JULY 1. That is the date by which Netanyahu has promised to complete the annexation of the West Bank. But what does that really mean? Most people think that means he will annex Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho, and the rest of the region. However, nothing can be farther from the truth.
This is due to one simple word that poses the greatest threat to Israel, more so than war with its neighbours or Iran: demographics.
Out of a total population of about 9.2 million, Israel has almost 7 million Jewish citizens; about 2 million Palestinian citizens comprise about 20% of its population.
Despite the ethnic cleansing that occurred during the Nakba in 1948, a significant Palestinian population resisted Israeli forces. This group of Palestinians, known as 1948 Arabs, continued to live on their lands and in their homes after 1948, but had to endure years of brutal martial law and military rule until Israel finally granted them citizenship in the early 1950s due to international pressure.
Such a development proved to be one of the most consequential in the fight for Palestinian rights, as Palestinian citizens of Israel have become essential players in resisting and pushing back against discriminatory policies within Israel and against the occupation and human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza.
This is due to the fact that they are able to participate in the Israeli government, albeit with many racist barriers and suppressive laws, allowing them to influence and challenge government policies from within Israel’s own system – which has proven to be significantly more effective than the efforts of the Palestinian Authority over the years.
Therefore, it is clear that Palestinian citizens of Israel are quite the source of irritation for the Israeli government. Moreover, as seen over the past year with the three rounds of elections held in the country, they hold immense political power and influence, which the Israeli government constantly acts upon to try to keep dormant.
Keep in mind that a minority that comprises only about 20% of the Israeli population is able to achieve all of this. So, can you imagine what would happen if the more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank were absorbed into the Israeli population?
That would mean that nearly half of the Israeli population would be Palestinian, a prospect that rattles the very foundations of every Jewish party in Israel. Given the fact that, already, proposals for ‘land swaps’ are being considered in order to decrease the Palestinian population in Israel, it is simply inconceivable that Israel would want to annex the entire West Bank.
What Netanyahu really means when he states he is annexing the West Bank is a notion far more dangerous.
This is due to two factors; firstly, with an Israeli court ordering Netanyahu to appear at the opening of his corruption trial – becoming the first sitting prime minister in the country’s history to be charged with a crime – he is keen on carrying out all his inflammatory, racist, and hate-filled campaign promises in order to gain the support of the Israeli public; and so will be able to more easily delegitimise the trial, witnesses, and any verdict that does not go his way.
Therefore, the prospects of him making good on his annexation promise are very high and should be taken very seriously.
The second factor as to why his promise of annexation is far more dangerous than perceived is because of what it will actually look like.
As I explained, he won’t simply annex the entire West Bank, as that would be disastrous for Israel. Instead, annexation would almost certainly be in the form of applying full Israeli sovereignty to illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. While at the surface this seems to be better than annexing Jericho or Bethlehem, its implications are far more extreme.
Annexed illegal settlements would no longer be illegal settlements in the eyes of the world; they would simply be towns, villages, and communities in Israel – just like Haifa or Tel Aviv.
And that is the problem. Israel will finally complete its annexation of the West Bank by simply building illegal settlements on stolen lands and incorporating them into its own territory.
International bodies might try to continue to call them illegal settlements, but they would soon have the status of East Jerusalem, and Israel would have free rein over what happens in them, without fear of repercussions from bodies such as the EU or others.
This is because in the past, the EU has always been cautious in its criticism of Israel – rarely going beyond a simple statement of condemnation.
Moreover, when Netanyahu decides to carry out annexation of illegal settlements, it will be under the pretence of them being Jewish communities, thus ‘justifying’ such a move which would not be met with meaningful EU pushback.
Though it must be said that there is a small upside: such a move will draw international condemnation and criticism, which will in turn shed light on the realities of the occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, to the international public.
So you may be asking, ‘what about the Palestinians? How will this affect them?’
The unfortunate truth is that while the word ‘annexation’ may sound like a move which will rock the region, the reality is that the West Bank is already annexed in all but name. Palestinians have no sovereignty, no control of vital resources such as electricity and water, and do not even have control over their own economy, as the Palestinian Authority’s budget is controlled by Israel and can be frozen at will by the Israeli government. That is what annexation looks like.
The only thing Netanyahu is doing is making annexation official in certain parts by annexing Palestinian lands without the Palestinians that live on them, and that for him is a dream scenario.
l Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)’s Executive Committee, said today that the international community must hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law.
‘The concerted illegal Israeli actions in Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank continue because the international community has yet to muster the moral and political courage to make Israel bear the consequences of such grave violations of international law, including international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute,’ said Ashrawi in a statement.
‘This requires the International Criminal Court (ICC) to act swiftly and to start its investigation to apply its mandate to curb Israeli violations and to bring Israel to compliance with law. Without accountability, Israel will continue to implement its colonial project of creating “Greater Israel” on all of historical Palestine, trampling on the universal values of human rights and condemning the region to endless conflict and strife,’ she added.
Ashrawi maintained that Israel’s focused and systematic plunder of occupied Jerusalem persists unabated, in violation of international law and proclaimed positions of states worldwide.
‘In addition to a sharp increase in home demolitions and the displacement of many families in Jerusalem during the Covid-19 pandemic, the illegal Israeli “municipality” has unveiled its plans to demolish decades-old Palestinian industrial area in the Wad al-Joz neighbourhood and replace it with a gentrified settler neighbourhood with the flashy name of “Silicon Wadi”,’ she said.
‘This is an outrageous and criminal plan that will devastate 200 Palestinian businesses in the area and deprive hundreds of Palestinians of their sources of livelihood.
‘It is a massive scheme that brings Israel’s displacement and replacement policy against the Palestinian people into sharp focus, especially in Jerusalem.’
In this connection, Ashrawi warned companies that they will be held legally and financially responsible for any direct or indirect engagement in this illegal enterprise, in line with international law.
‘In addition to the physical mass displacement of Palestinians from Jerusalem, Israel continues to enact its racist demographic engineering tactics. Namely, Israel has renewed its ban of Palestinian family reunification for the eighteenth year.
‘This policy tears thousands of Palestinian families apart and imposes the impossible choice on thousands of Jerusalemites of choosing between their families and their right to live in their ancestral hometown, Jerusalem,’ said the PLO official.