It is the perfect storm, a complete American acquiescence to Israel, coupled with political instability in Israel itself. The illegal Jewish colonists could have never imagined a scenario like this, where they are positioned as the country’s kingmakers.
Sure, the sad trajectory began as soon as Donald Trump became the American president. Almost instantly, the Trump administration composed a team of pro-Israeli hawks, whose sole job is to grant Israel all of its wishes.
Unfortunately, Trump lived up to all of his promises. The latest fulfilled commitment was the disturbing announcement by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on November 18, that Washington no longer perceives the illegal Israeli Jewish settlements (colonies) as a violation of international law.
The outrageous decree was meant as another lifeline to embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latter has failed twice, both in the general elections in April and again in September, to acquire the needed seats in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) to form another right-wing coalition.
In recent weeks, embattled Netanyahu has made repeated pledges to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. By doing so, he is hoping to expand his circle of support, again with Jewish colonists being the main target audience
The US announcement was welcomed by most Israelis, especially those within the Likud political circle. To assert their power, Jewish colonists accelerated their rampages across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, burning Palestinian crops and attacking civilians, thus using violence to send an unmistakable message: we rule the roost now.
In these difficult times, Netanyahu is keen to keep Israel’s most influential constituency as close to him as possible. The prime minister’s dismal setbacks in two consecutive elections have made him more vulnerable than ever, particularly following an indictment.
In recent weeks, embattled Netanyahu has made repeated pledges to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. By doing so, he is hoping to expand his circle of support, again with Jewish colonists being the main target audience.
In the latest round of negotiations on a possible power-sharing deal between Netanyahu’s Likud party and its rival, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Netanyahu insisted that no deal is possible without honouring his commitment to the Jewish colonists that Israel would annex the Jordan Valley as soon as a new government is formed.
Gantz, himself a supposed “centrist”, has committed to retaining the Jordan Valley as a “security border”, though not committing to the term “annexation”.
Even Naftali Bennett, who currently serves as Israel’s defence minister, has seized the opportunity to appease Israel’s right-wing and ultranationalist constituencies.
After spending mere weeks on the job, Bennett announced on December 1, plans to demolish the old market of Al Khalil (Hebron) and to start construction on a “new Jewish neighbourhood” in the occupied Palestinian city.
Bennett’s aim is to grant Hebron’s extremist Jewish colonists their long-standing demand of creating territorial contiguity by linking the Ebrahimi Mosque (Tomb of the Patriarchs) to the existing Jewish colony, built illegally in the Palestinian city. Bennett, too, is obviously building up his political CV so that he would maintain the coveted position of the defence minister under any new administration in Tel Aviv.
The euphoria that started in Israel following Trump’s advent to the White House is yet to subside. While, in some way, the Trump administration’s support for Israel is a continuation of the dismal record of persistent American bias, it is also particularly unique.
Previous US administrations attempted to maintain a degree of balance between their own interests and those of Israel. Trump, on the other hand, has aligned his country’s foreign policy regarding Palestine and Israel entirely with that of Netanyahu, and his right-wing camp.
Mere rubber stamp
Indeed, for over two years, the State Department has been giving Israel political carte blanche, agreeing to all of Tel Aviv’s demands and expectations and asking for nothing in return.
As a result, Washington has accepted Israel’s designation of Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem, as Israel’s “eternal and undivided capital”; agreed to Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights; and actively plotted to dismiss the issue of Palestinian refugees altogether. The latest announcement by Pompeo was but one of many such steps.
Washington has obviously known that rendering the illegal colonies “consistent” with international law has paved the way for Israel to annex all major colony blocs in the West Bank, estimated at least 60% of the overall size of the occupied Territories.
With the haemorrhaging of US concessions to Israel, Netanyahu is eager for more. Desperate to strengthen his faltering grip on power, the Israeli leader agreed on November 20 to advance a bill that calls for the annexation of the Jordan Valley.
The bill was drafted by a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Sharren Haskel, who tweeted, following the Prime Minister’s decision, that the US announcement was “an opportunity to promote my law for sovereignty in the [Jordan] Valley.”
The US defiance of international law on the illegal colonies is not dangerous because it violates international law, for the latter has hardly been a concern for Washington in the first place.
The danger lies in the fact that the US foreign policy regarding the Israeli occupation has become a mere rubber stamp that allows Israel’s extreme right-wing governments to single-handedly determine the fate of the Palestinian people and sow the seed of instability and war in the Middle East for years to come.
— Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of The Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons (Clarity Press, Atlanta)