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Unholy Land: The threat of an Israeli annexation

June 24th, 2020
topic:Peace and Reconciliation
by:Ithamar Handelman-Smith
located in:Israel, West Bank, Germany, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, USA
tags:greater Israel, human rights, israels annexation plan, violation of international law

Israel plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank on July 1. What are the reasons behind it?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to annex Palestinian territories on July 1st has triggered mounting diplomatic pressure on Israel. Thus far, objections and concerns over the move came from the United Nations, almost every member state of the European Union (excepting Hungary), and the Arab League countries, most notably Jordan and Egypt, both of whom have long-standing peace agreements with Israel.

Germany, considered one of Israel’s leading supporters in the international community, strongly opposes unilateral steps toward annexation. An exceptional joint statement released by Germany and the Palestinian Authority at the end of May has called for Israel to abandon its plan, claiming that the proposed annexation of territory in the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) violates international law and damages prospects for a two-state solution.

The German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, 10 June, that other nations would cast sanctions on Israel, and possibly officially recognise a Palestinian state, if Israel follows through on its intention to annex parts of the West Bank on 1 July.

This is just a taste of the diplomatic pressure to come in the ensuing weeks.

The vision of a “Greater Israel”

The vision of a Greater land of Israel (Eretz Israel Ha’Shelema, as it is called in Hebrew) is the ideological cradle of the revisionist Zionist movement; the “mother” of the current ruling Likud party. In fact, the national anthem of the revisionist-Zionist party, written by its somewhat mythological leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, was “Two banks to the Jordan”, meaning the lands that comprises today’s Israel and Jordan states should be one “Greater Israel”.

The song was written in reaction to the decision of the British Government to divide the territory of the British Mandatory Palestine into two separate entities, one being the home of the Jewish people in the west and the other the state of Jordan on the eastern bank of the river. Both left-wing socialist Zionist leaders and Revisionist leaders opposed the decision, but while the left-wing Zionist parties accepted it eventually, the Revisionists continued to strongly oppose it.

The far-right Maximalists had a different understanding of what is “Greater Israel”. This fringe cohort included both today’s Syria and Iraq in the ideal Jewish state, basing their theory on an ultra-nationalist interpretation of the scriptures. One of the main Maximalist ideologists of the time was professor Ben Zion Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu’s father.

With the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the fantasy of “Greater Israel” seemed to fade away. But after the 1967 war, and with the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, the dream of Greater Israel rose like a phoenix and swept through Israel’s political ideology from left to right. A group of intellectuals, ex-army men and politicians from both political factions formed the “Greater Israel” movement (Eretz Israel Ha’Shlema), the ideological parent of the Jewish settlement project in the West Bank.

The idea of a formal annexation was always part of the political discourse in Israel, but the advocates of the idea were labelled messianic and dismissed. Although the first Likud Government passed the Jerusalem Law in 1980, and by doing so had in effect annexed East Jerusalem and declared it as part of the “eternal Israeli capital of Jerusalem,” no one dared annex the West Bank, at least not De Jure. Although de facto, Israel has controlled the lives of millions of Palestinians since 1967.

In general, the term “annexation,” or “applying sovereignty,” is a declaration that a certain territory, defined as occupied under international law, become an integral part of the territory of the state annexing it – especially in terms of law, jurisdiction, and administration. This replaces the military rule (“belligerent occupation,” to give it its official title) that applies under international law to occupied territories. Both east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were annexed by Israel.

The vast majority of the international community never recognised these earlier annexations, and never recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, until the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Trump’s administration changed American policy on the issue and recognised Israeli sovereignty in both the Golan Heights and Jerusalem. However, Trump stressed that this recognition did not preclude future negotiations over the fate of these territories.

The alliance of populist regimes and messianic cults

Prime Minister Netanyahu has now resurrected the ancient dream of the Israeli far right and has declared – with U.S. backing as a result of president Trump’s peace proposal – Israeli sovereignty over all of the Jewish settlements established in the West Bank since 1967, including the Jordan Valley. He has stated his intention to do this several times over the past three election campaigns. Initially, he focused on annexing the Jordan Valley, but later began promising annexation of all the settlements in the West Bank, in accordance with Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East, the one he refers to as the “deal of the century”.

Officially, Trump’s plan, crafted mainly by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, is based on a two-state solution idea and sketches out a distant future in which there will be a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. However, in terms of the territory on which this future Palestinian state would be established, it proposes the most limited and non-contiguous territory ever offered to the Palestinians by the international community.

The administration’s guiding principle, according to Trump, is that “no Palestinians or Israelis will be uprooted from their homes.” As a result, the map accompanying the plan allows Israel to annex all the existing settlements, in addition to the areas surrounding them and access roads, leaving no territorial continuity for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The big question

It has been six years since Israeli and Palestinian leaders last talked to each other. There is no end in sight to the decades-old confrontation between the two opposing factions. The outbreak of coronavirus has at least led to “inspiring examples” of co-operation, says Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s envoy to the region. For example, on 19th May Israel allowed a plane from the United Arab Emirates, with which it does not have formal relations, to deliver medical supplies to the Palestinians. Israel itself has trained Palestinian medics and ensured that testing kits and protective gear reach the occupied territories. It is also planning on extending a loan for the Palestinian Authority.

Yet, the formation of the new Israeli government on 17 May has brought this short optimistic period of co-operation to a bitter end. The big question now is how they will proceed with annexation. Netanyahu has promised to extend Israeli sovereignty over big portions of the Palestinian Territories at any cost, but the Trump administration has already toned down its supportand asked Netanyahu to restrain his acts and announcement while the political pressure, both from the international community and from within Israel, is mounting. Both the far-right settlers and the left oppose the plan for various reasons. The settlers’ leadership has claimed that the annexation plan does not go far enough, while parties and citizens from the left have held massive demonstrations against the annexation.

What will happen on 1st July? Will it really mark a historic moment? Or was it just a messianic dream?

Article written by:
ithamar handelman smith
Ithamar Handelman-Smith
Author
Israel West Bank Germany Jordan Egypt Syria Iraq USA
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to annex Palestinian territories on July 1st has triggered mounting diplomatic pressure on Israel.
Germany, considered one of Israel’s leading supporters in the international community, strongly opposes unilateral steps toward annexation.
The vision of a Greater land of Israel (Eretz Israel Ha’Shelema, as it is called in Hebrew) is the ideological cradle of the revisionist Zionist movement.