Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu's vow to annex a third of the occupied West Bank if voters return him to office in Tuesday's election is much more than a desperate bid for far-right votes.
The Israeli prime minister has been trying every tactic to hold on to power. But his pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which covers about one-third of the occupied West Bank, as well as all Israeli settlements in that occupied territory is a game changer.
It officially puts Israel en route to a "one-state solution" in which Palestinian Arabs will soon outnumber the Jewish population in Greater Israel.
And the reason Bibi insists he must do it now: He says he wants to profit from the "unique opportunity" offered by the Trump administration. Yet President Donald Trump — who still promises to unveil his long-delayed Mideast peace plan after the Sept. 17 ballot — is blind to the long-range calamity he is helping to unleash on the Jewish state.
It is more than 50 years since the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War that Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser foolishly forced on the Jewish state.
After the 1993 Oslo accords, hope bloomed that the West Bank, Gaza, and Arab Jerusalem might finally morph into a Palestinian state that lived peacefully, side-by-side with Israel.
The post-Oslo push for a two-state solution was led by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin until he was assassinated in 1995 by a right-wing Jewish fanatic. No dove, Rabin believed Israeli security required Jews and Palestinian Arabs to have separate states. If Israel retained the entire West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Palestinian population would eventually outnumber the number of Jews in Greater Israel.
In that case, Israel would be faced with two impossible choices: Give all Palestinians the vote, which would rule out the idea of a Jewish homeland and guarantee endless conflict — or rule over a disenfranchised Arab majority in an apartheid mode.
Sadly, the Oslo process failed — no room to list all the reasons, which I've written much about in the past, but both sides bear blame.
Yet many top Israeli generals and security experts pressed for renewed negotiations, for the very reason that Rabin did.
Israeli groups such as Peace Now's Settlement Watch also rightly warned that creeping annexation of the West Bank under Bibi's leadership (13 years as premier) would rule out a future Palestinian state — even should the region stabilize and new talks begin.
Yet in the past couple of years, emboldened by Trump, members of the Netanyahu government have introduced bills calling for partial or even complete annexation. Trump's recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Arab East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights encouraged a far-right fantasy that there would be no cost to annexation of the West Bank.
In a recent poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute, nearly half of Jewish Israelis said they would favor annexation of Area C of the West Bank — about 60% of the territory — so long as it was supported by the Trump administration.
Perhaps this is just an election ploy, but clearly the Israeli leader believes a green light from the White House makes all things possible. Bibi is also counting on Gulf Arab leaders' concerns about Iran to prevent any major Arab backlash to annexation.
Yet Bibi ignores the internal threats that annexation poses to Israel — threats that Rabin understood.
With far-right annexationists setting the agenda, and Trump colluding, Israel is heading for a one-state reality, no matter the window dressing. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, Trump's former bankruptcy lawyer, said in June that Israel has the right to annex. The long-delayed peace plan hatched by First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, has taken on an aura of farce.
Bibi and the far right proceed, indifferent to "the magnitude of the storm they're about to bring down on Israel's security and its most foundational ideas," warns Freilich.
Perhaps Bibi will lose the election, or be unable to form a government. But, with Trump's help, the annexationist impulse has now been unleashed.