Benjamin Netanyahu will move forward on annexation as soon as he has worked out the details within the Israeli right wing. That is what is holding him back. Not the American Jewish organizations opposed to annexation, not Europe, not Jordan and the Gulf states. He will unleash Sheldon Adelson on the Trump administration to get the green light in Washington only when he has worked that out.
And Netanyahu doesn’t fear that Joe Biden if he becomes president will present any impediment to annexation.
These are the insights of Daniel Levy, president of the US Middle East Project. He spoke with Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, on Zoom yesterday.
A “move on annexation” will likely happen before November.
July [the window set by Netanyahu] was always random. November is not random. November or January. In many respects I see it more as November…
Annexation did not go forward July 1 because Netanyahu has failed to hammer out just how much he will annex with his right wing and centrist partners. All the Democratic Party pressure from the United States — I hate to break it to you, it had no real impact. Levy:
This was an internal Israeli political dynamic and decision, which does not mean that all the work done on the outside was irrelevant. I think it was marginal in terms of its impact on the Israeli decision making. Its potential significance is in the fact that it could engage people [U.S. public figures], it could mobilize people, it could hopefully get some people on record going further than they were willing to…
Netanyahu has to make a lot of different actors happy– some of whom want ethnic cleansing.
There’s a fight inside the settler movement. This is the monster that was created over many many years, Netanyahu contributed tremendously to it. But almost nothing short of full annexation, full blown apartheid, perhaps full blown ethnic cleansing is good enough for a cohort of the Israeli right.
Two other factors stayed Netanyahu’s hand. The COVID-19 resurgence and Trump tanking in the polls. But that won’t stop him, and neither will Jared Kushner:
I don’t think that makes Netanyahu fundamentally change the decision. I think Netanyahu will begin to look weak…. if he doesn’t do this… I tend to think that if he resolves the first piece of that puzzle, which is the internal problem within the base, within the right, then he can move forward…
The arguments that Kushner and Trump are going to prevent annexation– sometimes you literally need to pull yourself out of Alice and Wonderland to believe what you’re hearing…
The U.S. players are David Friedman, the rightwing ambassador, and Trump’s biggest donor, Sheldon Adelson, and also the evangelical Christian Zionist community. Levy:
Until [Netanyahu] has his ducks lined up he can’t send Friedman, Sheldon Adelson and the evangelicals into battle. Because they have their direct line into the settlers. And if the settlers are saying to Sheldon, to Friedman, to the evangelicals– and you’ve seen this reflected in some of the back and forth– “Guys this isn’t good enough.” Until Bibi has his ducks lined up he can’t take this to the White House… That may not happen, I expect it will happen.
International pressure and Joe Biden’s stated opposition? Not factors.
I do not think that the whining and I call it mostly whining coming out of Europe, which is to say, “Please don’t, Israel”– without being able to spell any consequences– I don’t think that has had a significant impact. I don’t think what we’ve heard from the region has had a particularly significant impact.
I do not think Netanyahu significantly fears a Biden administration and that that is driving his considerations. It may do so the closer we come to November. It may well do so between November and January.
Levy said that Netanyahu feels some freedom because the repeated warning from Israeli liberals that Israel is going to become an international “pariah,” or will face a “diplomatic tsunami” if the occupation continues — it’s never happened. Israel has never faced sanctions.
And Joe Biden seems count-on-able by Netanyahu.
Biden was not a big fan of doing [UN Security Council Resolution] 2334 in the dying embers of the Obama administration.
Though Levy holds out hope that Biden’s embrace of “multilateralism” if he becomes president would scare Netanyahu…
Jeremy Ben-Ami said that sanctions are out of the question: The U.S. is not going to reduce the $3.8 billion it gives Israel. That’s wishful thinking. What politicians can do is put conditions on the money we give Israel. Here he stepped closer to the left side of the Democratic Party.
You can imagine a situation where he United States and policymakers.. could put a lot greater scrutiny in how that money is used, what that money is going for… settlements, detention of child prisoners, demolitions of houses… and just the scrutiny begins to have an impact.
Unlike every other recipient of U.S. aid, Israel gets it with no real accounting, Ben-Ami said:
“People don’t understand enough this is the least scrutinized money allocated by the Congress of the United States each year…. Compared to every other aid program, every other country’s assistance package, this money has the least oversight and scrutiny compared to everyone else. Just one of the things you might begin to say is… at least apply the scrutiny you’re applying to every other country to this country.”
That’s a shocking statement to me. It answers the charge of antisemitism against the BDS campaign, for singling Israel out, applying a double standard etc — well the U.S. singles Israel out and applies a double standard.
Ben-Ami then lifted the hood on the politics of the U.S. Israel lobby. Jewish leaders with political clout don’t care about Palestinian rights, they care about Jewish safety.
The moral argument is not going to work for a lot of the folks who need to be brought along for there to be the political basis for policy change.
The narrative that Israel is a “safe haven” for the Jewish people “and everyone is out to get you” still resonates for these leaders. So he recommended the tactic of deploring annexation because it hurts Israel:
“What does this step that you’re proposing to take do to the safety and security of the state that is supposed to protect the Jewish people?”
Here Daniel Levy differed. So long as you look at this issue through the prism of security, you end up with a militarized occupation. Just as in the U.S. such arguments lead to police brutality against black people. “I think the jury is in and that that approach has failed,” Levy said. Yes, and he lives in London.
Ben-Ami continually reminded viewers of his own conservative constituency, the people posting Zoom questions: What are you asking of the Palestinians? “It’s hard to hear 53 minutes about everything that Israel has to do.”
As it is hard to build an agenda for Palestinian rights inside the Israel lobby, even the liberal Zionist branch.