Israeli annexation looms, and Democrats' 'opposition' is more feckless than ever

Israeli annexation looms, and Democrats' 'opposition' is more feckless than ever
Comment: Though the Democratic Party is currently in no position to halt annexation, it could spell out the ramifications to Israel should Democrats take control in 2021, writes Josh Ruebner.
5 min read
13 May, 2020
'Electoral prospects for strong opposition to Israeli annexation appear ever worse' writes Ruebner [Getty]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, nicknamed "The Magician" for his ability to extricate himself from seemingly impossible political positions in order to retain his grasp on power, is poised to pull of his biggest feat of legerdemain yet: the annexation to Israel of the choicest lands in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank, with barely a peep from the United States.

All the stars have aligned for "The Magician" to successfully pull off his greatest exploit: backing from and coordination with the White House; a pandemic which has delayed his corruption trial and compelled electoral rival Benny Gantz to jettison his pledge not to enter into a coalition with him, breaking a year-long logjam which had paralyzed Israeli politics; and the attention of international organisations and its constituent member states fully devoted to confronting Covid-19.

The power-sharing agreement reached between Netanyahu and Gantz permits a vote on annexation to come before the Knesset as early as 1 July. Netanyahu is at the cusp of fulfilling his life-long goal of achieving Greater Israel, and forever burying Palestinian hopes for sovereignty in their own state.

Netanyahu knows he would be a fool to miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Netanyahu is no fool. With presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden consistently ahead in the polls, and with Democrats unexpectedly within reach of taking control of the Senate next year, it is now or never for Netanyahu to go forward with annexation with full US support.

The letter serves as a clear signal to Netanyahu that he can proceed with annexation and expect no serious consequences from the United States

Currently, there is nothing that Democrats can do to stop Netanyahu from annexing parts of the West Bank. The Trump administration's long-awaited plan for Israel and the Palestinian people, finally unveiled in January, is a blueprint for Israeli apartheid in perpetuity and green lights Israel's annexation of settlement blocs and the fecund Jordan Valley, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

In February, the United States inaugurated a joint committee to map out which areas of the West Bank Israel will annex, with US blessing. The US team is led by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is as much, if not more, of a fervent follower of Greater Israel ideology than Netanyahu.

Initial plans released by the White House earlier this year [Click to enlarge]

Although the Democratic Party is in no position to halt this annexation, it could nevertheless throw down the gauntlet, by spelling out to Israel the ramifications, should Democrats control the White House and Congress in 2021.

Last week, Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) began seeking signatures on a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz temperately cautioning them not to go through with annexation. The initial version of the missive was couched in the laudatory language of imagined shared democratic values, and in paeans to the special US-Israeli relationship.

Its only redeeming feature was its oblique threat to the continuation of US military aid. Annexation would "erode the strong support among the American people for the unwavering security assistance" the United States provides to the tune of $3.8 billion per year.

Annexation would force the Senators to conclude "that Israel no longer values the bipartisan support that Congress has provided it for decades," an implicit nod toward the fast-solidifying partisan rift.

The upcoming challenge for the Democratic Party will be to reconfigure its policies to catch up to its base

However, under pressure from colleagues in the Senate, and undoubtedly from pro-Israel lobby groups as well, the Senators watered down their already milquetoast letter to make it even blander. 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), author of a failed bill in the previous Congress which could have imprisoned advocates of Palestinian rights for 20 years if they cooperated with international organisations to boycott for Palestinian rights, told the Jewish Insider that he would not sign the letter. "I don't think it is helpful for us to sow dissension in the United States as it relates to the support for Israel," he said.

Despite their initial version picking up 10 signatures, Murphy, Kaine, and Van Hollen reportedly obliged Cardin by stripping out references to a diminution of Democratic support and military aid, making the letter not only unhelpful, but downright dangerous. Now, the letter serves as a clear signal to Netanyahu that he can proceed with annexation and expect no serious consequences from the United States should the Democrats win the November elections.

Read more: Israel to annex parts of the West Bank 'within weeks' and US 'ready to recognise'

Prospects for strong opposition to Israeli annexation in the electoral arena appear ever worse.

Last week,
Biden, a lifelong self-professed Zionist, meekly responded to impending Israeli annexation by reiterating that "a priority now for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace should be resuming our dialogue with the Palestinians and pressing Israel not to take actions that make a two-state solution impossible."

And earlier this month, a group of Washington foreign policy professionals signed a J Street-backed letter to the Democratic National Committee urging it to reject Israeli annexation of the West Bank in its platform this year, but specifying no consequences should Israel proceed to annex. Another toothless, token gesture.

What is needed now from the Democratic Party is not hand-wringing over the reality that Israeli annexation of the West Bank irretrievably buries Palestinian statehood. Instead, the Democratic Party must come to terms with the fact that the framework for Israeli-Palestinian policy options in 2021 will come down to support either for apartheid or equality. 

A 2018 public opinion poll conducted by Prof. Shibley Telhami found that 64 percent of respondents, including 78 percent of Democrats, favoured a one-state resolution based on equality should Palestinian statehood become unfeasible. 

Annexation will do just that. The upcoming challenge for the Democratic Party will be to reconfigure its policies to catch up to its base, and support equal rights for Palestinians, rather than clinging to outmoded thinking.

Josh Ruebner is senior principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama's failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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