The Palestine Solidarity Working Group of Democratic Socialists of America joins the growing worldwide chorus condemning Israel’s declared intent to annex substantial parts of the occupied West Bank. But our reasons differ from those who mostly express concern over how formal annexation would harm Israel’s relations with the rulers of neighboring countries or prospects for a “two-state solution” to the “Israel-Palestine conflict.”
Our opposition is based on how annexation could make life even more torturous than it is already for the approximately 3 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem); how it would severely violate – and therefore weaken – the force of international law; and how it would reinforce the colonial, supremacist relationship between Israel and the subject Palestinian people.
“Annexation” means that Israel would apply its domestic law to areas that have been taken over by civilian colonies (“settlements”) or the military, part of Israel’s long-term drive to control as much land with as few Palestinian Arabs as possible. This would reportedly include
population centers near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; isolated colonies throughout the area – destroying any possible contiguity for Palestinian society; and most of the Jordan Valley, separating the rest of the West Bank from the kingdom of Jordan to the east. Under civilian law, it would become even easier for Israel to confiscate land than with the minimal constraints it
has sometimes observed under international humanitarian law that applies to occupied territories.
Though widespread, loud and unprecedented objections from his centrist allies at home and from “friends of Israel” around the world have apparently deterred Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from keeping his election promise to begin formal annexation on July 1, 2020, it still might occur in the coming days, weeks or months – with a new surge of COVID-19 cases in Israel and the occupied territories a wild card in the calculations. But even if the threat is somehow deferred, the creeping colonization of the area and ever greater constriction of life and livelihood for the Palestinian population since 1967 amount to de facto annexation – and the international community has failed to stop it. Moreover, even if the status quo were to be frozen, with no more settler construction, no more home demolitions, no more land grabs, no more checkpoints, closures or restrictions on movement – three existing facts on the ground would remain:
- The vaunted “two-state solution” that envisioned a sovereign Palestine alongside Israel – whether as a permanent end or a step toward future unity – is a dead letter, killed by bantustanization, walls, settler-only roads and most of all, by the world’s refusal to enforce countless UN resolutions and International Court of Justice opinions.
- Instead, a “one-state reality” would persist – an ethnocracy in which one group, Israeli Jews, has a semblance of democracy, with second-class citizenship for Palestinian citizens and no say in their governance for those in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. In other words, apartheid.
- Millions of refugees (including their descendants), expelled from their homes and/or homeland in 1947-50, when Israel was established, or in 1967, would remain in exile, still denied their right to return under international law.
We welcome the sudden fall of the taboo on criticizing Israel in the U.S. mainstream – almost all House Democrats signed a letter to Israel’s leaders June 25 urging them not to move forward with annexation. But we decry the hypocrisy in their rationales and remedies:
While many U.S. liberals are coming to see how our country was built on a foundation of white supremacy, genocide and slavery, the House leadership letter is tone deaf in in proclaiming that the United States and Israel have “shared democratic values.” Indeed, due to the history of settler colonialism of both countries, the values Israel and our country share are anything but
- Israel, too, was born out of settler colonialism, and like ours, its ruling class continues to this day to profit from the racial-ethnic stratification of the Jewish and Palestinian populations – e.g. a cheap, dependent labor force and captive market that the West Bank constitutes – amid massive inequality generally.
- The letter also cites common U.S.-Israeli “strategic interests.” Even many of the signers who denounce the economic war on Iran and the bloody assault on Yemen ignore the fact that Israel is an eager partner to these projects, pitching its own burgeoning “security” exports to the region’s kingdoms and dictatorships.
- Opposition to formal annexation rings false if the critics have long failed and continue not to object to de facto annexation as they bemoan the “threat” to the long-dead “two-state solution,” having gone along with Israeli steps to make sure it would never come to be.
- The United States and its allies were quick to impose sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, effected with much less violence and with the apparent support of most Crimeans. But nowhere in the broad-based House letter does there appear any threat of consequences if Israel goes ahead with annexation.
Given these weaknesses of the “loyal opposition,” we are encouraged by the release of a second letter June 30, spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, endorsed by 11 other House members and Sen. Bernie Sanders – and by a notable set of organizations that stand in solidarity with Palestinian rights. It echoed through the Capitol with an unprecedented call for leveraging military aid to Israel not only to oppose annexation but to advance Palestinian rights more broadly.
The letter says annexation would “lay the groundwork for Israel becoming an apartheid state,” notes the clear violations of international law (saying Israel’s West Bank settlements already constitute a “war crime”) and rejects “an undemocratic system in which Israel would permanently rule over a Palestinian people denied self-determination or equal rights.”
Even the letter from the 13, however, refrains from pointing out how the United States has long tolerated, if not encouraged, human rights violations by its allies, including Israel. Instead, it invokes “the principles of democracy and human rights that the United States of America is
supposed to stand for.” Nor does it mention violations of Palestinian rights that occurred before 1967, most notably forced exile, or the right under international law of refugees and their descendants to return.
But finally, a small but brave group in Congress has broadened the conversation with a plea that doesn’t repeat the maddening platitudes about U.S.-Israel alliance and the “two-state” mantra, basing its case instead on international law and fundamental human rights. It’s our task as socialists to broaden the conversation further and to win public support for a fundamental change in U.S. policy everywhere, one that would bring true decolonization at home and abroad.
For far too long the United States has acted as an imperialist country, attempting to impose its hegemony throughout the Middle East, perhaps most egregiously in the 1953 coup in Iran and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In this endeavor, the United States has found Israel a useful regional ally and in return has helped Israel squash the Palestinians’ right to national self-determination. As socialists, we echo the wisdom of Karl Marx’s observation that “no nation can be free that oppresses other nations.” Palestinian freedom is in the interest of the U.S. working class. It’s in the interest of all the American people to seek human rights, peace and justice for all.