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Israel delays globally rejected West Bank annexation

24th Jul 2020
Israel delays globally rejected West Bank annexation

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate PM Benny Gantz’ are at odds over the unilateral annexation of the West Bank (Credit: US Dept of State)

Harun Nasrullah

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has postponed his internationally rejected plan to annex a sizable portion of the West Bank on July 1, following differences with the Trump Administration on its terms and failure to involve security officials, the cabinet and the Knesset.

Cabinet Minister and Netanyahu ally Ofir Akunis said annexation “will certainly happen in July,” but that it “will only happen after a declaration by [US President Donald] Trump.” However, Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz, said it could take “months.”

The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is regarded as Occupied Territory under international law, deeming the planned annexation as well as all Jewish settlements illegal.

Palestinian officials threatened to abolish bilateral agreements with Israel if it goes ahead with the annexation, which would further undermine a two-state solution.

Under a coalition deal with the Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Netanyahu is to annex the Jordan Valley — 30 per cent of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump peace plan — as well as all the illegal settlements.

The Trump Administration voiced support for Netanyahu’s plans providing Israel accepts its ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan, which conditionally provides for a Palestinian state on the remaining 70 per cent of the territory.

The Palestinians have rejected the US plan, and earlier this month said they had submitted a counterproposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state to the Middle East Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia).

However, the White House has sent mixed signals and is now apparently, reconsidering the plan. The meetings with Trump’s aides in Jerusalem on the eve of the annexation were described as “inconclusive.”

According to media reports, Trump is insisting Netanyahu secures the support of Gantz, who’s at odds with Netanyahu over the timing and whose base is overwhelmingly opposed to unilateral annexation and is now insisting “anything unrelated to the battle against the coronavirus will wait.”

Netanyahu has threatened to dismantle the Government and force a fourth election in a year or to proceed with the annexation without Gantz’s support. However, Gantz is relying on polls which show Israeli electorates are more concerned with the coronavirus pandemic and the ailing economy.

A National Security Council officer revealed that neither Netanyahu’s cabinet nor the security officials met to discuss the potential ramifications of annexation.

However, Israel needs US support for the annexation plan to go ahead, however, should Trump lose the presidential election to his Democratic rival Joe Biden the window for a unilateral action could close on November 3,
“I do not support annexation,” the former vice president said during a virtual fundraiser with members of the American Jewish community. “The fact is, I will reverse Trump’s undercutting of peace.”

In 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and last year, the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel, both decisions were met with international criticism. The UN does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Palestinian territories it has occupied since 1967.

British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, added his name to the list of foreign leaders denouncing annexation, warning in a front-page op-ed in Israel’s Yediot Ahronot that it would be “contrary to Israel’s own long-term interests” and that the UK would not recognize any such unilateral move.

Johnson said that annexation would “amount to a breach of international law.” Speaking in the House of Commons about possible sanctions on Israel, Johnson said, “I believe that what is proposed by Israel would amount to a breach of international law. We have strongly objected. We believe profoundly in a two-state solution, and we will continue to make that case.”

Johnson seemed to be taking tougher stance against Israel’s proposed illegal annexation. His spokesman said on July 2 that UK was “considering with our international partners what measures could be taken if annexation does go ahead”.

However, even as the deadline slipped, international pressure on Israel continued to escalate, with the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, telling a parliamentary committee that “an annexation decision could not be left without consequences.”

Adding, “We are examining different options at a national level and also in coordination with our main European partners.”

The UN, the EU and key Arab countries have all issued similar strong messages saying annexation would violate international law and undermine the already diminished prospects of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

On July 7, eight Arab countries called for an effective international stance against Israel. The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman and Kuwait held a virtual meeting and released a joint statement calling on the international community to take “clear and effective measures to prevent the implementation of the Israeli annexation plan to safeguard international law and peace.”

In a joint video conference, foreign ministers of Germany, France, Jordan, and Egypt also voiced strong opposition to the annexation. “We exchanged views on the current state of the Middle East Peace Process and its regional implications. We concur that any annexation of Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be a violation of international law and imperil the foundations of the peace process,” said the ministers in a joint statement.

They further warned that the Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank was loaded with consequences and will affect the relationship between Israel and these four countries.

“We would not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders that are not agreed by both parties in the conflict. We also concur that such a step would have serious consequences for the security and stability of the region and would constitute a major obstacle to efforts aimed at achieving comprehensive and just peace,” the statement added.

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