Israel may soon ensure annexation becomes ‘the new normal’

Israel may soon ensure annexation becomes ‘the new normal’

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Builders work on a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 7, 2019. (Reuters)

Nothing about the Israeli government’s declared intention to annex parts of the Occupied Territories is new or in the least bit surprising for anyone who has been paying any attention. 

An annexation process could kick off any time from July 1. It is merely the next stage of an existing process. Formal annexations have happened twice, when Israel claimed East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981. Creeping annexation had started in 1967, with the gradual but systematic appropriation of occupied lands for settlements and “military” purposes. It has never ceased. All that is happening now is that land, having already been stolen, is about to be gift-wrapped in stars and stripes paper. 

The settler-colonial takeover of the West Bank has been relentless, but Israel’s territorial appetite has yet to be sated. Read all the early Israeli plans, notably the Allon Plan of 1967 and its later versions. It is crystal clear. Israeli governments of every persuasion expanded settlements. The areas likely to be annexed in the near future are nearly all products of Israeli Labor Party settlement plans in and around Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley. The Israeli settlement expert Dror Etkes summed up the process by saying: “It’s about taking from the Palestinians and giving to the Israelis. The way you do it is confiscating land and allocating only to Israelis. That’s one. And the other is sealing up and preventing the expansion of Palestinian communities.”

The constancy of Israeli territorial expansion is matched by that of the inaction of the international community. What makes this more alarming is that Israel is removing any meaning from the international rules-based system, highlighting once again the staggering double standards. The Fourth Geneva Convention, violated each and every day of the 53-year-old occupation, is being rendered void. 

Israel’s earlier annexations were both condemned in UN Security Council resolutions, including by the US. Nothing was done. Instead, Israeli armed forces marched into Lebanon as far as Beirut in 1982. The message was clear. Israel could annex territory, build settlements and use disproportionate force without fear of consequences, especially if done bit by bit. This next wave of annexations may well be a similar process of theft, starting with a small annexation of settlements around East Jerusalem, before adding to them at judicious moments. However, a huge single swoop for a third of the West Bank cannot be ruled out either, especially as some Israeli leaders see US President Donald Trump as their best hope to achieve this, leaving them perhaps only six months to get it done.

All the signs are that the swift and determined EU-wide response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 will not be replicated over Israel. Those measures included sanctions and asset freezes, all of which remain in place today. Palestinians have the right to ask how their case differs when their lands are annexed and hopes dashed. They have a valid point — the law is the same in each case. Why should the people of Crimea have their rights defended, while the Palestinians are expected to accept their decline into irrelevance as a nuisance, much like Native Americans or Aborigines in Australia?

Around the world, states with territorial ambitions will be delighted to see this core legal principle undermined and annexation become “the new normal.” If Israel can annex territory unilaterally, why not Russia? China has territorial ambitions on its borders and in the South China Sea. Unless they take action, Britain and the other countries insisting China has to adhere to international agreements over Hong Kong will be hacking away the legs they are standing on. Turkey, directly or through proxy forces, occupies areas of northern Syria, but it may quietly emulate Israeli practices.

Annexation also crushes the chances of peace. The two-state solution has already been gobbled up by a one-state reality of Israel with Palestinian Bantustans. Negotiations seem pointless if the occupying power has no interest in ending the occupation.

Instead of a credible negotiating process with an impartial mediator, we have had no talks since 2014 and a US that, under the Trump administration, has abandoned any pretense of assuming an impartial role. It now only negotiates with the Israeli settler movement over the demarcation and pace of the annexation.

Even if the international actors locate a few vertebrae, stopping formal annexation is not enough. The informal and deliberate creeping annexation, where Israeli law spreads across the West Bank through settlement expansion, must also be reversed. The status quo is intolerable and a recipe for prolonged conflict.

If Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defers annexation, it will be because creeping annexation works just fine. His calculus would be that Israel can hoover up the international plaudits for his “restraint,” while enlarging de facto annexation on the ground.

For Palestinians, this crisis has no positive outcome. It is all degrees of defeat. Formal annexation would see an acceleration of land loss, home demolitions and more barriers to movement. Tens of thousands of Palestinians may land up in annexed areas, deprived of any rights, while some fear being forcibly displaced, pushed out of their homes and lands into Palestinian cities. 

Israel is removing any meaning from the international rules-based system, highlighting once again the staggering double standards.

Chris Doyle

The Palestinians are being herded like animals. The world watches and whimpers a few protests. Israel expects complete Palestinian surrender — an acceptance of their status as a tolerated presence with no rights. 

Underlying this approach is a rarely acknowledged but long-term racist attitude toward Arabs that their lives do not matter. It is the same approach that ignores the human hell of Gaza; pays far more attention to the Western victims of Daesh; flattens Raqqa and Mosul through aerial bombardment; fails to act over the war in Syria; refuses to carry out body counts in Iraq after the 2003 invasion; and effectively asserts that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children under five was a price worth paying. It is why the world will do nothing to help the Palestinians who live in a territory where one group of people has full rights and the other does not. 

  • Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Twitter: @Doylech
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