Israel’s expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes and subsequent occupation of their land has been an ongoing tragedy since at least 1948. Now with the latest developments in Israel’s policy of expansion and occupation, this historic land is set to become even more divided. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to bring new annexation proposals of the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea before the cabinet from 1 July.
So, what is annexation?
Annexation describes when one state unilaterally (without permission of the other) incorporates neighboring territory from another state into its borders. Annexation is usually considered illegal according to international law.
No surprise, Prime Minister Netanyahu made things starkly clear, when on May 28 2020 he explained that if his government goes ahead with unilateral annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank, thousands of Palestinian residents would be granted neither citizenship nor equal rights.
The occupied Palestinian territories have been under Israeli military control since 1967, making it the longest ongoing occupation in modern history. The segmented territories include Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Gaza Strip is a small coastal area bordering Egypt to the south, and the West Bank is the kidney bean-shaped area that lies west of the banks of the Jordan River, from where it gets its name. A total of 5 million people occupy these areas.
The Illegal Israeli Settlements:
Israeli settlements are Jewish communities built on Palestinian land. There are between 600,000 – 750,000 Israeli settlers living in at least 250 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem; almost half of these settlements are not officially recognized by the state but have been established regardless
Israeli settlements are illegal under international law as they violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population to the area it occupies.
In 2019, the Trump administration declared that Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land were “not necessarily illegal,” a substantial break from decades of US foreign policy.
The latest annexation plans to be confirmed by the Israeli prime minister would pose a serious threat to the Palestinians. The annexation of the Jordan Valley would completely surround the Palestinians with Israeli borders. Currently, Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley receive 18 times more water on average than Palestinian residents in the West Bank; most Palestinian farmers are not connected to the water grid and have to rely on buying water from tankers. Annexation would mean that Palestinians would be physically cut off from the Jordan River, forcing Palestinians to be without a vital water source. This annexation would also pave the way for more settlements to be built; currently, any new construction in the West Bank requires the approval of Israel’s defense minister and prime minister which can take months or even years. Following annexation, Israel would consider the Jordan Valley part of its territory and so any construction would become a domestic matter and wouldn’t require such approval.
Palestinian views on this annexation plans:
The Palestinian leadership, along with almost 50 experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, say that annexation would formalize a system of “apartheid” in the West Bank – two peoples ruled by one state in the same space with unequal rights. Now, in a bid to increase international pressure to avert annexation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinian Authority is no longer bound by agreements with Israel and the US, including on security. Some also fear that suspension of such agreements, if fully delivered, could result in a collapse of the PA and potentially lead to chaos in the West Bank. Amid the bitter divisions in Palestinian politics, the militant group Hamas – the main rival of President Abbas’ Fatah movement – could try to capitalize and is warning of a confrontation with Israel. Abbas said annexation would amount to the “destruction” of a future Palestinian state, and suggests accepting current plans make the PA “a bunch of traitors – that we will not be.”
Annexation will make things worse: short-term risks include the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, a crisis in Israel’s relations with Jordan and Egypt with its de facto allies in the Gulf, and, above all, a resurgence of violence that could make the last intifada look mild. It will also destabilize an already volatile region, offering rich opportunities for Iran and Hezbollah, the Islamist militant party in Lebanon, to further exploit and destabilize the region.
And as usual the Palestinian people will suffer directly. Annexation will lead to massive expropriation – the taking of private property by the state – automatic in some cases, of Palestinian land and property, the subsequent expulsion of individuals, families and entire communities from the annexed territories, in addition to the above listed socio-political threats. And the situation in blockaded Gaza, home to two million Palestinians, will undoubtedly worsen.
If annexation of any territory goes ahead it will flagrantly breach international law and countless UN resolutions, and cannot be ignored. Israel should and must face sanctions. Worst of all, it will signal the failure of what for decades has been rightly seen as the only possible solution to the world’s most divisive conflict – two sovereign states for the two peoples who inhabit the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river. And that suggests a future without hope for the Palestinians.