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Ethics & Religion
July 23, 2020
Column #2,032
Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
By Mike McManus

Israel is once again threatening to annex land controlled by Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that as soon as Wednesday, Israel may move to annex up to 30% of the West Bank, home to sites sacred to Jews, Arabs and Christians. He also threatened to do so on July 1, but nothing happened.

His plan to annex the West Bank would dramatically alter the situation in the Israeli-occupied territory which is home to 3 million Palestinians and 500,000 Jewish settlers.

It is also the heartland of what many Palestinians and much of the rest of the world have long hoped would become a Palestinian state.

What would annexation do to the dream of a "two-state solution" in the Israeli-Palestinians conflict? It would have upended years of consensus about the two-state solution. Under that plan, the vast bulk of the West Bank would eventually be transferred to the Palestinians to form the core of an independent state of Palestine.

However, peace talks have been stalled for years. And there's no deal on the horizon. In fact, the Israeli right has been pushing Netanyahu to simply annex significant portions of the West Bank that it wants to keep - making them officially part of Israel proper, regardless of what the Palestinians think of it.

There has been a swift condemnation of the annexation by the United Nations, which says it is illegal and by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who has penned an op ed column against the proposal. Even the United States has hesitated to support annexation, despite it being a direct result of the Trump Administration's "peace plan."

In Jericho on the West Bank, a sunbaked oasis, international support for Palestinians was on display at an anti-annexation rally last week attended by thousands of Palestinians and many senior Western diplomats - though none from the United States.

The United Nations special Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, told the crowd that annexation could kill the very idea that peace and statehood for the Palestinian people can be achieved through negotiation.

Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian peace negotiator, said that despite the risk of COVID-19 - as a 65-year-old lung transplant recipient, he is especially vulnerable - he took part in the rally to "defend my survival."

"The international community came to us and told us we are not alone," Erekat said. "They told Netanyahu and Trump, 'You are on one side and facing you is international law.'"

Furthermore, Arab states which have engaged in quiet efforts to build ties with Israel - warn that annexation would halt those tentative steps toward reconciliation.

"Annexation would amount to "unilateral and illegal seizure of Palestinian land," the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington, Yousef Otaiba, wrote last week in Israel's Yediot Aharonot newspaper.

Netanyahu has yet to tell Israelis, Palestinians or the world exactly what he plans to do.

On Friday, just as Israel was shutting down for the Sabbath, his political rival and partner in governance, Benny Gantz, issued a sharply worded warning against going ahead with annexation.

Amidst the coronavirus outbreak and a surge in unemployment, annexation appears to be far-down the list of concerns of most Israelis.

Another reason why annexation makes no sense is that Netanyahu is facing a trial for breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud. The trial began May 24 and involves three other defendants in the corruption portion of the trial. Netanyahu managed to avoid a second court appearance on July 19. The prosecution will begin presenting its case in January, 2021.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo condemned the plan as a "dangerous development and a new Israeli aggression by declaring the intention to violate the international law. The league regards these statements as undermining the chances of any progress in the peace process and will torpedo all its foundations."

Netanyahu made his announcement of an intent to annex Palestinian land in front of a large map showing Israeli sovereignty extending over the vast majority of the Jordan Valley.

Turkey's foreign minister said the plan was racist and incendiary:

My question is why is the United States silent on this explosive matter? In fact, Netanyahu hinted on Tuesday that the plan had the support of the White House: "I am waiting to do this in maximum coordination with(Donald) Trump," he said in a speech broadcast on Israeli television.

If so, that is outrageous and disgusting. It undermines two generations of effort to achieve a healthy Palestinian state as well as a vibrant Israeli state.


Copyright (c) 2020 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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