By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
November 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of the declaration by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour that approved the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. From the point of view of Britain’s ruling class at the time, the edict would aid in inserting a grateful and compliant settler population into the bloc of Middle East colonies that Britain had captured from Ottoman Turkey in World War I.
Britain’s pro-settlement policy opened the door for the events three decades later, following the next World War, when Zionist terror forced about 700,000 Arab Palestinians, about 50 percent of Palestine’s prewar population, to flee from their homes. Close to half of that number were expelled before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. In the process, between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were sacked or completely wiped off the map.
The United States rapidly displaced Britain in those years as the dominant imperialist power in the Middle East. U.S. strategy looked to Israel as its major regional police agent to counter any struggles of Arab nationalism that might disrupt imperialist profit taking in that oil-rich part of the world. Since then, Israel has become the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in the world; to date, the U.S. has provided Israel $142.3 billion in aid (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars). For 2020, the Trump administration has requested $3.3 billion in military aid to Israel, plus another $500 million for missile defense. The administration has also asked for $5 million in “humanitarian” assistance for migrants to Israel.
Right at the beginning, the state of Israel quickly expanded its territory beyond what the UN had mandated for the Jewish “homeland.” Additional territory was seized as a consequence of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war with neighboring Arab nations. The Golan Heights was taken from Syria in 1967, and officially annexed to Israel in 1980. The Gaza Strip was taken from Egyptian administration, and the West Bank from Jordan. For the most part, the latter two territories were left under the nominal governance of the Palestinian Authority, which provides some services and a police force for the areas. Ultimately, however, both Gaza and the West Bank are subject to Israeli state and military control.
Today, 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, an area of stagnating growth where two out of three young people are unemployed. Israel retains direct control of over 60 percent of the territory. At the same time, over 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 settlements in the West Bank, which are linked by Israeli-controlled highways and fenced corridors that leave Palestinians isolated within disconnected patches.
Israeli politicians have never made a secret of their desire to formally annex even more Palestinian land to Israel—especially the wide and fertile valley of the Jordan River, which borders Jordan on the east bank. Israel has already allocated some 86 percent of the Jordan Valley to Israeli settlements.
Recently, the annexation proposal was made a centerpiece of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election platform. Netanyahu has promised his right-wing base that, if allowed to stay in office, he would take immediate steps to annex the valley and other settlements—amounting to close to a third of the West Bank.
Despite being indicted on Nov. 21 on criminal charges of bribery, fraud, and corruption, Netanyahu has remained as head of state until the election, in accordance with Israeli law. Due to the inability of his Likud Party to form a coalition government, Israel now faces its third election in less than a year—probably in early March 2020.
Trump’s pro-Israeli edicts
On Nov. 18, the Trump administration announced that it does not consider Israel’s West Bank settlements to be a violation of international law—repudiating the conclusions expressed in a 1978 State Department document on the matter. This followed the administration’s declaration in 2017 that it recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and Trump’s proclamation in March 2019 accepting Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.
Those pronouncements were capped last summer by Trump’s trumpeted “deal of the century.” Ghada Karmi, writing in the London Review of Books (Dec. 5, 2019) called Trump’s “deal” the “end stage of that process of delegitimisation of Palestinian rights and wishes started by Balfour a century ago.”
Karmi reported that the “political” part of Trump’s plan had not yet been disclosed. However, “according to unauthenticated leaks published in Israel Hayom … it envisages a mini-state of ‘New Palestine’ on 12 per cent of the West Bank, comprising non-contiguous cantons, with a capital somewhere inside Jerusalem’s expanded municipal boundaries. … The new state would be demilitarized, its security provided by Israel but paid for by the Palestinians. Finally, the Palestinian right of return—declared an inalienable right by the UN General Assembly in 1974—would be cancelled.”
It is questionable whether the “deal of the century” will ever be implemented; with little doubt, resistance by the Palestinian masses would have to be reckoned with. In the meantime, Netanyahu and right-wing Israeli legislators are taking active steps to make annexation of the Jordan Valley a reality.
The U.S. statement on West Bank settlements in November was widely seen as an attempt by Trump to bolster political support for his ally Netanyahu in the impending parliamentary elections—if not also a tacit endorsement of Netanyahu’s plan for annexations. The prime minister embraced Trump’s edict with delight. “The historic decision by the American administration from yesterday hands us a unique opportunity to set Israel’s eastern border and annex the Jordan Valley,” Netanyahu said in a Nov. 19 Hebrew-language video posted on Twitter.
Netanyahu framed the annexation proposal, which would extend the territory of the Israeli state further along the border with Jordan, as a defensive measure. He told his voters in a recent Facebook post that Arabs “want to annihilate us all—women, children, and men.” Many believe, however, that the imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley would cause Jordan to respond to mass pressure by suspending its peace treaty with Israel.
Netanyahu’s major opponent in the election is Benny Gantz, Israel’s former military chief. Gantz’s Blue and White party has expressed agreement with the scheme to annex the Jordan Valley. But some Israeli political figures have opposed direct annexation, at least at the present time, expressing the fear that accepting the Palestinian population of the territory as citizens might help tip the balance toward creating a non-Jewish majority in Israel itself. And it is evident to many that if the Palestinians who remain in the annexed lands were denied the full rights of citizenship, Israel’s status as an apartheid state would become even more blatant that it is today.
For a democratic, secular Palestine!
Raja Shehadeh, a Palestinian lawyer and writer, pointed out in the British Guardian newspaper that formal annexation offers few real benefits to the Zionist regime. He wrote: “Israel already is reaping all the benefits of annexation in the West Bank, and without having to bear any responsibility for the welfare of the Palestinians living here…
“Mr. Netanyahu made this promise, on the eve of an election, only to please his right-wing supporters. Formal annexation won’t bring about any real change or extra benefits for the Israelis who live in the occupied areas. For all intents and purposes, the Israeli government already treats them as though they were living in Israel proper (extending Israeli law to them), and gives them perks (cheap mortgages and tax relief).”
Shedaheh continued: That’s one reason that many Palestinians I know have come to believe in a one-state solution: After all, with so many Israeli settlements in the West Bank by now, a two-state solution would be impossible to implement. That’s not to say, however, that many Palestinians welcome Mr. Netanyahu’s formal annexation plan as a step forward toward that goal. Israel has always wanted this land—without its people.”
The so-called “two-state” solution has been waved around by negotiators for decades. “Two states” never was a serious option, however, since the scenarios entertained by Israel, the UN, and the United States always envisioned a Palestinian mini-state that would be a mere appendage of Israel, beholden to the Zionist government for military defense, customs enforcement, foreign policy, and so on. Trump’s purported “deal of the century,” which would squeeze the new Palestinian mini-state into a mere 12 percent of its former territory, is at least fairly obvious in its predatory goals.
In 2017, following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, was quoted in The New York Times (Dec. 8, 2017) as saying that Trump and Netanyahu “have managed to destroy that hope,” which he had fought for, of an independent Palestinian state. The Times reported that, as a result, “he embraced a radical shift in the PLO’s goals—to a single state, with Palestinians enjoying the same civil rights as Israelis, including the vote.”
The goal of a single democratic and secular Palestine, in which all citizens would have equal rights, was put forward by Palestinian freedom fighters back in the 1960s. Today, as the “two-state solution” appears more clearly as being impossible to achieve, the idea of a single Palestine has been increasingly looked on with favor by many Palestinians. It makes sense.