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Gov't must learn: 'Shoot, don't talk' to accomplish annexation

Had Israel annexed some of the territory like it planned to do earlier this month, the condemnations would have been over already.

Until a few weeks ago, Yossi Dagan and David Elhayani were household names in Israel, and to some extent also in Washington.

The two men are leaders of local councils in the West Bank – Dagan of Samaria, and Elhayani of the Jordan Valley – and until the end of June, they were the fiercest and most vocal critics of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, which paralleled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of Judea and Samaria.

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Over the last month though, Dagan and Elhayani have gone dark, nowhere to be found. From issuing daily attacks against Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, they have since disappeared.
But from speaking to some of their settler leader colleagues this week, the understanding is that the two have not gone silent because of a change in strategy. On the contrary: they are quiet because they feel that they have won. In their minds, they succeeded in stopping the application of Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, otherwise referred to as Israeli annexation.
For now, the truth is that they have. Yes, the outbreak of the second wave of the coronavirus contributed to having Netanyahu push annexation aside; but that he did not have the support of all the settler leaders from the beginning proved to the prime minister that what was supposed to have been a slam-dunk historic move was no longer worth the trouble. The tension with prime minster in waiting Benny Gantz over annexation, and Blue and White’s refusal to state clearly what it was prepared to accept, only added to Netanyahu’s frustration.
This is a missed opportunity. Years from now, the residents of the communities in Judea and Samaria are likely to look back at Dagan and Elhayani as leaders who failed them – failed their cause and let them down.
I know that this sentiment can be seen as contradictory to anyone who believes in the two-state solution as the only viable resolution to this age-old conflict – how can someone support a two-state solution as well as annexation?
For me it is possible because after 53 years of controlling the West Bank, the time has come – actually it came a long time ago – for Israel to start deciding what it wants to do. Yes, it tried its hand at negotiations through the 1990s and part of the 2000s, but those initiatives all failed. Oslo, Camp David, Bush’s Road Map, the Kerry Initiative and so much more all collapsed for one reason or another.
At the end of the day, however, Israel is a sovereign state, one that needs to start deciding what it wants to do and how it wants to set its borders. I don’t know that it would make sense now to annex all of the 30% that Trump’s plan speaks about, but Israel could definitely decide to apply sovereignty to the settlements blocs that everyone in Israel – from the far left to the far right – recognizes will always remain part of the Jewish state.
What does this do? It minimizes the scope of the conflict by taking some of the territory off the negotiating table. It also – maybe even more importantly – shows the Palestinians that the clock is ticking, that time is not always going to be on their side. That in itself would have some value.
Is annexation dead? Hard to say. Conversations this week with officials on both sides of the Atlantic made it seem like there is still a chance something could happen before the US election on November 3. One possibility is that Trump, falling in the polls, decides that annexation is politically important to rally the evangelical vote. In that case, he would call Netanyahu and Gantz and urge them to move ahead with it.
The second option is that sometime in the coming weeks Israel succeeds in getting the virus under control, and Netanyahu and Gantz somehow reach an agreement on the scope of annexation and are able to present the Americans with a united front, despite the opposition from Dagan, Elhayani and their fellow antagonists.
To this Trump administration’s credit, it understood the value in having the Israeli government approve the move as a joint bloc, instead of having just Likud vote for it while Blue and White votes against.
The reason? Because if Trump loses in November and Joe Biden takes over the White House in January, it will be easy for him to then reverse whatever Israel has done. “Why do I have to be more Zionist than the guy who is supposed to be the next prime minister of Israel?” Biden could ask his team, and then proceed to undo what had been done.
Will we get to the point when Netanyahu and Gantz agree on annexation? Based on the way things look in this coalition, it is more likely that peace breaks out with the Palestinians.
What happened in the Knesset on Wednesday was just the latest example of how this government is one of the more dysfunctional coalitions in Israeli history. Nothing works, no one gets along, and even the issue that ostensibly brought them together – the battle against corona – is failing. Everything is a mess.
The irony is that had Israel annexed some of the territory like it planned to do earlier this month, the condemnations would have been over already; the world would have returned to itself; and the US would have already vetoed an anti-Israel resolution – which would have definitely followed – at the United Nations Security Council.
What did we get instead? A round of condemnations – for merely contemplating annexation – coming from Democrats in the US, governments across Europe, countries in the Persian Gulf, and even voices from the Far East. All that, and without doing anything.
This mess of a government is disastrous because it failed to learn the lesson that Menachem Begin understood almost 40 years ago, when he applied Israeli law to the Golan Heights in less than a day. As Eli Wallach so famously said in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk!”
Last week I wrote how Israel needs to seriously reconsider allowing China to bid on government tenders to build some of our critical infrastructure – power stations, light rail lines, desalination plants and such.
I gave three primary reasons: the ongoing trade war between China and the United States, the tension between Jerusalem and Washington over Israel’s economic ties with Beijing, and the recent news of China’s strategic military and economic alliance with Iran.
How, I asked, could Israel pay NIS 15 billion to China for work on a light rail, when that money could easily find itself later invested in Iran? How could Israel, I wondered, allow state-owned Chinese companies that work in Iran to also work here? Doesn’t that undermine the tough sanctions Israel has long lobbied the world to impose against companies that work with Iran?
But there is another reason that might be even more important, and that is what the government in Beijing is allegedly doing to the Uighur people in China’s Xinjiang region. Just this past week, drone footage leaked out of China showed armed guards surrounding blindfolded people with shaved heads waiting to board a train, likely to be taken from Xinjiang to what are referred to as re-education camps but which could more broadly be called concentration camps.
If there are a people in the world who knows what it is like to be rounded up by armed guards, taken to a train station and forced at gunpoint to board a railcar to a concentration camp, it is the Jewish people.
This is what happened to the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. As a result, we have an obligation not only to never forget and always speak out against antisemitism, but also to stand up for a moral imperative and speak out when this happens to another people.
Israel has enough reason to cut off ties with China and stop outsourcing its critical infrastructure to a country that is in a trade war with the US and is striking a chummy military alliance with Iran. But we also have a moral imperative. It is time to stop doing business with China. Sometimes, it is that simple.

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