In response to Israel’s intention to annex up to 30% of the West Bank, respect for truth by all the parties involved, Israeli, Palestinian, United States, European and Australian, has been replaced by calculations about the benefits of deceit.
Passed off as politics and diplomacy, manipulative game-playing is not new. In 1808, Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott warned of toxic consequences if lying and deceit became central to the conduct of relationships. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Scott’s prophecy is still apt. The connotation “annexation” might sound relatively harmless, but disguises criminal intent. A forthright interpretation would insist that annexation means stealing or daylight robbery. It is difficult to imagine how 700,000 people can settle Palestinians’ lands without knowing that their robbery was illegal.
Consequences of impunity
Allowing Israeli impunity but denying this was happening has enabled any version of reality to be peddled. An international community has mouthed respect for human rights but ignored abuses, hence an amoral politics which teaches “do what you can get away with”.
Amorality nurtures nationalism, authoritarianism and belief that legal and ethical principles don’t exist because outcomes in personal and international relations must be determined by power. Kill whomever you like, as long as the victims are individually weak and have no influential allies.
Endless negotiations, allegedly to achieve peace, have camouflaged Israel’s impunity. WikiLeaks cables revealed that the peace process was a sham. Palestinians were badly represented. The Israelis did not take it seriously. US intermediaries pretended to be honest brokers but were partisan.
Israeli governments’ claim that they had no one with whom to make peace, enabled them to behave as though they owned the moral high ground, a stance supported by a US/Israeli narrative that said that Palestinians had rejected generous offers of land.
Even as thousands of non-combatants, women and children were slaughtered in Gaza, or hundreds of protesters killed by Israeli snipers during the 2018/19 Gaza demonstrations to mark the March of Return, claims persisted that Israel’s army was the most humane in the world.
A Netanyahu wonderland story about the identity of Jews and Palestinians has also been concocted. A warm up introduction to that story says that West Bank land is disputed not occupied. US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, the real estate agent dressed as a peace negotiator, assumed an as-you-like-it role to contend that Palestinians were incapable of governing themselves. The most recent part of the story says that Palestinians have been invented, Jews are the real Indigenous people, the 2018 Jewish Nation State Law confirms that only Jewish people have rights to self-determination.
Hypocrisy and the two state illusion
Then comes the lame opposition to annexation, in particular by the European Union. That potentially influential organisation opposes annexation, warns of the consequences, but simultaneously remains Israel’s largest trading partner, facilitates arms sales and welcomes Israeli services and products.
In political and diplomatic circles, choirs have been singing about an illusion called the two-state solution. Any eyes-wide-open visitor to the West Bank, to Gaza, to any refugee camp, would show the two states idea is a mirage. Even if visitors do not witness the destruction of Palestinian homes and Bedouin camps, a quick glance at settlers’ rapidly expanding homes and gardens would teach that politicians fool themselves by repeating their two state ideals.
In the illusion business, the Palestinian Authority has also been active. Its operatives might regard themselves as instruments of their own government, but they exist to carry out Israeli orders. Refugee camps are maintained, hundreds of checkpoints occupied, Palestinian children are imprisoned by military courts, the siege of Gaza is into a 14th year but the PA conjures the self-image that it is independent, and a sovereign Palestine is just around the corner.
Another annexation con trick is that if Netanyahu’s proposals are stopped, a more just outcome could be achieved. The West Bank land has been stolen. The horse has bolted, but nations supportive of Palestinians are mustering courage to demand that the stable door be closed.
In Europe, the US and Australia, it’s convenient to pretend that Israel is in control. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that what Israel decides will be honoured, yet he needs the wealthy and powerful in Washington.
The outcome of the annexation controversy appears to depend on what US casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson wants. The objectives of this largest donor to the US Republican Party are aided by the settler-loving US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Friedman links annexation to the Trump “Vision for Peace”, which is about Israel’s occupation becoming permanent, about one state with two systems, a fully-fledged apartheid regime, most citizens with full rights and the remainder with none.
Adelson’s requests have been heeded. Tear up the Iran deal. Remove the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Take the Golan Heights. Defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and Palestinian hospitals. Treat the settlement movement as legitimate and finally, the push to have annexation adopted before the November US Presidential election. Government via a wealthy plutocrat masquerades as democracy.
Touches of truth and reality
Two weeks ago, in response to deceit and illusion, a bold touch of reality came from 6000 Israeli protesters in a Tel Aviv square, who insisted that years of occupation had been a serious crime and should not be replaced with an apartheid that would last forever.
A different perspective, but also grounded in an attempt to be frank and realistic, is offered by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, who suggests, with characteristic hope, that annexation might be more reversible than settlements, that annexation could eventually be changed into democracy.
To say that discussion of Netanyahu’s proposal to annex the West Bank is characterised by deceit, illusion and indifference to human rights, may provoke the demand, “stop picking on Israel, how about all the other human rights abusers?”
To anticipate that demand, I concede that in politics and the media, where human rights have been concerned, deceit has been widespread.
In his Memoir, veteran US journalist Seymour Hersh concluded that the powerful prey mercilessly on the powerless, they lie constantly about their intentions and the media let the powerful get away with it, not least in fear to be honest about the colonisation of Palestine.
It should not take too much courage to say that constant deceit produces a schizophrenic version of reality, results in cruelty to the vulnerable, indifference to international law and other ill effects. “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
[Stuart Rees is a human rights activist, poet, novelist, author, recipient of the Jerusalem Peace Prize and Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.]