Business & Politics
The West Bank Annexation
29th July 2020
On May 5 2020, Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in for his fifth term as Prime Minister of Israel. Among his campaign pledges was the proposed annexation of the West Bank. Annexation is when a state unilaterally proclaims its sovereignty over another territory, and is strictly prohibited under international law. This annexation poses a serious threat to the long-sought two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The West Bank, and more specifically the Jordan Valley, is considered pivotal to the survival of a future Palestinian state among Palestinians. Often referred to as their ‘breadbasket’, it holds importance not only as a strategic location along the Jordan River but annexation of this territory would allow Israeli territory to fully encircle Palestinian enclaves. The planned annexation was set for July 1st and sparked renewed fear of an outbreak of violence in the West Bank and the wider region. Neighbouring Jordan, who currently has a peace treaty with Israel, could be forced to adopt a more hard-line stance towards Israel as a result of the annexation of the West Bank.
The West Bank is home to some 2-3 million Palestinians (sources vary) and 400,000-600,000 (sources vary) Israeli settlers in 130 settlements, considered illegal by most of the world. Occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War, the proposed annexation could result in just under 110,000 Palestinians living within the annexed territory. Israel already exercises extensive control over the region, they control the movement of people and goods, along with the resources and the economy of the West Bank. Evictions of Palestinians, to make way for Israeli settlements, are widespread. More than 90% of Palestinian requests for construction are denied, which forces them to build illegally and results in the Israeli demolition of such construction. If the plans for annexation are successful, Palestinians fear more evictions, displacements, and even fewer rights than they previously had. Palestinian farmers who operate in the West Bank have stated that they hardly get enough water, in contrast, Israeli settlers receive 20 times more water.
Palestinians have turned to the United Nations for help in halting the proposed annexation. A Security Council discussion took place on May 20th and resulted in a plea by the Security Council for Israel to abandon their annexation plans. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut ties with Israel and the United States in response to the annexation plans. The Prime Minister of Palestine has suggested that they would declare their own state in the West Bank if Israel proceeds with the plans. The International community, along with many EU countries, are slowly but surely lending their support to the Palestinians in opposing the annexation. UN Special Rapporteur, Michael Lynk, stated that the annexation would lead to a ‘21st century apartheid’ and a ‘cascade of human rights consequences’. Interestingly, Netanyahu is facing opposition from both sides. His plans have also been criticised by Israeli Settlement leaders, who argue that his plan opens a door for a future Palestinian state and restricts the expansion of their settlements in the West Bank. Some accuse Netanyahu of using the proposed annexation to win a tight election and to divert attention away from his pending trial on corruption charges.
“Occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East War, the proposed annexation could result in just under 110,000 Palestinians living within the annexed territory”
According to a poll by the Israel Democratic Institute, 25% of Israelis oppose annexation, 24.5% support it and 28.5% ‘don’t know’. In contrast, a poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 66% of Palestinians believe that Israel will proceed with the annexation plans. 31% of those surveyed supported an armed struggle should the annexation plans proceed. The survey also shows that Palestinians are doubtful of the international community coming to their aid, 63% said they didn’t think Jordan would break their peace deal with Israel in and 78% said that the EU, Israel’s most prominent trading partner, would not impose sanctions on Israel. The end of June saw protests by thousands of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and hundreds of Israelis in Tel Aviv in opposition to the annexation of the West Bank.
Netanyahu is capitalising on the extra power afforded to him by the Trump administration. In releasing their Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan in January 2020, the Trump administration has given Israel the green light to annex thirty percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley and all Israeli settlements. Netanyahu has himself stated that the Trump administration has afforded him a “unique, one-off opportunity”. Netanyahu even went so far as to say that he had his “personal relationship with Trump” to thank for his ability to “annex all the settlements in the heart of our homeland”. However, his window of opportunity may be closing, as Trump is up for re-election in November and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, has spoken out in opposition of the annexation. Trump’s Peace Plan does little to benefit the Palestinian cause. It forces them to give up their efforts in establishing a capital in West Jerusalem and to accept Israeli security control, among other conditions. There is chaos and confusion amongst Trump’s administration, with the US Ambassador to Israel stating immediate annexation is appropriate and Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Trump, calling for the establishment of an Israeli-American mapping committee to agree the borders, with the notable absence of Palestinian involvement.
Meanwhile, the proposed annexation date of July 1st has come and gone. Israel is grappling with a second wave of COVID-19, which has quickly outpaced the country’s first outbreak. Members of Netanyahu’s government have urged him to shift his focus from annexation towards the outbreak. This, combined with the widespread condemnation by the International Community and some mixed signals from the United States, has led to the stalling of these annexation plans.
Should this disregard for international law go ahead, there is a stark reality that the West Bank could slowly descend into chaos, imitating the Gaza Strip. Especially given the fact that Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah have now joined forces and have encouraged Hezbollah and Iran to join in their fight against the annexation of the West Bank. With Israeli politicians stating that the annexation awaits a ‘declaration by Trump’, it is clear that the United States is firmly in control of the outcome. Despite widespread condemnation, Russia succeeded in annexing Crimea in 2014 which minimises the potential impact opposition and international law could have in the case of the West Bank.
Featured photo by Stephen Melkisethian