"The Israeli daily Maariv has revealed that Israel plans to detonate a 'political bomb' in the coming weeks," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
A bill will be put to the Knesset that is likely to be supported by a majority of its members, calling for the annexation of the areas Israel occupied in 1967. The paper added that the Israeli right has chosen this particular point in time on the eve of the American presidential elections since the U.S. will be preoccupied and not be too concerned about what is happening in the Palestinian territories.
According to the paper, preliminary reports speak of Israel annexing all of Area C in the first phase. This constitutes some 60% of the West Bank's territories, where more than 400 thousand settlers and tens of thousands of Palestinians live. According to the plan, Israel will offer Israeli citizenship to the inhabitants of Area C and impose the Israeli education curriculums on them.
Meanwhile, Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has stated that Israeli law should be extended to the West Bank, which would mean, in effect, that the occupied Palestinian territories have been placed under Israeli sovereignty. For his part, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Elie Ben-Dahan has demanded 'the annexation of the West Bank because the Arab and regional situation now is suitable for taking this step.' And the leader of ‘The Jewish Home Party’ Naftali Bennett, who is a member of the Israeli cabinet, has said that ‘it would be better if Israel begins to annex the Area C territories’.
It would be wrong to dismiss these positions and statements or take them lightly. In fact, they should be taken very seriously because the Netanyahu government has been acting on the assumption that the West Bank is 'liberated territory' and that its formal annexation is only a matter of time.
A historic turnabout occurred in 1977 when the Israeli right, led by Menachem Begin – himself a disciple of Jabotinsky and his Iron Wall theory based on the correct assumption that the country's indigenous people will never accept what [Israeli] colonialism wants or the solutions it aims to impose on them-- won the Knesset elections for the first time. Since then Israel has been going through a gradual and continuous process of transformation into a racist, settler, right-wing, Jewish state.
This tendency became more deeply entrenched after Binyamin Netanyahu's return to power in 2009, when the so-called ‘Third Israel’ phase began. The right became the central current in control of the sources of power in both state and society, and the influence of the figures, parties, and groups that sought to reach a solution that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel retreated. So much so that the Labor Party has now ended its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state and has unanimously opted for the plan proposed by its current leader Issac Herzog at the last party conference instead based on a unilateral solution that calls for separation from the areas heavily populated by Palestinians so as to protect Israel as a 'Jewish' state, and defend it from the threat of becoming a bi-national state.
Israel has been witnessing a series of changes. Its liberal and secular character has receded, while the religious and right-wing current has advanced via laws and policies and the imposition of facts on the ground that render a roll back from this de facto situation extremely difficult. If we were to consider the relationship with the Palestinians, for example, we would find that views calling for their forced displacement are on the rise and have occupied advanced positions in the government, army, security establishment, Knesset, and various state institutions. Meanwhile, the Israeli government has shifted from a policy of 'conflict management' and the creation of facts on the ground that would help Israel to impose its solution when the time comes for final status negotiations, to a policy of unilaterally imposing Israel’s vision for a solution on the ground. As a result, the central currents in both the Israeli government and opposition have abandoned their – albeit merely formal – acceptance of the establishment of a Palestinian state, and now oppose it.
In fact, the Israeli position has gone so far as to refuse any negotiations without the Palestinian acceptance of Israeli preconditions. These include agreeing to recognize Israel as a state for 'the Jewish people,' and that Israeli security should be the main, and almost sole, factor in determining Palestinian/Israeli relations both now and in the future. This is clear from Israel's insistence that its occupation forces should remain in vital and strategic centers within the confines of the Palestinian state (once it is established), and that they should have freedom of movement in all the 'Promised Land's' territories.
This is the context in which to note that the number of settlers in the West Bank has now risen to over 700,000. Meanwhile, work is rapidly underway to bring their number to one million within a few years. It is within this context as well, that we should view Israel's concern to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and its insistence on doing everything possible to transform this into a permanent separation. Also within the same context are Israel's efforts to strip the PA of its authority, so much so that it has become 'an Authority without authority,' as Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas often repeats, despite all the concessions that it has made against the background of clinging to the 1993 Oslo commitments and its acceptance of the 2003 International Roadmap. The Palestinian side has fully and unilaterally met all its obligations in that regard, while Israel has honored none.
In an extension of this position, we can also understand why the Israeli government has rejected the PA's offer in recent months to rescind the threat to implement the PLO's Central Committee's decisions calling for an end to security coordination, if the Israeli government commits not to enter Area A territories. Israel initially proposed to the PA to begin with Ramallah and Jericho; if the experiment succeeded and the Palestinian security forces fulfill their mission sparing the Israeli occupation forces the need to enter these areas, the experiment could then be applied to the remaining areas. But the Netanyahu government soon rejected any restriction on the occupation army's activities in any area, deeming that 'this freedom is a sacred matter' – and this, despite the praise for the Palestinian security forces' achievements.
The question here is this: Is it in any way useful to pursue the same policy that was being pursued during the days of negotiations over a settlement – even though this policy was mistaken and based on pure illusion – at a time when Israel has bared its teeth and is refusing to negotiate any agreement and is unilaterally imposing its policy on the ground? In other words, Israel has made crystal clear what it intends to do, benefiting from the changes and developments in the Arab region (where the 'Iranian threat' has taken precedence over everything else), the region, and the world that have improved its strategic position until further notice.
Israel imagines that it has a rare opportunity to fulfill those aims of the Zionist movement it has hitherto failed to achieve. That movement's aim was to establish Israel on all of Palestine's territories; in fact, its schemes went so far as to call for the establishment of Israel over the entire land between the Nile and the Euphrates.
Israel is basing itself in fact on some reasonable assumptions in light of the deterioration of the Arab condition, the retreat of the Palestinian cause, and the Palestinians’ weakness, division, and loss of direction. For the Palestinian leadership is still trapped in the vicious circle of re-producing the same old options, but without the sufficient courage to adopt new alternatives or options. Biding their time and merely surviving are the main policies of the two central currents on the Palestinian arena [Fateh and Hamas], while the other currents and forces are too weak, small, or fragmented.
Despite all the above, the road towards achieving 'Greater Israel' is not paved with roses. Despite all they are suffering, the Palestinians still cling to their cause, rights, and presence on their land. They continue to resist with all the forms of popular and armed resistance that are available to them. They have also organized an international boycott campaign against Israel that is posing a strategic threat to it. They have secured international recognition of the Palestinian state, and have joined a number of international organizations, the most important of which is the International Criminal Court. And, most importantly, they have detonated an intifada wave whose 'foot soldiers' are individual Palestinians, without the involvement of the leadership and organized political forces, and far from the PLO and the PA's restrictions – a wave that has once again reminded the Israelis that the Palestinians are there, that resistance will continue one generation after another, and that the racist, settler, colonial occupation cannot continue to live in peace and profit forever.
Despite its power, and despite the environment that is conducive to reviving the dreams of 'Greater Israel,' it remains that Israel has its weak points. If the Palestinians know how to exert pressure on these points well, they can defeat Israel. And the most important point of vulnerability is that Israel is its own worst enemy. It is proposing a project that has no future horizon, and that is eliciting the entire world's anger and fury, leading to criticisms from even its most trusted allies, such as the U.S., Britain, Germany, and France.
But to defeat the hostile schemes being woven against them, the Palestinians need vision, as well as a collective national institution and a leadership that rises to the level of the challenges and threats and can make best use of the available opportunities.
"They also need an effective political strategy for a struggle that will achieve the most that is achievable in every phase, then move on to achieve more, one phase after the other, until they achieve the historic, democratic, and humane solution on the ruins of the racist, settler, colonial, Zionist project," concludes Masri.