Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently declared plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank in an effort to extend Israeli sovereignty. For decades, Israel has claimed historical and religious rights to the West Bank, citing it as the ancestral land of the Jewish people. Further, Israel has argued that seizing West Bank is vital for its self-defense. Israel has previously faced invasions from Jordan, and Netanyahu claims that establishing the military presence of Israel Defense Forces in the Jordan Valley could potentially prevent future invasions.
Netanyahu’s annexation scheme trails closely behind U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan that allows Israel to take control of 30 percent of the West Bank, including areas where Palestinians currently reside. Netanyahu’s government would then have the capacity to redraw borders between Israel and the West Bank. In addition to pushing an expansionist policy, the plan states that there will be no “right to return” for the millions of Palestinians forced out of their homes. Once Israel annexes part of the West Bank, refugees will be forced to choose between becoming citizens of the countries where they live or be absorbed by other countries.
Although Trump has cast his support for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, other nations consider Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories to be illegal under international law.
#Israeli annexation of significant parts of the occupied #Palestinian West Bank after 1 July would violate a cornerstone principle of international law and must be meaningfully opposed by the international community – UN experts call for accountability: https://t.co/m4UUojCfJB pic.twitter.com/FhBHkiN8Xo
— UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) June 16, 2020
According to nearly 50 independent human rights experts appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, “The annexation of occupied territory is a serious violation of the Charter of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions… because it incites wars, economic devastation, political instability, systematic human rights abuses and widespread human suffering.”
The experts further noted that Israel had inappropriately annexed occupied land in East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Syrian Golan Heights in 1981, but the U.N. Security Council took “no meaningful countermeasures” at the time. However, the U.N. has emphasized that “this time must be different,” calling for more international accountability to oppose violations of human rights.
There has been no immediate response from the Israeli government, but an unnamed Israeli diplomatic source has dismissed the U.N. rights experts’ warning, deeming it as “merely a political statement.”
In addition to the statement issued by the U.N. experts, Palestinians have rejected Israel and Trump’s annexation proposal altogether. Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, has stated that Palestine will declare statehood over all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip if Israel begins annexation.
Shtayyeh described Netanyahu’s recent plan as a threat to a decades-long international effort to establish two separate states for Israelis and Palestinians. As a result, Palestine intends to push for global recognition and international sanctions on Netanyahu’s government in the case that Israel fails to acknowledge Palestinian territory.
While Palestinians have declared statehood in the past, there has never been full international recognition. This is largely because Israeli forces still control Palestinian territories, thus reducing the Palestinian Authority to, essentially, nothing more than an agent of the Israeli occupation. The only way to truly put pressure on the Israeli government is to encourage other countries to actively, instead of passively, stand up for Palestine.
Moving forward, Shtayyeh is hoping to garner support from European governments to consider formally recognizing Palestine. Already, the U.K. has communicated that Parliament will not support Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank because previous peace deals would be jeopardized. Shtayyeh has praised this commitment, saying that “the British government and all European governments are really looking at this very seriously. The tone I have heard was very different, too.”
The fact of the matter is that international commitments to Israel are shifting, and Netanyahu’s luck may be wearing thin. With the E.U. — Israel’s biggest trading partner— pledging to discourage Israel from carrying out its plans to the U.N.’s Middle East envoy warning that annexation will “trigger conflict and instability,” Netanyahu should not expect countries to be complicit with his goals.
However, what everyone can expect is a conflict with Israel and the U.S. on one side, and other major U.N. countries on the other. Netanyahu has set July 1 as the date to begin advancing his plan to annex Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, waiting for Trump’s final approval. And although Trump has consistently supported Israel’s right-wing, to most, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Israel’s plans to annex the West Bank are mostly about strengthening Netanyahu’s power, not promoting peace.