A season of annexations

Published 26.09.2019 00:10

Kashmir was annexed by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he won an election. It had been an agenda of his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for quite a while. Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir had been disputed land since 1947.

The U.N. had promised to hold a plebiscite to decide the fate of Kashmir. But that never happened. Kashmir has been the world's most densely militarized zone for its entire existence since 1947, with close to a million Indian soldiers deployed there at the time of writing.

While it took an election victory in India for the Indian leader to annex Jammu and Kashmir, in Israel an election victory was fought for with promises of annexation.

In Israel, a do-over election happened, which was unprecedented. The society of Israel showed some disturbing signs.

The election had actually happened in April but at the time, Benjamin Netanyahu needed one more seat to claim a majority and form a government, which he couldn't achieve. The electoral system of Israel is such that no single party has ever won an outright majority of the 120 seats in the parliament. What happens is that the party that wins the most seats makes a coalition with a few other small parties and makes the government. The smaller parties want a protection of their own narrow interests.

Netanyahu has had a difficult relationship with friend and rival Avigdor Liberman. The history of the two men is filled with them acting as partners as well as enemies as circumstances demanded.

The election is happening again because in the last election five months ago, the one seat that Netanyahu couldn't get to win premiership was because Liberman denied it. There was a disagreement between Liberman's secular party and Israel's Jewish ultra-orthodox politicians.

Liberman had refused to join a coalition where the Jewish ultra-orthodox were partners because he wants to force the Jewish seminary students to serve in the military. The students that study in a Yeshiva are exempt from serving in the Israeli army. Netanyahu refused to push the ultra-orthodox politicians for that and hence Netanyahu's chances of becoming the prime minister in that election dropped.

Now, in this do-over election campaign Netanyahu has been struggling to shore up support of his right-wing voters. Facing corruption charges, a desperate Netanyahu pledged to annex the West Bank if elected. He said he would annex "all the settlements" in the occupied West Bank, including an enclave deep inside Palestinian territory.

The area includes Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. Netanyahu kept stressing this issue as he inched closer to the election, saying, "I intend to extend sovereignty on all the settlements and the [settlement] blocs... sites that have security importance or are important to Israel's heritage."

Usually referred to as Area C, the pledged annexation would mean that Israeli land would encircle any future Palestinian state. Netanyahu said, "We haven't had this kind of opportunity since the six-day war [of 1967] and may not have it again for another 50 years." That is a violation of many international laws including the 4th Geneva Convention that clearly says that "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."

However, the Israeli settlements and annexations being illegal and the world's passive acceptance of it are not the most disturbing parts of this story. If you look at the reactions that Netanyahu's pledge of annexing a third of the occupied West Bank are generating, they are quite mind boggling. The critique of Netanyahu's pledge is not about the illegality or immorality. Rather, the critique is that Netanyahu is lying. That's the problem in Netanyahu's promise to annex an occupied land. That is a strong sign of a dehumanized mentality.

Furthermore, this pledge remains virtually unchallenged by Netanyahu's rivals. His main challenger Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party did not issue any condemnation of the plan to annex the occupied West Bank. Instead, they claimed ownership of this plan. They released a statement that said, "Blue and White have made clear that the Jordan Valley is part of Israel forever. Netanyahu drafted a plan to cede the Jordan Valley in 2014. We are happy that the prime minister has come around to adopt the Blue and White plan to recognize the Jordan valley." Gantz called Netanyahu's pledge an "empty promise" and advocated for himself as a man of "actions and deeds."

A voter named Shlomo Zadik, 70, quoted in The New York Times said that Netanyahu won his vote with that pledge. He said, "Netanyahu touched last night on an issue that has been important to me for a long time... I will vote for him because of the hope that he will fulfill his vow, but not because I actually think he will." Another Israeli voter, Eti Dar, 65, a pension consultant from Mevaseret Zion, a Jerusalem suburb, said, "If Netanyahu had really wanted and meant to annex anything, he would have done so 10 years ago, not two days before the elections." Notice that the critique has to do not with how Israel doesn't have a right to do so or that it would be illegal and immoral, but rather that Netanyahu is not telling the truth.

I am not sure if the promises are empty but one thing is certainly empty; the soul of Israeli society. Likewise, Indian society elected a man who was once called the "Butcher of Gujarat" and was banned from entering the United States because of his role in killing of over a thousand Muslims in the state of Gujarat where he was the chief minister. Strongmen and nationalistic tendencies are dangerous not because of strongmen alone, but also because of the negative tendencies of a society overall.

* Pakistan-based political analyst

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