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Thursday, 13 August 2020

New clash on Palestine

The Netanyahu-Gantz coalition’s plans to annex the whole of the West Bank met an angry Arab response this week, writes Bassem Aly

Bassem Aly , Tuesday 28 Apr 2020
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On 24 April, the Council of Arab ambassadors to the United Nations in New York issued a statement on Israel’s “illegal policies and annexation agenda” for “Palestinian Land”. The document mentioned that “virtually all Security Council members and by the larger membership of the UN” have condemned these policies.

Last week, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul-Gheit told UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres that Israel’s annexation plans will “ignite tensions in the region”, accusing Israel of “exploiting the world’s preoccupation with the novel coronavirus to impose a new reality on the ground”.

There is a context for this development, which is the recent formation of a new coalition in Israel that is jointly led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White Party. Their agreement mentions that Israel will claim sovereignty over the whole West Bank by 1 July and implement the controversial peace plan that was developed by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

“A couple of months from now, I’m confident that that pledge will be honoured, that we will be able to celebrate another historic moment in the history of Zionism,” Netanyahu said Monday.

According to The Times of Israel, a US State Department spokesperson said that Washington is ready for it. “As we have made consistently clear, we are prepared to recognise Israeli actions to extend Israeli sovereignty and the application of Israeli law to areas of the West Bank that the vision foresees as being part of the State of Israel,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The spokesperson added that the annexation would offer the Palestinians statehood in return of “terms, conditions, territorial dimensions and generous economic support”. But the Palestinians refused to even receive the offer.

Trump’s plan recognises Jerusalem as “Israel’s undivided capital”. The Palestinians will have a capital in East Jerusalem in only northern and eastern neighbourhoods that are outside the Israeli security barrier. A very limited number of Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to their homeland; Israel will control security from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Trump has taken a long list of steps against the Palestinians since taking office. He showed his willingness to move in this direction when he was still a presidential candidate. Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and stopped funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA).

Trump’s plan clashes with the classical Palestinian demand for a two-state solution on basis of pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital of their state. Since 1967, Israel built roughly 140 settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and 121 outposts, which are settlements that are not legally authorised but are nonetheless tolerated by the Israeli government. More than 600,000 Israelis live in these settlements.

Israel wants to implement the Trump deal as soon as possible as it fears that Trump would lose the next US presidential elections, said Abdel-Mahdi Metawei, a Palestinian political analyst who is close to the Palestinian Authority. He argued that Netanyahu, who faces corruption charges in Israel, wants to write his name in Israel’s history as the prime minister who started full scale annexation plans and got US approval, even if he did not complete their implementation. Yet, Metawei expects that Israel will not succeed because of strong Arab and European opposition to the Trump deal.

The European Union is a strong backer to the Palestinians on this issue. EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said last Thursday that Israel’s annexation of the West Bank would “constitute a serious violation of international law”, noting that the 27-member organisation will “continue to closely monitor the situation and its broader implications, and will act accordingly”.

Based on figures provided by Peace Now, more than three million people live in the West Bank. Some 86 per cent of them are Palestinians.

*A version of this article appears in print in the  30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: United we stand

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