It is an anxious time for an unlikely combination of Benjamin Netanyahu and the publishers of world atlases and gazetteers. Will they have to pulp existing supplies because of his intentions? Or will he fail for a change and save them the trouble – at least, for now?
The Israeli Prime Minister has pledged to get the process of annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank under way by July 1. Even though it was President Trump’s plan – ‘the deal of the century’ – hostile international reaction has made Washington nervous. One reported new idea at the White House is that it should be done in stages to soften the unseemly wholesale land grab of the fertile Jordan valley.
As it is, this annexation has no justification under international law. Too bad, says Netanyahu, he will do it under Israeli law, just as he has done with the settlements condemned by the UN as illegal. ‘It will write another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism’, he exulted to the Knesset last month.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a Manhattan real estate developer, drew up the plan. He reportedly consulted Netanyahu, who appears to have ensured that Israel got the icing as well as the cake. Little wonder it was dead on arrival with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu might have added that it also would be another glorious chapter in his own life, legend and hunger for power. He is already Israel’s longest-serving PM (14 years) as well as the first born in Israel. His forebears having been driven out of eastern Europe by anti-Semitism, he was determined to make his mark as someone to be respected, if not feared.
Admire him or abhor him, Netanyahu is a political hustler of few equals. His name means ‘given by God’. It could easily just have been ‘chutzpah’ for his hard right identity politics and his fluency in double talk to suit competing interests.
Anshel Pfeffer in his biography of Netanyahu, Bibi, writes: ‘He is a staunch believer in Jewish survival, endurance and prosperity. This has engendered in him a sense of entitlement that in recent years has evolved into an autocratic style’.
One Israeli commentator described him as ‘an amazing politician and manipulator who can always rise from the ashes…a master of public opinion’. He can turn on external threats, real or imagined, when it suits his political agenda. Iran has proved an accidental ally for years in this regard.
But right now Netanyahu needs to hustle as never before to secure US support for the annexation and his Jewish nationalist ambitions. It is also a case of furthering the Biblical concept of Greater Israel as well as the expectations of the extreme right of his coalition. That might work if Trump wins the election whereas Joe Biden says he is opposed to annexation.
Flattery is one of Netanyahu’s tactics. Last year at the White House he said: ‘We have never had a greater friend than President Trump…There is a unique bond between the two of us’. Trump promptly recognised Israeli sovereignty of the Golan Heights captured from Syria in1967 and since annexed by Israel.
The Palestinians, however, say they have never had a more hostile Israel PM to deal with than Netanyahu. Palestinian author Najla M. Shahwan says since he became PM in 2009 Netanyahu has never addressed the Palestinians as equal partners. Instead he has subverted previous accords while pursuing ‘with impunity his illegal and aggressive projects in the West Bank’.
A clue to Netanyahu’s real feelings may be found in his biography. Pfeffer quotes the British military historian Max Hastings, who spent months with the Netanyahu family 20 years ago researching a book. He quotes a conversation he had with Netanyahu. ‘In the next war, if we do it right, we’ll have a chance to get all the Arabs out’, he said. ‘We can clear the West Bank, sort out Jerusalem’.
A former chief of Mossad, Shabtai Shavit, observed that ‘We (Israel) are the strongest in the Middle East. The strong can do for itself what the weak cannot do’, adding ‘We can run over the other side if we want’.
Benjamin Netanyahu would certainly agree. Palestinians can only despair. Perhaps it is time for Australia and other countries to stop hiding behind the two-state solution as their policy when it is clear it has gone nowhere and never will while Palestinian territory is drastically diminished.
FOOTNOTE. Netanyahu’s claim to the West Bank is based on it being the ancient land of Samaria and Judea which was settled by the Jews fleeing Egypt. They were said to have driven out the Canaanites. Recent DNA findings quoted by National Geographic suggest the Canaanites may have originated in the Caucasus and their genes can be traced to both Jews and Arabs today. Palestinians claim they are the Canaanites and were there first. No, says Netanyahu, the Palestinians came from the Arabian peninsula thousands of years after the Israelites. And so this ancient grievance will continue to fester ad infinitum whatever way you look at it.