Liberal Zionists have responded with alarm to the new Israeli government’s plans to move ahead with annexation of large portions of the West Bank beginning July 1. Liberal Zionist organizations say that the coronavirus crisis has given a rightwing emergency coalition cover to destroy the two-state solution, and thereby threaten both Palestinian rights and the “Jewish democracy.”
They are calling on American politicians to step in to try to block the plan. The Israel lobby group J Street is even calling for conditioning some of the billions in aid that the United States provides Israel if it goes through with annexation.
Right alongside this discourse is a counter-argument leftists and realists have been making for years: The Israeli plans merely publicize the fact that there is only one state in Israel and Palestine, with vastly different rights for Jews and Palestinians, and it’s been that way for 50 years. So let’s get on with a struggle for equal rights.
The breakthrough in the news from Israel is that even old peace processors seem resigned to the fact that the two-state moment is passed (as John Kerry warned five years ago).
Here is former White House aide Dennis Ross on Twitter all but throwing in the towel. It’s one state.
Israel’s new government allows PM Netanyahu to raise unilateral annexation on July 1. He needs Trump’s agreement to implement it. That’s the only condition; it will take a Palestinian counteroffer or key Arab leaders weighing in to stop it. 1 state for 2 peoples is more likely.
Jamil Dakwar supplies the simple path ahead:
Democracy and equal rights for all OR apartheid.
Ian Lustick, a former liberal Zionist with a new book on the one-state reality, said he is for annexation because it ends the delusion and advances the discourse of equal rights:
I’m for annexation or anything toward that because it will shift the discourse and the kind of struggles to the important ones, which is equality and democracy for all. Whether that results ultimately, eventually in two states, I don’t know.
As for liberal Zionists, many are concerned about the threat of annexation to Israel’s image and to American support for Israel. Israel will become a pariah. Ori Nir at Americans for Peace Now:
Annexation… will turn Israel into an international pariah that perpetuates the occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians, and that thumbs its nose at international law and the international community…
Annexation will send a message to the citizens of Israel, the Palestinians and the entire world that Israel favors continuing its bloody conflict with the Palestinians and an apartheid-like reality in the West Bank over democracy and peace.
J Street is also worried about the pariah image. Writes an official:
US leaders should make clear that it’d be nearly impossible to maintain the same special relationship with an Israel that abandons a commitment to democracy — and that it would face real consequences for carrying out annexation
J Street’s alarmed statement says that Israeli rightwingers, who dominate the parliament, are exploiting the world’s attention on coronavirus to take the step. It describes annexation as a disaster for “Israel’s interests” as well as Palestinian human rights.
[W]e believe that annexation would severely imperil Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, along with the future of the US-Israel relationship.
J Street endorses conditioning aid to Israel if it goes forward with annexation. There is even a hint that Israel should be condemned at the U.N., or even tried for war crimes.
At a minimum, they [politicians] should make clear that the US will not help foot the bill for the implementation of unilateral annexation, and accordingly will consider how to restrict the uses to which US aid can be put by the Israeli government. They should emphasize that Congress and the next presidential administration will not object to due criticism of annexation in the international arena and international forums.
Michael Koplow says on an Israel Policy Forum webinar that Joe Biden is not likely to condition aid to Israel. But if Biden came out strongly against annexation and said that as president he would not recognize annexation even if Trump had done so (sort of like Trump undoing the Iran deal), the Israelis would think twice. “That would perhaps impact the tenor of discussion leading up to July 1 [annexation],” Koplow says.
But Koplow says it is unlikely that anyone can do anything to deter the annexation. And his own organization won’t even try that hard!
If the United States or the European Union were willing to bring immediate heavy sanctions to bear on Israel, that would deter that. A, that’s not going to happen. B, I want to make very clear that that’s not something Israel Policy Forum supports or advocates happening.
As Koplow points out, Congress has already opposed annexation. (In 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.Res.326, opposing annexation as an effort to undermine a two-state solution). But Trump is for it, and that’s all that matters to the Israelis. They see annexation as “something painless.”
Plenty of bodies are on record as opposing annexation. At the end of the day, the president of the United State is not only in favor of it but his administration is literally leading the charge on getting it done. It’s tough for anyone to send the message to the Israeli government that this is something that shouldn’t be done..
Jordan could threaten to suspend its peace treaty with Israel, and Egypt too; those threats would give the Israeli government pause. But Egypt won’t do it. And Jordan won’t likely do so, Koplow said.
The biggest obstacle to liberal Zionists may be indifference at a time when Democrats are fighting coronavirus and Trump. I notice that Richard Haass and David Rothkopf and Democratic Majority 4 Israel have all been silent about annexation.
That’s a sign of the erosion of establishment consensus for a two-state solution. That consensus has actually served to camouflage a one-state reality from the world, and allowed policymakers and Israel supporters to tell themselves that somehow it is possible to have a “Jewish democracy” at the same time as apartheid.
Correction: I originally stated that J Street has never endorsed conditioning aid. Last fall the organization said that no U.S. aid should foot the bill for annexation, though it opposes any reduction in aid.