The timing and manner of the unilateral annexation of portions of the Palestinian West Bank by Israel was at the center of the meeting on Wednesday night between Benyamin Netanyahu and his main government partner, Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
There are no major differences between the two on this item in the government program. However, while Gantz is in favor of the annexation project set in motion by Donald Trump’s plan for the Middle East, he is insisting that the diplomatic ramifications of a rapid “extension of Israeli sovereignty” over the West Bank should be taken into account.
But the prime minister is unwilling to budge, unlike what some newspapers are suggesting. He has been promising the Israeli voters the annexation of the Jewish colonial settlements and the Jordan Valley during the last two election campaigns: this is his political legacy.
And then, there’s also the Joe Biden problem. The latter, who is now certain to be the Democratic candidate for the US presidential election at the end of the year, has declared himself to be a sincere ally of Israel, but is against unilateral moves made without negotiations. In recent days, the possibility that Biden could oust Donald Trump, Netanyahu’s close ally, from the White House has become even more concrete. As a result, the Israeli prime minister will proceed with the annexation before the US presidential elections, while at the same time acting with caution.
On Wednesday, the right-wing newspaper Israel HaYom revealed that the prime minister plans to implement the annexation in two phases: on July 1, he will declare only some of the colonial settlements (more or less 10% of the West Bank) to be an integral part of Israel; then, after having issued an invitation to the Palestinians to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan, he will proceed with the annexation of all the other colonies.
The Jordan Valley is set to be annexed in the second phase, or left in suspension for now, because, in any event, Israel will never renounce this portion of the Palestinian territories that it occupied in 1967. Netanyahu is convinced that given time, he will succeed in obtaining the de facto recognition of the annexation by the EU and Jordan.
Netanyahu has correctly assessed the attitude of other governments, Western and non-Western, toward his policies. The EU has issued warnings and exhortations not to violate international law, but Brussels will never apply sanctions against Israel. Similarly, Jordan will not go beyond fiery words, like those spoken on Wednesday by King Abdullah. An actual break in relations between Amman and Tel Aviv is unthinkable.
However, the involvement by representatives of international civil society and the United Nations is increasing, and criticism of the Israeli plan is spreading wider and wider these days. More than 40 scholars and independent UN human rights experts have condemned the annexation as a contemporary revival of South-African-style apartheid and a serious violation of the UN Charter.
After annexation, “what would be left of the West Bank would be a Palestinian Bantustan, islands of disconnected land completely surrounded by Israel and with no territorial connection to the outside world,” the experts wrote in a document published in Geneva on Tuesday.
They stress that “Israel has recently promised that it will maintain permanent security control between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.” As a result, ”the morning after annexation would be the crystallization of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”
In full awareness that the unilateral annexation by Israel of the Golan Heights in 1981 did not provoke any concrete international reaction, the UN experts and scholars are urging everyone to acknowledge “the lessons from the past”: “Criticism without consequences will neither forestall annexation nor end the occupation.”
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