Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to annex Palestinian territory in the occupied West Bank – and, crucially, seize the bread basket of the Jordan valley – if he wins the Israeli election next week are not only illegal under international law but would, if enacted, make peace impossible in the Holy Land. Neither of these things appears to bother Mr Netanyahu, who refuses to recognise the Palestinian right to national self-determination and statehood.
The Likud leader framed his land grab as a defensive measure, yet – as Wednesday’s rocket exchanges show – his country’s military is busy on Israel’s western flank, not its eastern one. Missiles can vault the valley, puncturing the security argument that it could provide a buffer against an Arab invasion or guerrilla infiltration from the east. Israel seized the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. It is worth noting that in 2001, in peace talks with Palestinians, Israeli security officials suggested an offensive utility for the Jordan valley, saying that if its peace treaty with Jordan was violated then the space afforded by the fertile strip could provide a useful way to “take action”. Given Israel’s recent offensive strikes outside its borders, this might explain why security arguments have resurfaced.
Just how warped Israeli politics has become is evidenced by the fact that the main opposition coalition – Blue and White – were incensed not by the idea of annexing the Jordan valley but that Mr Netanyahu had not credited them with thinking of it first. The Jordan valley may not be the strategic asset it once was. But it has an undisguised potency in Israeli politics, as a Palestinian state was always thought to border Jordan. It matters not whether Mr Netanyahu wins or loses the election, since it is hard to see a Knesset that would block the land grab.
Mr Netanyahu can also count on the support of Donald Trump, who has destroyed the United States’ honest-broker role. The US president rashly recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and endorsed the illegal seizure of the Golan Heights. He has cut off humanitarian aid to Palestinians. Mr Trump’s key Middle East officials – his ambassador to Israel, his son-in-law and his former special envoy – are all supporters of the settler movement to build housing in the West Bank for Israeli Jews in contravention of international law. Like Mr Trump, another rabble-rousing politician, Mr Netanyahu is prepared to sacrifice almost anything on the altar of domestic politics. He dismisses the occupation, 52 years of Israeli military rule over Palestinians, as “nonsense”. Yet what is the upshot of such thinking? Millions of Palestinians will end up living in segregated enclaves in the middle of the West Bank, with no real political rights and under separate legal and education systems. They will be dirt poor and under a permanent military occupation, with their movements curbed. How would the country reconcile a permanent occupation with its democratic ideals? Israel would not be building peace, it would be constructing a giant open prison.