The Threat of Israeli Annexation: The American Dimension

Background to Annexation in Palestine

Annexation of land in Palestine is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it has been an inherent component of the Zionist enterprise since the inception of Zionism as a political movement in the late 19th century, particularly since the First Zionist Congress held August 29-31, 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, where Theodor Herzl, the architect of modern Zionism, claimed that he “founded the Jewish State.”

Two practical problems emerged from this infamous event that gradually led to the emergence of the Palestine problem and the subsequent Arab-Israeli conflict. First was the inconvenient fact that the territorial component or the real estate location chosen for this Jewish nation-building project was not as empty nor as readily available for colonization as anticipated by most Zionist leaders and their Christian Zionist precursors.

Second, regardless of who conceived of the original concept, “A land without a people for a people without a land”—whether it was Rev. Dr. Alexander Keith in 1843, Evangelist William Eugene Blackstone in 1881, Zionist activist Dr. Leon Pinsker in 1882, or British author Israel Zangwill in 1901—the idea naturally evolved into a derivative problem, namely, how to practically “spirit away” the native inhabitants and acquire their land.

Since then, the twin process of depopulation, on the one hand, and confiscation or annexation of the land, on the other, became the necessary breathing process, the inhaling and exhaling, of the Zionist project in Palestine. The movement had to pursue its dual objectives to justify its raison d’être and to survive politically. This continued throughout the Yishuv, or the pre-state period, only to become part of official state functions as Israel was established in 1948. The process took various forms over time ranging from such objectives as the ingathering of the exiles to redeeming the land, Jewish labor, and the Judaization of the Galilee, among others—all in a long list of colonial and racist expressions deemed of existential necessity by the Zionist movement.

Therefore, Palestinians have faced dispossession and annexation long before Donald J. Trump was born, enduring multiple versions over the past century, and will most probably survive the current Trump scheme as they did its earlier incarnations. It is not going to be a cakewalk, considering the current global conditions and balance of power; but the Palestinian people, who have survived a century-long conflict, are destined to endure the next set of challenges.

The American Role in the Process

The United States’ role in the process of Palestinian dispossession has been historically one of supporting, enabling, funding, and giving international cover or justification to wave after wave of gradual but steady annexation.

For the first few decades of Israel’s existence, the US government did not actively and publicly advocate for Palestinian land annexation; neither did successive administrations since 1967. However, they looked the other way when annexation took place, did not object to it seriously, and were willing over time to accept it as legitimate. This has been the essence of the American legacy in the Middle East.

In other words, US governments have historically been an accessory to the crime of Palestinian dispossession, though not necessarily direct perpetrators.

The Transformation in US Policy

Today, US policy has undergone a major shift in its fundamental premises regarding the origins of the Palestine problem, diplomatic options for its resolution, and the very prospects for reaching accommodation between the key parties to the conflict. Under President Trump, the United States is no longer a self-declared evenhanded and hegemonic superpower seeking to protect its own national interests in a strategic region of the world. Admittedly, the evolution of US policy has been gradual over many years; however, under Trump a major and fundamental upsurge has taken place where even routine and negligible differences between US and Israeli political and security objectives have become totally indistinguishable in 2020.

Over seven decades after the establishment of the state of Israel, pro-Israel groups, whether of the Evangelical or Jewish variety, had grown dissatisfied with their conventional “remote” lobbying. Now, radical Zionism has finally entered the White House through the front door. It did this as part of the Trump team in 2017 through the ranks of the radical Evangelical right, which is omnipresent at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and through the traditional and newly empowered right-wing Zionist lobbies led by the likes of billionaire Sheldon Adelson. This combination of forces proved irresistible and managed to take full control of US foreign policy in the Middle East. This does not reflect the customary and conventional lobbying methods seeking to influence US policy; it is actual and direct policy-making at the source and, to add insult to injury, at the American taxpayer’s expense.

The outcome of this transformational change in US foreign policy began from day one of the Trump Administration, on January 20, 2017. It quickly resulted in various significant changes in Washington’s Middle East policy with the appointment to key administration positions of Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and David Friedman. Despite their radical perspectives and questionable records, the trio quickly became the godfathers of US policies in the Middle East and the nemeses of all things Palestinian.

Despite three seemingly successful meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2017, suddenly and unexpectedly—at least from the perspective of trusting Palestinian leaders—Trump adopted an aggressive and antagonistic stand against the Palestinians. His administration announced its intention to break with long-standing American policy by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step considered anathema to the Palestinians. This was followed by cutting US aid including humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, withholding support to Palestinian refugees receiving aid from UNRWA, closing the PLO mission in Washington, holding the Bahrain conference on the economics of Palestinian-Israeli peace without official Palestinian participation, and declaring US acceptance of Israeli settlements as “not illegal.”

The Trump/Kushner Vision

Finally, on January 28, 2020, Mr. Trump released his long-awaited political scheme dubbed “Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People.” The proposal, formally unveiled at the White House with Benjamin Netanyahu at Trump’s side, offered neither peace nor prosperity to the Palestinians. Instead, it presented total hegemony by Israel over the occupied Palestinian territories without any guarantees for a fair and lasting peaceful outcome.

The Trump vision was not your typical US peace plan, like many proposed over the years by previous administrations. It failed to conform with basic premises of earlier peace attempts including the Rogers Plan (1969), the Camp David Accords (1978), the Reagan Plan (1982), the Madrid Conference (1991), the Oslo Process (1993), the Clinton Parameters (2000), and other American proposals.

All these plans were typically one-sided, unabashedly pro-Israel, and indifferent toward Palestinian aspirations and internationally recognized rights. The Trump ploy of “Peace to Prosperity,” however, goes way beyond the customary bias and deference to Israeli demands. It is actually a declaration of war against the Palestinian people. It seeks, through a conflict-ending scam, to deprive them of the very prospect of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peaceful solution to their political struggle.

The plan advanced by the White House is, in real terms, an underhanded attempt to produce an end-of-conflict agreement through diktat without even the semblance of conventional diplomatic or political negotiations. The US administration, under Donald Trump, has finally evolved from being Israel’s supporter and defender—the role of all US administrations since 1948—into one of initiator, promoter, and enforcer of this new anti-Palestinian campaign.

In a historic reversal, the current Israeli annexation plan is indeed a US plan, devised and planned in Washington and implemented in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. As recently stated by The New York Times editorial board, it is done with full knowledge by the Trump Administration that annexing land in the West Bank is a brazen violation of international law.

By advocating and approving annexation in advance, the US government has transcended its traditional role as accessory to that of full partner in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.

Netanyahu’s Interpretation of Trump

The transformation in US policy vis-à-vis Israel and Palestine does not absolve or prevent the Israeli government from further manipulating the American plan in its favor. Indeed, Netanyahu has admitted as much in his ongoing dialogue with Jewish settler leaders in the West Bank. The commitment he made to the Yesha Council (the umbrella organization for Jewish settlements in the occupied territories) is that he will not allow the Trump plan to lead to a Palestinian state in any way, shape, or form. Netanyahu’s objectives, as he described them in Israel Hayom (May 28, 2020), are as follows:

  1. Israeli sovereignty will be extended over Judea, Samaria, and the Jordan Valley.
  2. Total surrender to Israeli security demands is the only option left to the Palestinians. Netanyahu declared, “If they [the Palestinians] consent to all this [complete Israeli security control], then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state.”
  3. This is to be implemented unilaterally and immediately. There will be no diplomatic process to lead to such an agreement.
  4. There will be no exchange of land for peace, no return to the 1967 borders, no shared Jerusalem, and certainly no return of Palestinian refugees.

Clearly, this is an outright reversal of all previous US peace processing attempts. It is a diktat and a blatant breach of international law. Neither the Palestinians nor the international community should accept Israel’s illegal annexation. Indeed, all law-abiding states should commit to prevent it from taking place and roll it back if and once it does.

This viewpoint is an elaboration on remarks given by Khalil E. Jahshan at Arab Center Washington DC’s webinar, “The Threat of Israeli Annexation: Regional and International Implications,” held virtually in conjunction with the Institute for Palestine Studies on June 3, 2020. Jahshan is the Executive Director of Arab Center Washington DC.