On 17 May, 2020, in the State of Israel – a land famed for its countless rumored miracles – a new miracle had just transpired. This came not in the form of a blind man regaining vision or a leper being cured of his ailment, but with the long-awaited formation of a new government after 3 indecisive elections and a lack of a permanent government for over 400 days. Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history, had just formed a coalition government with Benny Gantz, the main opposition candidate who has ironically long campaigned on an anti-Netanyahu stance. Among his many campaign promises, Netanyahu had vowed to do the previously unthinkable – “annex” or “apply sovereignty to” lands in the West Bank which Israel conquered in 1967 and has kept since; the West Bank, which Israelis refer to by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria, and by the Palestinians as the heartland of their potential future state, has been held in occupation under the threat of annexation which nearly all international observers have called a flagrant violation of international law. Despite this, with the plans for annexation nearly fully materialized, the Israeli right-wing voter base becoming euphoric in anticipation, and the Palestinian leadership dumbstruck in denial, the question remains if this will really come to fruition, or will the government of the Jewish people decide it prudent not to proceed?
Israel, a country commonly touted as the “only democracy in the Middle East”, has arguably had too much democracy in the past year and a half. After going through an initial parliamentary election last April and expecting to win in a close race, the incumbent Prime Minister along with his right-wing and conservative voters were disappointed to find that he and his allied parties had not met the 61-seat threshold required for a majority. After a second election in September left his coalition at 57 seats, just a stone’s throw from achieving victory, he realized that his voter base and his politics had lost its former vibrancy and robustness, instead ossifying and showing signs of potential decay. His arch rival, the former chief of staff and relatively unknown and small figure of Benny Gantz, was beginning to cast a shadow on him; Netanyahu, seeing the writing on the wall, knew that when small men cast big shadows, that it was a sign the sun was setting on him and his career. In a desperate attempt to prolong his 12-year career as the Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu promised to annex the Jordan valley, a fertile strip of land in the West Bank that borders Jordan and the Dead Sea. Most of his supporters welcomed the plan equivocally, while most of his opponents denied it unequivocally. This promise alone is likely what rallied enough right-wing voters to give Netanyahu victory following the third successive election in March this year.
Even though Israel had kept expanding settlements in the West Bank under his watch, few in Israel ever expected a prime minister or leading political figure to make such an audacious promise. Beforehand, most Israelis expected eventual annexation of only several major settlement blocs near the border with the eventual creation of a Palestinian state on the remainder of the West Bank. If Netanyahu were to go ahead with this move, it would forever entangle the Israelis and Palestinians, diminish the chance of there ever being a Palestinian nation, and leave such a country likely landlocked within it. Since time immemorial, Israel has been the recipient of countless requests and commands from numerous countries and organizations such as the UN to retreat from the West Bank and “allow” for the creation of a Palestinian state. Additionally, the UN, EU, United States and every country and supranational organization in the world had either declared explicitly or not that annexation, in addition to the occupation, were illegal under international law. Period. Hence, annexing any land could especially leave Israel as a global pariah and unabashedly defiant of legal precedents.
This all was the case until January this year when President Trump unveiled his Middle East Peace Plan that heavily favoured the Israelis. Following a banal and unsurprising refusal to the peace proposal by the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting as the mouthpiece of Trump, had formally declared that not only was annexation technically not illegal, but, “As for the annexation of the West Bank, the Israelis will ultimately make those decisions.”
Since the Israeli conquest of the West Bank, no American administration had ever recognized Israeli settlements as legal, let alone effectively encouraged Israel to annex them. What many first suspected and still do is that Netanyahu the ventriloquist had somehow managed to convince Trump to do just as he ordered from the genesis of this plan, using it as a pretext for annexation. Capitalizing on the green light from the Trump administration, Netanyahu publicly announced his intention to annex as soon as tomorrow, July 1. Following this announcement, countless world leaders from the EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to the Jordanian King Abdullah begged Israel not to go ahead with annexation. Even Germany, a country whose history with Israel could best be euphemized as “apologetic”, sent over its ambassador Heiko Maas in an attempt to persuade Israel to do otherwise.
What few familiar with Netanyahu knew all along and many unfamiliar with him didn’t is that after all this dilemma and international upheaval, he probably has no intention to annex all along, a speculation seeming evermore likely as the July 1 date for annexation is becoming increasingly improbable. Netanyahu, who has an unofficial PhD in manipulating others and make them play into his hands, has managed not only to win the Prime Ministership and make American policy towards Israel more amicable than ever, but suppress the Palestinian issue globally once and for all with one swift stroke. Prior to this kaleidoscopic situation, global policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was universally monolithic and consistent: urging or commanding Israel to relinquish control of the entirety or nearly all of the West Bank in order for a Palestinian state to be established there. In Netanyahu’s eyes, this paradigm was impartial in that it required Israel to concede with no demands leveraged against the Palestinians.
Now, single-handedly, he has shifted the narrative from Israel being obliged to allow for a Palestinian state to being effectively begged by the EU, UN and neighboring Arab states just not to annex. The paradigm regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is potentially irreversible and the Palestinian Authority will have to come from a position of request rather than demand from now on. Furthermore, few nations or organizations will continue to actively advocate for the Palestinians and thereby lessen Israel’s image on the international stage. Now, the Palestinian issue for Israel and Netanyahu has nearly been put to bed geopolitically speaking. Netanyahu could be a murderer, for he might have just killed the Palestinian state.