Israel have occupied the West Bank since 1967, the only distinction is that this time Israel want to make it official. The Palestinians call it an Illegal Land grab. The Arab League and The United Nations are firmly against it too. If implemented, Annexation would continue the most serious violation of international law. In particular, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”.
So what would annexation mean for the people living in the occupied West Bank? What’s in it for Israel? And what does the US Election have to do with it?
When it comes to understanding the news coming out of Israel and Palestine it helps to look at a map.And the fact that the map changes regularly is a part of the issue. The real power lies with the Israelies, the Palestinian Territories are under an Israeli Military Occupation. It’s Israel that decides what goes in and what goes out, and a whole lot more. This arrangement is considered illegal under international law. Now the map has not always looked it does today, overtime Israel expanded by wars, making borders and building settlements.
Israels focus now is the occupied West Bank. In more than 50 years, Israel has built at least 250 settlements that are home to at least 600,000 Israeli settlers. All of these compounds are connected by roads that only the Israeli’s can use. It means that the Palestinians are stuck on a patchwork of land blocked by Israeli separation walls with limited freedom to travel and where they are forced to go through Israeli Military checkpoints.
And now Israel wants to Annnex some of that territory, it will extend its sovereignty over the land that it already occupies, now it is slightly unclear which parts that the Israeli government is eyeing. It could be as much as 30% of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and more. For the Palestinians this motion is the theft of land and the displacement of indigenous Palestinians.
Let’s try to understand what life is already like for the Palestinians living in the West Bank. Well, they don’t have control of their own resources, they don’t have control of their own economy which means that Israel basically decides everything about their lives. They have been constantly building and expanding settlements in the west bank, expropriating lands, evicting people. More than 90% of Palestinians requests for construction are denied by Israel, forcing them to build illegal on their own land. And once they have constructed, Israel immediately destroys that because it’s ‘illegal’. It’s a never ending cycle.
So what would annexation change? Well the annexation if it happens means that Israel has declared itself as a country of Apartheid, a much worse apartheid than what prevailed it in South Africa.
One of the biggest concerns for Palestinians is the annexation of the Jordan Valley. For Israel, the Jordan Valley is considered a key security asset because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east and assures a defensive line along the country’s long frontier with Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. It would give the Israeli Military a strategic vantage point, full view and control of the area. Plus, total control to the Jordan River. It also means that the Israeli Military would completely surround Palestinian territories in the West Bank and cutting off their access to water.
The Jordan Valley is a huge resource, it’s hugely fertile. As the lowest place on earth, it has a unique climate that can produce fruits and vegetables year-round. Access to the Dead Sea and its mineral-rich waters also offers tourism and other commercial benefit.
Palestinians in the West Bank barely get enough access to water as it is. Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley receive almost 20 times more water than they do. All of these issues risk upsetting Israels neighbours, such as Jordan. Jordan has threatened that this would severely effect both it’s peace relations and it’s agreements with Israel. Ayman Safadi, The Jordanian Foreign Minister stated that ‘It’s a path to institutional apartheid in Palestine…and that is not a reciepe for peace’.
So then what is Israel’s justification for this? Well Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu doesn’t even call it apartheid, he calls it ‘applying sovereignty’ over Jewish Settlements. It’s something that he has always wanted to do ‘in the areas of our homeland’. The countries position has always been that it faces the threat of attack and that the land they are taking is historically theirs. Defense Minister Naffali Bennett refers to this as ‘An opportunity to anchor our security for decades, an opportunity to anchor forever the land of our fathers’. It’s not something that is a partisan policy is Israel. The illegal settlement building in the West Bank was spearheaded by an Israeli labour government, a so called ‘left wing’ government.
Practically speaking, annexation also makes it easier to build more settlements. Usually its Israel’s Defence Minister that approves construction, but if Israel treats the occupied West Bank lands as its own, the construction of settlements would boil down to local paperwork. It would be much easier. for Israel to evict all of these communities and push them further into the Palestinian enclaves.
All of these Plans were supposed to go ahead in July but they are on hold for a lot of reasons. The details of annexation still haven’t been worked out. Israels focus has been on fighting the Coronavirus, for now at least and the 21% unemployment rate that it has fuelled.
Even the Americans want more discussion but there is no question that they are on side. Donald Trump stating that ‘The Jewish State have never had a better friends in the White House than your President Donal J Trump’ and the far right Likud Leader mirrored his sentiments. In fact, Annexation is part of the Trump Administration plan for the region, in what the President calls his ‘Deal of the century‘. Gerard Cusher, his son-in-law and senior adviser drew up the blue print that offers a two state solution for the Israeli’s and Palestinians to live side by side. But the Palestinians were never consulted. The plan promises a future Palestinian state in exchange for Israel annexing large parts of the West Bank. The Palestinians strongly reject this plan, they say there can be no independent state that doesn’t control the border.
President Netanyahu tried to seal this deal before Trump was voted out in November 2020. There is a momentum there that the Israeli’s want. The challenge is to contain that momentum in the face of Universal Condemnation. Holding Israel accountable is not about ability or capability it is about political will. So Netanyahu is sitting very comfortably indeed. For the first time ever there are Arab States creating and signing agreements with Israel. It’s a different dynamic that could give Israel the Political space to forge ahead with annexation, which many Palestinians expect that they will do regardless.
All Israel have done since 1967, and even before, is to ensure that a Palestinian State will never exist. They don’t see annexation as a particular moment or date but as decades of Israeli Policy that has gone unchallenged.