Among many things Israel’s political rivals disagree about, Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz were brought together to form an emergency government after a third election was held inMarch 2020. The annexation of lands in the Palestinian West Bank was one issue they fundamentally agree about based on their coalition deal. The repercussions of this bold decision can be disastrous for all stakeholders.
The expansion of Israeli territory into Palestinian lands is not a new phenomenon; it has been ongoing for decades since the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in June 1967. What makes it very different now is the context it is wrapped with. Since the US Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US Embassy there, Palestinians aggressively responded where many lost their lives or freedoms in Gaza demonstrations and West Bank wall marches.
Then Trump’s greenlighting the annexation of the long-occupied lands of Golan Heights seemed a lot like a pilot of how Arabs in the region would react to prepare for the next step. Meanwhile, Israeli expansionism continued to swallow more land to Israeli settlement-building on an expedited schedule. The Netanyahu-Gantz agreement added insult to injury through the annexation plans of 30% of Area C in the West Bank’s lands, which includes the Jordan Valley and a number of settlements scattered around the West Bank. Many viewed the plans as a direct threat to any future two-state solution, and yet another violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords which led to President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA seizing all, including security, coordination with Israel.
The role of the current US administration has been steadily in unconditional support of the Israeli activities against the Palestinians. Earlier this year, Trump’s special envoy Jared Kushner announced more details about the proposed “peace plan” for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Despite the plan’s total disregard for the Palestinians’ views and demands, which were later translated into an automatic rejection, the plan initiated its implementation unilaterally by the Israeli authorities. The settlements, which were long viewed by international law and community as illegal, became legitimate in the eyes of Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State. His actions were widely criticized by the several US officials and European activists.
During the US election primaries, candidates discussed with more intensity the situation in Palestine, as well as the US support to Israel, but this did not change Trump’s backing of Netanyahu’s government. Some voices from United States rejected or showed apathy to Trump’s “deal of the century”. Jewish US senator Bernie Sanders was vocal against the Israeli practices against the Palestinian people and advocated during his now-ended campaign for leveraging US aid to Israel to push for progress in the peace process. He also addressed an anti-annexation protest of Palestinian and Israeli activists in Tel Aviv. Sanders’ inspiration was not completely ignored as David Friedman, the USAmbassador to Israel stated that a recognition of the annexation will depend on Israel’s halt of settlement-building and willingness to negotiate a Palestinian state with President Abbas. Joe Biden, the pro-Israel democratic nominee for US elections, has also expressed his opposition to the annexation plans.
Disapproval of Israeli annexation plans also extends to Europe, where many EU ambassadors, including the UK, protested to Israel regarding annexing settlements and the Jordan Valley area. While others warned Israel against the move protective of Israel’s own interests. Some even took it further; demanding sanctions against Israel if it goes through with its annexation ambitions in a letter signed by 127 European politicians. If it were any indication of how this would shape future European attitude towards the conflict, Israel is deepening the gap with Europe and embarrasses its allies and defenders by blatantly breaking international law and changing the status quo without a bilaterally-approved political solution.
A recent study by Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, shows that 28% of all Israelis oppose the annexation plans in July. Meanwhile, many protests and demonstrations took place in the West Bank and Tel Aviv againt annexation.
In the Arab arena, the Arab League officially condemned the Israeli annexation plans and described them as a “war crime”. Tensions also are on the rise in Jordan in reaction to annexation news, especially in the light of ending two land leases to Israeli farmers on Jordanian soil in the eastern bank of the Jordan Valley. Like Egypt, the Jordanian fears about annexation is that it bears warning signs for their own national identities and security. Jordanian FM warned Israel of the consequences. The annexation will threaten the future of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who might turn to Egypt and Jordan fleeing the canton-like enclosures surrounded by Israeli settlements. It also sends an unspoken message that Oslo’s sisters, the Wadi Araba treaty with Jordan, and the Camp David treaty with Egypt, would be in jeopardy of being broken by Israel due to the lack of accountability concerning Israel’s practices. Other Arab states were divided between total support of the Palestinians or reluctantly petitioning Palestinians to consider yet another compromise without real political gain.
Both the Palestinian public and political leadership heavily criticized the plans of annexation. President Abbas threatened to revoke all agreements with Israel and the US in case such plans came to life. Hamas also rejected the Israeli annexation as well as the US stance on the move. The voice against annexation was joined even by Israeli activists and writers; describing it as a disaster, and calling it a threat to Israel’s future and national security. Which could manifest in the intensification of the settlers’ state-backed violence against 300,000 Palestinian villagers living in Area C of the West Bank, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
The question remains, with worldwide rejection, local protests, official opposition from European and American politicians, a possible COVID-19 probe, trial for corruption, will Netanyahu go through with the polarizing July 1st annexation plans?