In Jericho, a Palestinian city located south of the Jordan Valley, thousands of Palestinians protested Monday against Israel’s plans to annex new parts of the occupied West Bank. The protest was a result of a call for demonstrations by Fatah, and was reportedly the largest in scale since the Trump administration revealed its plan for the peace process earlier this year, strongly rejected by Palestinians.
Protesters held signs that read “Palestine is not for sale” and “No Palestinian state without the Jordan Valley”. It is likely the first of a series of stand-offs between the Palestinians and Israel. The official Palestinian position is all but the same as the public one. Palestinians protested regularly in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the past two years after the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem. For the Palestinians, it is a fight for survival.
The situation reached a stage in which Mohamed Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister, threatened to declare Palestinian statehood over the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. In a speech 9 June, Shtayyeh vowed Israel would “not get away with murder”, adding that “what we want is that Israel should feel the heat” and that “the fruits of peace have never actually materialised since the signing of the [peace] agreement.”
“We’re waiting and pushing for Israel not to annex,” the head of the Palestinian government was quoted as saying. “If Israel is going to annex after 1 July, we are going to go from the interim period of the Palestinian Authority (PA) into the manifestation of a state on the ground.”
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdel-Mahdi Metawei, a Palestinian political analyst who is close to the PA, sees no surprise in these developments. He explained that even a partial annexation, which “is an old Israeli policy that seeks to weaken reactions and consume time”, will put an end to the PA — one of few gains the Palestinians earned through the 1994 Oslo Accords with Israel. “Yesterday, the spokesman of the PA said that if US President Donald Trump insisted on this direction, we don’t want to sit with him on the same table and there will be no peace process,” said Metawei.
On 1 July, Israel’s Netanyahu-Gantz coalition will outline the way through which it will implement the US peace plan. Even diplomatically, the coalition is not apparently walking an easy road. It is being criticised by many key players in the game, including the Europeans, the Arabs and the regional organisations that represent them. On the same day as the protests, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov published a pro-Palestinian tweet: “Today, I joined the EU, Russia, China, Japan, Jordan to express support to the Palestinian people. My message was simple — do not stray away from the path of non-violence, do not lose hope for a Palestinian state living side-by-side and in peace with Israel.”
But Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not seem to be considering a policy retreat, or at least a temporary change in objectives. For one, Israel is set to gain much through Trump’s plan. Moreover, Netanyahu wants to get the job done while Trump is still in office, said Ian Lustick, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Lustick argued that Israel will not take any measures in the West Bank that it believes “will seriously upset Washington”.
But if Democratic candidate Joe Biden is elected as president, Lustick added, he “will likely want to continue the charade of the peace process and so, although a successful outcome of that process will be understood to be impossible, he will vigorously oppose any steps Israel takes that make it look too obvious to continue the charade”.
Lustick noted that, in the long run, both Palestinians and the United States will shift to a struggle for equal rights for all who live in the “one-state reality” that exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. He explained that the “bigger the measures they (Israel) take in this direction, the more unrest they will face.” “But if areas are annexed that include Palestinians and if those Palestinians are thereby made citizens, it will eventually fuel demands that this full annexation be extended to the entire area. Only those who still imagine a negotiated two-state solution is possible will be truly enraged, but once disturbances begin there is so much hostility and so much oppression and so much likely Israeli heavy-handedness that violence is likely to spread widely before it is contained.”
He concluded by referring to the fact that Israel wants to “extend Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration” to Israeli settlement areas as “this is what was done in East Jerusalem after 1967.” “The steps the Netanyahu government is likely to take, if they take any, however, will not be to complete the annexation process that the settlements have started, but to try to gain international recognition of a deepening and silent apartheid.”
In the West Bank, 450,000 Israeli settlers live amid almost three million Palestinians. These numbers say a lot about the political, demographic and geographical implications of Israel’s annexation plans.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly