De facto what we have in Palestine today is precisely what the Zionist movement, the pre-state Yishuv and successive Israeli governments have been working towards since the start of the twentieth century: the complete “judaisation” of Palestine – transforming an Arab country into the Land of Israel.
Having reached the de facto stage of complete judaisation, Netanyahu’s government is now “mopping up” – constructing infrastructure and settlements, eliminating along with the Palestinian Authority (PA) effective sources of resistance, normalising the occupation itself and transforming it into a non-issue, both domestically and on the international scene. He has been tremendously enabled by the combined ability of his own government and military to quiet the situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), helped, of course, by the PA and one could today argue, by Hamas.
Indeed, taking advantage of the Sunni-Shia split and the many conflicts it has engendered, Israel has placed itself – with its weaponry, systems of repression and population control and gatekeeper status to US political, military and financial aid – squarely on the side of the Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. As a result, it has managed to marginalise the Palestinian issue to the level of lip service; if the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative conditioned normalisation with Israel on resolving the Palestinian issue that no longer seems the case.
The Netanyahu government is now poised to transform de facto judaisation into de jure apartheid. In my reading, this is how Israel’s end-game dovetails with Trump’s “ultimate deal” which the US president and Israeli prime minister have said will end the 70-year occupation and analysts have said will see Egypt governing the besieged Gaza Strip:
- Gaza, which neither Israel nor Egypt want, will be politically detached from the West Bank and become a separate Hamas-governed entity on its own. The Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan could conceivably be installed as a kind of caretaker at the insistence of the US, Egypt and the Gulf States, both to ensure that Hamas “behaves” and as a token Fatah/PA presence. There are many signs of an Israeli-Hamas rapprochement: Hamas changing its charter to accommodate Israel; Minister of Defence Lieberman speaking of Israel rebuilding Gaza’s airport and seaport, and giving work permits to Gazans; and an almost unanimous consensus in the Israeli cabinet (except Lieberman) to build an island that would house Gaza’s seaport and infrastructural facilities. The rapprochement between Israel and the Saudi bloc, reflected in the demand that Qatar end its sponsorship of Hamas, and the strong security links between Israel and Egypt that constrain Hamas, create a regional environment in which this makes sense. Egypt may take part in international supervision of the Gazan state, but I doubt that it would assume actual control over it.
- In the West Bank Israel is moving fairly quickly to secure the promise made in the Bush letter (reaffirmed by Obama if not yet clearly by Trump) of annexing the settlement blocs. Israel annexed East Jerusalem half a century ago, and it has ceased to exist as a coherent urban entity. A major part of the settlement bloc annexation will be accomplished by simply annexing the three blocs of “greater” Jerusalem to the municipality: Givat Zeev, Ma’aleh Adumim (which extends as far as Jericho, thus compromising the contiguity of Palestinian territory) and the Etzion Bloc. Together with that sleight of hand, steps are already underway to detach 140,000 Palestinians who live in Jerusalem but beyond the wall from the Jerusalem municipality, thus restoring the Jewish majority to its desired 70 per cent or more while setting the stage for a historic “compromise”: either giving up “East Jerusalem” (now defined as the areas beyond the Wall) to the PA, or “allowing” the Palestinians to develop Al-Quds as a separate Israeli-controlled municipality.
- Israel will then annex three additional settlement blocs in area Area C: the Jordan Valley in the east of the West Bank (Israel’s “security border,” virtually emptied of Palestinians); the Modi’in Bloc in the east running down to Jerusalem; and the Ariel Bloc cutting across the West Bank, which connects the other two while further fragmenting the West Bank. To make the map look cosmetically better, it will cede pieces of Area C between some of the Palestinian enclaves of A and B to make them look a little more viable. And in order to make the annexation palatable, it will grant citizenship to the few thousand Palestinians remaining in the gerrymandered areas that Israel annexes. That will not affect the “demographic balance” and will ward off charges of apartheid. Israel expands from 78 per cent to around 85 per cent of the country and the Palestinians – soon to be the majority in the country – are confined to enclaves on the remaining 15 per cent.
- That leaves Areas A and B, the 40 per cent (or so) of the West Bank under PA rule. Netanyahu has recently adopted the evil (there is no other word) plan of Lieberman: “territorial swap” in which much of the Israeli-Palestinian population of Wadi Ara and the northern Triangle would be transferred to the Palestinian entity in return for the settlement blocs. Whether that ever come to be, the Palestinians of the West Bank would be given, according to Netanyahu’s famous formulation, “autonomy-plus/state-minus” within the enclaves of A and B. If the PA remains as kind of a collaborationist regime, fine. But if it collapses, the US (and conceivably Europe), working through the UN, will declare a protectorate (or, in Martin Indyk’s terms, a trusteeship) over the Palestinian enclaves. Palestinians are not ready for self-governance, it will be said; Areas A and B are not economically viable; the Palestinians must be protected. Whatever the pretence, it will be sold as a “temporary” measure but will in fact cement the apartheid regime that will permanently define the country.
And, voila, its over. More the realisation of a century-long Zionist endgame than a Trumpian “deal,” but let him take the credit, it looks better that way.