Jordan Valley was included in Area C (over 60% of the West Bank) under temporary yet complete Israeli control. Even under Ehud Barak’s “generous offer” to Arafat at Camp David in 2000, the Jordan Valley featured as a separate item which would remain under Israeli control for 6 to 21 years. The Palestinian rejection of the “generous offer”, which initially consisted of 77% of the West Bank going to a Palestinian state that amounted to a Bantustan, was cited by Barak and others to claim that there was “no partner for peace”.
Unilateral Israeli annexation of occupied territory in the wake of the 1967 war has, nonetheless, occurred. Israel annexed East Jerusalem (expanding municipal bounds tenfold) and the Syrian Jolan (Golan), cementing these two annexations in quasi-constitutional ‘basic law’ in 1980 and 1981 respectively. These acts are war crimes. The seminal UN Security Council Resolution 242 made in the wake of the 1967 war, notes already in its preamble:
“Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”.
No Israeli internal legalizations could change the fact that these annexations are “null and void” under international law – yet the Trump administration has shown that it can flout international law and create a new “reality”, one guided by Israeli aggression. Hence the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the recognition of the Syrian Jolan as Israeli territory in the past few years.
These de-facto subscriptions to Israeli war crimes play an important role in the public consciousness. People get used to the new borders as “facts on the ground”, and Israel knows this very well.
Look, for example, at how Democratic Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren avoids suggesting that she will move the US embassy away from Jerusalem. It’s all about balancing things from there:
As president, I will take immediate steps to fix the damage caused by Donald Trump’s reckless policies. I will welcome the Palestinian general delegation back to Washington. And I will reopen an American mission to the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I will make clear that in a two state agreement, both parties should be able to have their capitals in Jerusalem.
So, the famous “two state solution” will somehow even things out. But “fixing the damage” caused by Trump no longer includes moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv. Let’s reflect that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed first in 1995 under Bill Clinton with wide support in both houses (Senate 93-5, House 374-37) and Clinton declined to veto. Its realization was averted over the years by three Presidents signing a National Security Waiver on the law– until Trump stopped signing.
The language of force
This is the language of force, the one that Israelis love to chide Arabs for being the only one they can understand. Benny Gantz has entered politics with a video campaign boasting of how he returned Gaza to the “stone age” as army chief of staff, boasting his extrajudicial assassinations which he promised more of if elected.
There is not even a hint of “two state solution” in his rhetoric, and his recent vows make his intentions ever more clear. In his Blue White camp there are a few who ostensibly support “two states for two people” – from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction, under that notion of “minimum Palestinians”. But otherwise it’s an idea that is hardly uttered in the Zionist spectrum anymore, even on the left.
The International Criminal Court has recently announced its decision to investigate Israeli war crimes (pending a pre-Trial chamber decision on the “territories” at hand). Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda noted in particular Netanyahu’s recent election vow to annex the Jordan Valley. Gantz responded to the court decision with derision, calling it “a political decision, not a legal one,” adding that “the Israeli army is one of the most moral militaries in the world”, and that “the Israeli army and State of Israel do not commit war crimes.”
Now, the ICC should update its concern. Both PM candidates are vowing to commit war crimes.
US Democrats need to update rhetoric
The ICC is not the only body that needs to update its concerns. Democratic leaders need to update themselves that annexation is not a “Netanyahu thing”, it is an “Israel thing”. Elizbeth Warren:
But let’s be clear, we can speak out against the far rightwing policies of the Netanyahu government like annexation and settlements, while supporting Israel, just as we speak out against President Trump while supporting the United States.
Warren is suggesting that these “rightwing policies” are not representational of Israel as a whole. But Gantz’s statement confirms that they are.
Bernie Sanders has also made such claims, that it’s really about Netanyahu. He called Netanyahu a “racist” in December and pointed to the premier’s corruption cases, thus making the case that you can be “pro Israel”, but also “pro Palestinian”.
This notion rests on the idea that there are other forces that one can support that arc towards peace, as it were. But for all of Netanyahu’s corruptions and racist expressions, what difference does it make in terms of real policy? What is the real difference between the two Benjamins? And does it really matter that one is more crass than the other? That one jokes about “Arabs” while the other returns Gaza to the “stone age”?
It doesn’t really matter. In terms of actual politics, Likud and Blue White are just about even. The two could make up a unity government (the option that appears to be most viable at this time) and do just fine.
And annexation is the buzzword. Because a Greater Israel is something that unites the nation. Make Israel Great Again.