When it comes to Palestinians and peace in the Middle East, world leaders and Western journalists have taken their eye off the ball due to the coronavirus pandemic. The increasingly bizarre views of US President Donald Trump and his disastrous handling of Covid-19 have gripped everyone's attention.
As has happened before, Israel has turned a disaster into an opportunity to carry out its nefarious plans while the world's media is looking the other way. Arch political rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are going to steal another 30 per cent of historic Palestine, destroying once and for all any realistic prospects of a two-state solution.
The new Israeli government claims that its sole focus for the next six months will be the fight against Covid-19… apart from taking more Palestinian land, of course. No matter what else is happening, and demanding its attention, Israel can always find the time and resources to "deal with Palestine" and its people in its own, brutal way.
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Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl is one of the few journalists on Capitol Hill to see beyond the pandemic and Trump's crazed antics. In an opinion piece this week, he said that from 1 July Netanyahu "will be allowed to seek a vote by his cabinet or the parliament on Israel's annexation of more than 30 per cent of the West Bank, where the majority of the would-be Palestinian state's population lives."
There's only one condition, Diehl pointed out: "Netanyahu must act in 'full agreement with the United States'. In other words, Trump will have the power to decide whether his Israeli ally can proceed with a vote he would very likely win and that would forever alter Israel's character."
Such a move would alter the character of Palestine and its people forever. For years under Netanyahu, Israel has continued to steal Palestinian land and build illegal Jewish settlements in full view of the world and media. Numerous condemnations issued by the UN have had no effect; Israel has simply ignored them and acted with impunity.
No other country in the world has racked up as many violations of UN Resolutions as Israel has, but this latest move goes beyond the apparently acceptable behaviour of the rogue state. The annexation of the occupied West Bank will happen without any consultation with the Palestinians; they must take it or leave it.
Trump's so-called "deal of the century" was sold to the world as a "peace plan", and yet it gives the green light for Israel to go ahead with the annexation. It will then have stolen and colonised so much land that what is left for "Palestine" will no longer be viable as an independent state. Like all of the US President's plans, there's little evidence that much strategic planning has gone into his deal, other than that it must benefit Israel at all costs.
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The Palestinians will be left with a smattering of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel, but who really cares? The world is preoccupied with the virus crisis, although Turkey is a notable exception. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement from Ankara that Turkey condemns Israel's plan to annex the occupied West Bank, describing it as an "extremely dangerous mindset aimed at extorting" occupied Palestinian lands. "We believe that such grave steps, which would undermine international law and wound the common conscience of humanity, would not be accepted or supported by any member of the international community who has a sense of justice and responsibility."
Hamas, of course, is outraged by the annexation plan. The movement's anger wasn't helped by the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo displaying the same reckless ignorance as his boss Trump when he said on Friday that he supported the annexation of parts of the West Bank.
"The American stance on annexing the West Bank is illegal and does not comply with international law," Hamas head of media Raafat Murra told Anadolu Agency. "It is neglecting the historical rights of the Palestinian people, and ignoring the Palestinian issue."
READ: UN warns strongly against Israeli plans to annex West Bank
Murra called on the Palestinians to unite and stand together to confront the US position. Sadly, and rather predictably, the frail Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, 84, said simply that he would take "appropriate measures" if the annexation goes ahead. Observers said that the response of the man whose term of office should have ended in 2009 was feeble; threatening to end all agreements with the US and Israel was probably exactly what they wanted to hear.
According to Netanyahu and Gantz, their coalition will strive for peace and regional stability. Their concept of what this means erasing any hope of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Zionist colonialism has been given a free pass.
Only one man can stop this land grab. Unfortunately for the Palestinians, that man is Donald Trump. Nobody in the besieged Gaza Strip, occupied West Bank or excluded Palestinian diaspora is holding their breath to see if he will deliver for them. That's just not going to happen. Trump has already handed Jerusalem on a plate to Israel as its capital, and thrown in the Syrian Golan Heights for good measure. UN Resolutions mean nothing to this US President, whose sole aim is to be re-elected, and if that means appeasing the pro-Israel Lobby, then so be it.
To keep the keys to the White House for another four years, Trump needs the support of 50 million evangelical Christian Zionists and the minority of American Jews who support "Greater Israel". Anyone who disagrees with him and them faces accusations of anti-Semitism. However, there is a sliver of hope. Trump's truly awful media performances and handling of the coronavirus crisis is losing him support.
World leaders and media must now examine the Netanyahu-Gantz plan more closely. Most of them have endorsed the two-state solution enthusiastically over the years, and still do. Nevertheless, if Israel does wipe Palestine off the map, then it will either have to carry out another act of ethnic cleansing to expel its Palestinian citizens, or its claim to be a "Jewish, democratic state" will be exposed for the sham that it is. Twenty per cent of all Israeli citizens are Palestinian Arabs; failure to offer them equal rights will confirm Israel's status as an apartheid state, and apartheid is a crime against humanity.
PLO: Israel exploiting coronavirus to annex West Bank, East Jerusalem
Netanyahu believes that Israel is about to be able to "celebrate another historic moment in the history of Zionism" with his determination to leave the people of occupied Palestine without a state. He told an online conference of pro-Israel Christians on Sunday: "Three months ago, the Trump peace plan recognised Israel's rights in all of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]. President Trump pledged to recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Jewish communities there and in the Jordan Valley. In a couple of months from now, I'm confident that pledge will be honoured…"
He cares not that Israel's expansion will, at a stroke, kill the hopes of seven million Palestinian refugees around the world. All refugees, not just the Palestinians, have a legitimate right to return to their homes. It is a universal right, enshrined in international law through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Convention. UN Resolution 194 affirms that Palestinians have a right of return to their homes in historic Palestine.
However, it is more than a law; it is also a political principle which UN member states have pledged to uphold as a condition of their membership. Israel's own membership of the UN was conditional upon the nascent state allowing refugees to return to their land, which has never happened. The rogue state should be expelled from the international body forthwith.
READ: Israel's new government is being lauded despite Apartheid and annexation
Will Trump realise the illegal folly of his "deal of the century" and stop the annexation of what remains of Palestine? Such an intervention would save the status of the self-declared Jewish state from Netanyahu's reckless land grab, and offer Palestinians hope of building their own nation. It would be a huge ask of a man not known for caring for anything other than his own selfish ambitions. Stranger things might have happened, but I think I will be joining those Palestinians who aren't holding their breath. Wiping Palestine off the map is going to damage Israel, perhaps irrevocably; it has already lost a lot of goodwill around the world. This may be a step too far, causing the rest to evaporate.
In their lust for more land and more power, though, I don't think Netanyahu and Gantz will care. Greater Israel has always been Zionism's ultimate aim. Anyone who thinks that they will stop at the River Jordan needs to think again. We are indeed on the cusp of a historic moment in the history of the racist ideology which underpins Israeli colonialism and expansion. The Palestinians are the victims today, but the people of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia should be worrying about who the victims of Israeli colonialism will be tomorrow.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.