Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems determined to deliver on his promise to start annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, possibly as early as this week
JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears determined to fulfill his promise to begin annexing parts of the occupied West Bank, possibly until Wednesday.
His vision to redraw the map of the Holy Land, according to President Donald Trump’s Middle East plan, was well received by Israel’s religious and nationalist right and condemned by the Palestinians and the international community.
But with opponents offering little more than condemnations, there seems little to stop Netanyahu from embarking on a plan that could permanently alter the Middle East landscape.
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WHY ATTACHMENT AND WHY NOW?
Israel’s right wing has long favored annexing parts or all of the West Bank, saying the territory is vital to the country’s security and an inseparable part of the biblical land of Israel. But most of the world regards the West Bank, captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war, as occupied territory, and Israel’s dozens of settlements, which now house almost 500,000 Israeli Jews, as illegal.
Surrounded by a team of settler allies, Trump disregarded US policy, recognizing contested Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, transferring the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights in 1981 and announcing that Jewish settlements are not illegal.
Seeking to court hardline voters in the campaign, Netanyahu began last year to talk about annexation. After Trump launched his plan for the Middle East in January, envisaging Israel’s permanent control over 30% of the West Bank, including all Israel settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley region, Netanyahu quickly jumped on board. Israel and the United States have formed a joint committee to accurately map which areas Israel can maintain.
Netanyahu ensured that, according to the coalition agreement, he could bring a proposal to the new government at any time after July 1. He seems eager to move ahead of the November presidential election, possibly with a limited move announced as a first step, especially with Trump’s re-election. selection perspectives in question.
WHY IS THERE SO MUCH OPPOSITION?
Palestinians seek the entire West Bank as the heart of a future independent state and believe that Trump’s plan would deal a fatal blow to their state hopes.
Among the components of the plan: Palestinians would only have limited autonomy in a fraction of the territory they seek. Isolated Israeli settlements in the depths of Palestinian territory would remain intact and the Israeli military would maintain general security control over the Palestinian entity.
The international community has invested billions of dollars in promoting a two-state solution since the Oslo interim peace agreements in the 1990s. The UN secretary general, the European Union and the main Arab countries said that Israeli annexation would violate the law international and would greatly undermine Palestinian independence prospects.
ANY CHANGE IN THE LAND?
Not immediately. Israel has controlled the entire West Bank for more than 50 years. Palestinians will remain in their cities and towns, while Israelis will live in their newly annexed settlements. The Palestinian Authority is protesting the annexation, but has ruled out any kind of violent response.
But over time, there is a greater risk of conflict.
Netanyahu said he is opposed to granting citizenship to Palestinians living in annexed lands, probably because it would harm Israel’s Jewish majority. But not granting Palestinians equal rights in the annexed areas opens Israel to the accusations of establishing an apartheid system that would lead to strong international condemnation.
Palestinians who do not live in annexed lands may face other challenges. The move between Palestinian population centers – or even reaching their own properties and agricultural land – can be difficult if they have to cross Israeli territory. Critics say Israel can also use its sovereignty to expropriate Palestinian land.
The Palestinian Authority has already severed ties with Israel to protest the impending annexation. In the absence of prospects for peace, the Palestinian Authority could see its international funding dry up or decide to close.
The collapse of authority could force Israel, as an occupying power, to assume responsibility for governing the Palestinians. In the long run, this could lead to Palestinian and international calls to establish a single binational state with voting rights for all – a scenario that could spell the end of Israel as a Jewish majority state.
WHY DOES THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY NOT STOP?
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the annexation would mark a “more serious violation of international law”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned of “significant consequences”. Jordan and Egypt, the only Arab countries at peace with Israel, condemned the annexation plan. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, powerful Arab players with informal relations with Israel, said warming ties would be in danger.
But Israel and the United States seem to be betting on the international community’s weak record of translating rhetoric into concrete action. Days after the United Arab Emirates warned Israel against the annexation, for example, two companies in the Emirates reached cooperation agreements with Israeli partners in the fight against the coronavirus.
Thanks to the US veto of UN Security Council decisions, international sanctions appear to be out of the question. The divisions of the EU also make Europe’s concerted reaction unlikely.
Individual countries can try to impose limited sanctions against Israel, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague can consider annexation as it considers whether to initiate a war crimes investigation into Israeli policies.
CAN ANY ATTACHMENT STOP?
The biggest obstacle for Netanyahu appears to be from within. US officials say Israel is unlikely to allow progress unless Netanyahu and his coalition partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, agree.
Gantz, a former military chief and rival to Netanyahu, said Israel must act carefully and in coordination with regional partners. Gantz laid the groundwork for further delays on Monday, when he said his top priority was to guide the country through the coronavirus crisis.
“Anything unrelated to the battle with the coronavirus will wait,” he said.
Ironically, some hardline leaders have also opposed the plan, saying they cannot accept any program aimed at a Palestinian state.
If the problem persists, time may run out in Netanyahu. The presumed Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, said he opposes annexation. A Biden victory in November could mean that any Israeli annexation will be short-lived.