There has been remarkable news in the last few days: much of the Israel lobby in the United States is in open revolt against the Israeli government to try and stop annexation of the West Bank.
The rightwing group AIPAC has for once given politicians a green light to criticize Israel over annexation; hardliners such as Robert Satloff, David Makovsky and Democratic Majority for Israel are urging Israel not to annex West Bank lands, and the Democratic group J Street is pushing a letter to Netanyahu signed by 28 Democratic senators saying it would “betray our shared democratic values” by denying the possibility of a Palestinian state, along with statements from nine Senate candidates.
Maybe most important, Haim Saban, a leading Democratic donor, is reported to have sherpa’d an op-ed by a UAE ambassador urging Israel not to annex. The bombshell op-ed in a rightwing Israeli publication has enraged Trump’s pro-Israel ideologues who paved the way for annexation under the Trump “peace plan.”
Saban’s role shows that the center and left branches of the Israel lobby don’t like what the far-rightwing is doing. It’s Saban versus Sheldon Adelson, two megadonors who have worked together for Israel often, joining Republicans and Democrats in blissful harmony.
Let’s be clear that this is a crisis for the Israel lobby because Israel supporters fear they will have trouble selling Israel in the U.S. if this goes through. That Senate letter to Netanyahu gives away that fear:
[M]ost concerning, a unilateral annexation outside of a negotiated agreement would likely erode the strong support among the American people for the special relationship and diplomatic partnership with the United States that Israel currently enjoys.
Not that any of this is getting through in Israel. At Americans for Peace Now, a liberal member of the Israeli parliament, Merav Michaeli says that Israelis live in a rightwing bubble, and few have any awareness of the risks annexation poses to Israel’s international standing. “An overwhelming majority” of the parliament and the government ministers are for annexation, she says, and the public has been indoctrinated by rightwing media, thinktanks, and nonprofits to accept it too. The parliamentarians who support annexation include two Labor members of Knesset, by the way — so much for any hope in liberal Zionism in Israel.
The concern for American Zionists is that annexation will remove their main talking point, that Israel is a model democracy. Suddenly Palestinians will be demanding rights, and that will embarrass liberals. Michaeli:
“The moment we turn from a conflict and a dispute over territory to a dispute over rights, because when Israel annexes, it actually says we are giving up the two state solution– sooner than later Palestinians will start saying OK, no two state solution, just give us rights. Then this is the end of the nation home for the Jewish people, and somehow most Israelis I think can’t picture this.”
Michaeli is admitting what several other Israel supporters have lately admitted: that managed conflict was a policy, and the endless peace process that betrayed Palestinian aspirations again and again was fine so long as liberals could continue to claim the occupation is temporary.
When that pretense is abandoned, as it would be under annexation, then it puts American Jews in a difficult position. “The idea that Israel would not be a democratic state at its core because the Palestinians would not have citizenship or equal rights is just not aceptable for many American Jews,” Aviva Meyer, vice chair of Americans for Peace Now, said on that conference call.
Not that Palestinians have ever had equal rights. . . Americans for Peace Now chairman James Klutznick was blunt on this score during the same conference call:
Regardless of how Israel or I should say Netanyahu and that faction of their government tries to cover annexation with the euphemism of extending Isael sovereignty, Occupation remains. It’s occupation, and whether or not anyone wants to say apartheid, I just said it. It’s been de facto apartheid for a long time and this could end up being official.
That’s a big leap for an organization that has tried to avoid such terms. And it shows that the annexation debate is breaking up old orthodoxies and allowing Americans to look at Israel for what it really is.