The Palestinian Forum of Israeli Studies (MADAR)
Arab Center Washington DC
On July 29, 2020, Arab Center Washington DC’s Executive Director Khalil E. Jahshan hosted a virtual briefing with Dr. Honaida Ghanim, General Director of the Palestinian Forum of Israeli Studies (MADAR) in Ramallah, Palestine. Titled “Annexation Update: Internal Israeli Dynamics,” the session focused on domestic conditions in Israel at the time of the Israeli government’s intended plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.
Honaida Ghanim pointed out that the current Israeli coalition government between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz was possible only after agreement was reached on starting the implementation of annexation on July 1st. She said that the agreement “leaves no doubt that the new government is heading toward imposing Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian territories.” She explained that Netanyahu’s insistence on the issue of annexation comes from four specific objectives: to benefit from the window of opportunity of President Donald Trump in office; to escape repercussions of his impending corruption trial; to leave a personal historical imprint; and to satisfy his electoral base. This base includes the settlers who inhabit the areas to be annexed; they number around 100,000 settlers and their important vote is one that Netanyahu refuses to cede to other politicians.
Discussing internal Israeli dynamics surrounding the issue of annexation, Ghanim noted the large degree of confusion in Israeli society today, just as the country is dealing with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. There is serious opposition to annexation from the center left, the intellectuals, the security and intelligence communities, and the extreme right, each camp for its specific reasons. She said that “the common argument of the opposition is that the annexation concerns the sin of ending the Zionist dream and leads to the one-state solution.” Intelligence and security chiefs and generals are apprehensive that annexation will affect national security since the army will have to guard more than 1,000 kilometers of border and to contend with an additional community of Palestinians who would be residents in the state of Israel. Besides, she continued, Jordan as well as the international community are opposed to the idea, and the latter could impose sanctions.
Ghanim said that Netanyahu is focused on the United States as an important factor in the annexation issue. He is not interested in how members of the international community respond to the announcement, even if they threaten sanctions. His priority is the Trump Administration, she asserted. Ghanim stated that while in April and part of May there was great enthusiasm to the idea of annexation, the latter part of May and June showed great American reluctance as the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, conveyed messages to Netanyahu and Gantz about the US position. In fact, there appeared to be shifting priorities for the Trump Administration, and that was what lessened the enthusiasm and slowed the rush toward annexation.
Looking at the current situation regarding the annexation project, Ghanim said that the Israeli public is not showing much interest in it. She listed a number of polls and surveys of public opinion––to which Netanyahu listens avidly, she noted––that showed small percentages of Israelis either showing interest or providing support. Ghanim pointed out that the Israeli public is more focused on the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic, stating that unemployment today is at 22 percent as opposed to 5 percent at the end of 2019. She indicated that “the fear of the economic crisis is getting the attention of everybody.” This is also translating into declining support for Netanyahu because his constituency is suffering as well.
Ghanim provided her own assessment of what the future may bring by stating that “most likely, the annexation will be delayed, but not cancelled.” The decision will await the culmination of two developments: the outcome of the US presidential election and how Israel’s domestic dynamics will play out, including the future of Netanyahu’s legal problems. In the meantime, Ghanim added, “Netanyahu can continue the colonization of the Palestinian lands.” She also emphasized the changing economic and political situation within Israeli society, saying that this is likely to have the most impact on what happens in the future.
Honaida Ghanim is a Palestinian sociologist and anthropologist. She has been the General Director of The Palestinian Forum of Israeli Studies (MADAR) in Ramallah since 2009. Honaida has published various articles and studies in the fields of political and cultural sociology and gender studies. She is author of ‘Reinventing the Nation: Palestinian Intellectuals and Persons of Pen in Israel 1948-2000’ (The Hebrew University, 2009), the Editor of ‘On Recognition of the Jewish State’ (MADAR, 2014), and the co-Editor of ‘On the Meaning of a Jewish state’ (MADAR, 2011). Honaida was the Chief Editor of the quarterly journal Qadaya Israelia (Israeli Affairs) between 2000-2011, and has been the Chief Editor of MADAR’s Strategic Report since 2009. She holds a PhD with distinction from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has lectured in various universities in Palestine.