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Friday, 07 August 2020

With region in turmoil, Israel is closing the circle

By annexing much of the West Bank, Israel will kill all hope for Middle East peace and set a ticking time bomb on

Salah Nasrawi , Thursday 25 Jun 2020
With region in turmoil, Israel is closing the circle
Palestinians argue with Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in Susya village south of Hebron (photo: Reuters)
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When Israel launched its war of aggression and conquest against the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the summer of 1967, it absorbed the whole of historic Palestine, as well as additional territory from Egypt and Syria.

Israel’s blitzkrieg invasion and subsequent occupation took advantage of the stagnation, incompetence and fragmentation among the Arabs at the time and their vicious circle of searching for a meaningful national order.

About a decade before, Israel had used Egypt’s crisis with Britain and France over the nationalisation of the Suez Canal as a cover to carry out its aggression against Egypt in 1956 and briefly seize the Sinai Peninsula.

The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 also came at a terrible time for the newly emerging Arab states and their struggle to break away from the colonial past.

Since then, Israel has always exploited the turbulence and political instability that have been a constant feature of the post-colonial era as well as the support, friendship and alliances it has netted with its Western mentors.

Today, as the Arab world is engulfed in the coronavirus pandemic, an economic downturn, and political turmoil, Israel is again using the situation as a cover to push its dream of a “Greater Israel” by implementing US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the century” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 1 July deadline for Israel to start annexing what remains of Palestine seems to have been set in order to ensure that Israel can benefit from Trump’s presence in the White House before the November presidential elections in the US and while the world is busy focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it has triggered.

All of this spells trouble for Middle East stability and increases the risk of a huge geopolitical earthquake in the region with strategic consequences for the world at large.

As soon as next month, Israel will reportedly proceed with the process of finishing what it has started by annexing the West Bank, beginning with asserting its sovereignty over the settlements it has built on Palestinian land it seized in the 1967 War.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the principle driving force behind the plans, said the process would also include asserting Israeli sovereignty over the Palestinian Territories in the Jordan Valley.

Israel’s coalition government supports Netanyahu’s plans that will leave the Palestinian areas fragmented and the Palestinian people with considerably less land for a future independent state along with the Gaza Strip.

Most Israelis seem to be backing Netanyahu’s plans, though some differ on the timing and technicalities of how to proceed for fear of a backlash from the Palestinians and the Arab countries.

Many Israeli critics of the unilateral Israeli annexation attribute their objections to the high cost of the annexation and fears that it will lead to a complete Israeli takeover of the West Bank and Gaza and leave the Palestinians in limbo.

Some retired Israeli military, intelligence and diplomatic officials also fear the move could ignite a new uprising on the West Bank and lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy and the rise of militant factions.

The Palestinian Authority has rejected the move as a violation of Israel’s commitments to a mutually negotiated peaceful settlement to the Israeli occupation under the 1993 Oslo Accords.

The authority, which governs the West Bank, has declared it is no longer bound by the security arrangements under the Accords and has halted coordination with Israel on many matters including policing.

Radical Palestinian groups such as Hamas have urged the creation of a united Palestinian front to resist the planned Israeli annexation, stoking fears of a new Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

While governments in key Arab countries have trod cautiously in their responses to the Israeli plans, Arab commentators and the public at large have blasted the annexation, which they see as another attempt at humiliation by Israel.

As expected, the repercussions have been strongly felt in Jordan, where a majority of the population are of Palestinian origin. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has warned that the annexation plans will threaten regional stability.

While the Trump administration has remained tightlipped on the annexation plans, which is in line with Trump’s controversial “Deal of the century” proposals, US diplomacy has also remained cautious in publicly addressing the plans.

International opposition to the Israeli plans has gained momentum as major world powers and international organisations have spoken out forcefully against the Israeli annexation plans.

The United Nations has condemned the moves as a violation of international law. Top United Nations envoy in the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov described them as “a devastating blow” to the two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, and a UN human rights panel said Israel’s plans would amount to “a Palestinian Bantustan.”

The European Union has warned about the consequences of a possible annexation of the West Bank for prospects for a two-state solution and also for regional stability.

Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the Vatican all expressed strong objections to the plans, which they said would amount to breaches of international law and urged for them to be halted.

Yet, despite the global outrage, Netanyahu has refused to retract his plans, and he is unlikely to do so before he has permanently and fundamentally altered the map and seized control of historic Palestine.

This will take us back to square one in the more than century old Arab-Israeli struggle that was triggered by the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the colonisation of Palestine, and the dispossession and dispersal of the Palestinian people.

It will also bring to the fore the futility of peace agreements with Israel and shine a light on its quest to forcibly end the long-standing status quo.

The Palestinians were under no illusion in thinking that Israel was not interested in peace and that it would never voluntarily cede the Occupied Territories seized in 1967 and would simply want to confirm the de facto occupation until the moment came when it would strike its final blow.

With Netanyahu’s parameters now well known, his next move, expected within weeks, will be to extend Israel’s borders far beyond the contemplated settlement expansions, confirming the Palestinians’ fears that Israel will make its occupation permanent.

That will draw up Israel’s final borders, a state self-described as Jewish but controlling the lives and futures of millions of Palestinian Arabs.

But by putting the final nail in the coffin of its peace accords with the Palestinians and upending prospects of an independent Palestinian state, Israel risks a new wave of resistance by the Palestinians and the region risks further turmoil.

Israel and its vehement supporters in the West have long accused the Palestinians and the Arabs of being maximalists in their demands and of missing opportunities for peace.

Netanyahu’s “final settlement” comes at a time when the Palestinians have the most moderate political leadership in their history and when the wider Arab world is ready to forge deeper ties with Israel, an opportunity never seen before.

However, the Israeli annexation is now expected to reinforce the conviction of the Palestinians, the Arabs and of all fair-minded people worldwide that Israel’s approach is emblematic of everything that is arrogant, blind, short-sighted and driven by brutal power.

Having created a huge open-air prison in Gaza, Israel is now embarking on a project that will blockade millions of Palestinians in the West Bank in a Bantustan that will only ensure that more Palestinians than ever grow up angry.

Under his brutal project of creating an Apartheid state for the Jews rather than pushing for the two-state solution, Netanyahu’s next step will likely be the consolidation of Israel’s claim to the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

For the Arab world, the annexation and the mass population transfers of the Palestinians and the ethnic cleansing expected to follow will come at a time of their division and weakness, though this does not mean that Israel will succeed in winning a total victory.

If the Jewish experiment serves any lesson, it will be that the Palestinians’ rights in Palestine cannot be eroded and that the Arabs’ standing will never change despite the harsh reality and the current feelings of frustration and loss.

Instead of defusing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and bringing peace to the region by allowing the formation of an independent Palestinian state, by its annexation plans Israel will plant a time bomb in the region that will continue ticking for a longer time.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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