Today, July 1, 2020, has long been the date declared by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to commence the annexation of large parts of occupied Palestine, in effect bringing Palestinian dreams of statehood to an end for the foreseeable future. The bulk of the land Israel wishes to claim consists of the Jordan Valley, the bread basket of the West Bank.
While Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who also holds a rotating premiership with Mr Netanyahu, announced yesterday that annexation talks will be postponed until the coronavirus crisis passes, he and the Prime Minister are at loggerheads, leaving Palestinians even more uncertain about their future.
Annexation was one of Mr Netanyahu’s key campaign promises in Israel’s election earlier this year, and was a major factor in securing his victory. The decision to go through with it is endorsed by US President Donald Trump, and falls within the scope of his proposed plan for resolving the Palestine-Israel crisis, which he has referred to as the “deal of the century”.
This approach has alienated Palestinians, who reject both annexation and the broader plans proposed in the so-called deal of the century, and has left them with no say in a decision that could alter the course of their destiny.
Israel’s proposed annexation is illegal under international law. Should it go ahead with the plan, more Palestinians will be at risk of losing their ancestral lands permanently. Many will be deprived of their main source of income in the form of agriculture.
Annexation would also be the final nail in the coffin of the Oslo Accords, a 1993 agreement which formed the basis of future peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Over the past two decades, Israel has violated the accords repeatedly, maintaining a military presence throughout the West Bank, expanding illegal settlements and continuing its occupation of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the future capital of their own state. The gradual takeover has hacked away at any attempt to give Palestinians their basic rights. If Mr Netanyahu continues to torpedo past agreements and block any peaceful attempt at finding a political settlement, his actions will push ordinary Palestinians into the arms of extremists who wish to introduce more radical ideas into their just cause.
It comes as no surprise then that annexation has been rejected by many European countries, the Arab League – including Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have signed peace treaties with Israel – and, of course, the Palestinian leadership in both Gaza and Ramallah.
If Mr Netanyahu and his allies refuse to consider annexation's deleterious impact on Palestinian lives, they should at least acknowledge the adverse effect on his own nation. In an opinion piece published in the Israeli press, the UAE ambassador to the US, Yousef Al Otaiba, warned that annexation will jeopardise peace with the Palestinians. It will also extinguish any hope of long-term co-operation with Arab nations, and reinforce a view of Israel as an outcast in the Middle East. Mr Al Otaiba told The National "I wanted to make sure people understood the risks associated with the decision beyond the immediate consequences of what happens on [the] Israeli-Palestinian track".
Mr Gantz’s own campaign in the last Israeli election was built on a platform that rejected annexation and corruption. Now is the time for him truly to stand up to the destructive ambitions of his former opponent. For the sake of peace, for the sake of Palestinians and for the sake of Israelis, Mr Netanyahu’s annexation plans must be abandoned for good.