As Netanyahu Annexes the West Bank, Where Are the Democrats?

I wrote this piece for The Nation, and it was published on June 30. Around the same time that I was writing my essay, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was also spearheading a letter, signed by a dozen Democratic legislators, that would place conditions on US aid to Israel “to ensure that U.S. taxpayers are not supporting annexation in any way,” as reported by Politico. That’s promising. Joe Biden’s positions, on the other hand, are not.

Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

Tomorrow, July 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to move forward with his campaign promise to annex significant sections of West Bank territory. As of this writing, the full extent of Netanyahu’s plan is not known, but he is expected to annex the fertile Jordan Valley as well as several large settlement blocs. Annexation also comprises parts of Donald Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century, which calls for Israel annexing over 30 percent of the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s motives are opaque. As Israeli analyst Akiva Eldar observes, previous Israeli prime ministers have adopted policies of “quiet, creeping annexation,” while Netanyahu’s is already loud and imperious. The Israeli prime minister is also looking for Trump’s approval, which may explain the rush. Gains must be consolidated now before there is a change in American administrations and, possibly, American policy.

So where are the Democrats on this issue? The question is important not only because unilateral annexation will cement “a vision of a 21st century apartheid,” as a UN council of human rights experts stated recently, but also because the Democratic response, particularly from presumptive presidential candidate Joe Biden, could offer a sense of what the party’s foreign policy platform will be.

The early moves from Biden are—you guessed it—disappointing. While he is on record opposing annexation, his stance was revealed not through, say, a broadly distributed statement upholding the international law principle that the acquisition of territory by war or force is inadmissible. Instead, he made his views known on Zoom, or some such platform. During a virtual fundraiser with the American Jewish Committee, Biden told his audience: “I do not support annexation. The fact is, I will reverse Trump’s undercutting of peace.”

Who cares about how he said it, as long as he said it, you might say. And you’d of course be right. Substance is more important than style. But the other problem is that there’s evidence that Biden won’t actually reverse all that Trump has done regarding Israel and the Palestinians—and won’t provide new directions for American diplomacy either. Biden called Trump’s provocative move of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “short sighted and frivolous,” but then said he would leave the embassy in Jerusalem. I’m not sure what to call this: no-change you can believe in?

Read the rest here.

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