Bibi’s ‘emergency government’ is a land grab disguised as a health crisis
When Donald Trump announced his “Deal of the Century” at the White House in late January with Netanyahu at his side, many in Israel and the US dismissed it as an PR stunt to boost his election campaign. With Palestinians outright rejecting the plan and the Israeli right up in arms over potential recognition of Palestine, the plan appeared dead on arrival, and seemed to receive a death blow when Netanyahu failed to secure a right-wing majority in the last elections. Netanyahu, also facing a trial date for corruption and bribery, seemed to be out of options.
Then the coronavirus pandemic happened.
For someone of Netanyahu’s political prowess, the pandemic provided a perfect opportunity. First the Minister of Justice closed the courts, leading to a deferment of Netanyahu’s trial. Then Netanyahu began putting pressure on Benny Gantz, his chief rival of the Blue and White Party, to join him in an “emergency government” to fight the corona crisis. The lockdown Netanyahu imposed gave him time and space to maneuver.
The pressure worked. Gantz left his partners in the lurch to join Netanyahu with a guarantee that Gantz will become Prime Minister in eighteen months. A petition was sent to the Supreme Court arguing that a person under indictment cannot serve as Prime Minister, but the Supreme Court unanimously voted to dismiss the petition, paving the way for Netanyahu’s fifth government — which is also his biggest majority yet.
But Netanyahu’s emergency government was never about corona. It was a smokescreen for something else: annexation.
Netanyahu’s new government allows him to advance legislation to annex parts of the West Bank starting July 1, on the condition that the move is supported by the U.S. administration. But in the meantime, the US has washed its hands of the matter, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying in no uncertain terms in April that annexation is Israel’s decision to make. “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions,” Pompeo told reporters. “That’s an Israeli decision. And we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in (a) private setting.”
It’s almost certain that Netanyahu will take the opportunity come July 1 and annex parts of the West Bank to Israel, ratifying the unequal status of the Palestinians living there, who are not citizens of Israel.
Some have doubts that Netanyahu will go through with annexation. Netanyahu has convinced many that he’s pragmatic, and that he won’t upend the delicate status quo that has existed for almost 53 years.
But this view of things underestimates the lengths Netanyahu will go to in his desperate machinations for political survival. This drive to survive has never been more evident. Netanyahu is indeed pragmatic—but that’s exactly why he’s going to go ahead with annexation.
Netanyahu has bided his time, waiting for the right opportunity and enough support to fulfill his goals. It doesn’t matter that the majority of Israelis oppose annexation — only that the White House does not.
President Trump himself has been agnostic, saying he could “live with” either a two-state or a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it’s not about Trump. Netanyahu’s great allies are Jared Kushner, Jason D. Greenblatt and US Ambassador David Friedman. And they have been stalwart in their support, presiding over Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognize the Golan Heights, and support annexation of the West Bank, proving again and again that the US isn’t interested in being an honest peace broker; there is no partner at the White House.
In Israel, Netanyahu won’t find a lot of opposition from within or outside his government for the move, despite public opinion opposing it. Gantz has already vowed to annex the Jordan Valley, and even members of the opposition like Moshe Ya’alon aren’t opposed to the plan.
What Netanyahu has done over the past twenty odd years is ready the ground for the erasure of Palestine, successfully erasing the Palestinian cause from the international stage and turning it into a version of Tibet: forgotten and forsaken. With Netanyahu’s dogged patience, it may happen sooner than later.
Etan Nechin is an Israeli journalist and author.