Israel's annexation plans and the sinister role of the US

Varanasi Subrahmanyam

Part 1

"I call on the Israel government to abandon its annexation plans", the UN General Secretary, Antony Gueterres minced no words, echoing the opinion of International community at large, while giving an inaugural speech on 24th June's UN Security Council meeting as Netanyahu announced imminent annexation of Jordan Valley and extending sovereignty to all the settlements in the West Bank averting any possibility of even a caricature statehood to Palestinians. 

Hubris at its height
Rejecting the overwhelming opposition from the international community, bolstered by  the lone US support, sending the 2334 UN Security Resolution of 2016 on West Bank to smithereens, Netanyahu, the beleaguered PM of Israel, who is facing corruption charges and criminal cases and is forced to share the government with his rival Benny Gantz of Blue and White Alliance, announced unequivocally on May 17th in the Knesset that he would unilaterally extend the sovereign authority on the Israeli settlements in West Bank on July 1st, 2020. He said, "These areas of the country are birthplaces of the Jewish nation. It's time to apply Israeli law over them," Netanyahu told the Israel’s parliament on 17th May, when presenting his unity government. 

Trump's “Deal of the Century”? Deceit of the Century? 
In January 2019, as a finale to his three year quest for the Middle East Peace deal, the US President Trump unveiled the proposals.  Bolstered by the American assent to the Netanyahu's ambitions, the Israeli PM used it as a trump card in the March 2020 Elections, the third election in a year that has been beset with incessant political stalemate. 

Trump announced the peace plan, officially named: Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People, on January 28th, 2020, promising a “potential” statehood to the Palestinians with too many stringent riders. The Deal of the century, Trump trumpeted, would usher in peace in the Middle East. But the Deal “.........gifted the wish-list of long-held demands of Israel”, Guardian commented the next day. Palestinians all in unison rejected it. It was a bonanza for Israel's right. And outrageous betrayal to Palestinian aspirations. 

Green signal to occupation and A Demilitarized, Disjointed Palestine sans East Jerusalem
The political part of the plan proposed: Jerusalem will be the undivided Capital of the Israel.

The vast majority of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory would be part of Israel. They constitute 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinian state would receive territory, mostly desert, near Gaza to compensate for the loss of parts in the West Bank. Gaza and the West Bank would be linked by high speed rail. Jordan Valley should come under Israel.

A form of Palestinian statehood would be there. Not a full-fledged sovereign state. But with no army. Israeli security control will continue, including over the Mediterranean sea. A demilitarized, a disjointed Palestine would be the result of this Trump plan.

The most presumptive demand by the US that the Palestine Authority has to do “complete dismantling of Hamas”, which governs Gaza.

Least of all, the Peace Deal supposed to have superseded all the previous agreements, is silent on the demand to take the Palestinian refugees back into Israel. Over 7,50,000 out of 19 lakh population had to escape from their Palestine homeland between 1947 and 1949.  Palestinians call it Naqba, a catastrophe, an equivalent term to Holocaust. They remember this every year on May 15th. Another 3,00,000 Palestinians had left in the second exodus, in the wake of 1967 war. In all, the living and their descendants total around 5,00,000 in refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and in West Bank. 

Trump boasted: “Today, Israel takes a big step towards peace. I was not elected to do small things or shy away from big problems.” A beaming Netanyahu got brownie points for his coming Elections. He was all in smiles and said in gratitude to Trump: “You have been the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.” 

Middle East Peace Plan and its dubious team of architects
Jared Kushner, a son of Jewish immigrants from then USSR, a real- estate developer, and a senior adviser to his dad in law -Trump- was entrusted to unveil a blue print for peace in Middle East, in 2017. Kushner had no credentials in handling the Gordian knots of Middle East. He never thought of meeting Palestinian leaders in this endeavour.  Kushner’s team included Davied Friedman, US ambassador to Israel, with close ties to the Jewish settler movement. David believes in one state theory. Only Israel. That tantamounts to perpetual occupation. Third member, Greenblatt. A lawyer who worked at the Trump Organization. Trump praised from him: “a person who truly loves Israel”.  Greenblatt, a green horn on Middle East affairs, confessed his main source of information about the Israel-Palestine conflict was from powerful Zionist lobby group -American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He is averse two state solution. He wonders why the UN Security Council is obsessed with illegality of the settlements in West Bank. He blamed the main UN Palestine refugee agency, UNRWA, for prolonging the Palestine refugee problem. 

All the team members had no prior experience of diplomacy, or expertise on Middle East problem. All are Jews, birds of the same feathers, and biased against Palestinians rights. 

Kushner's close connections with Israel financial companies
While Jared was entrusted with most tangled question, his family companies' entanglements with Israel largest financial institution raised questions of integrity and impartiality in dealing the peace process. During 2017, Kushner family's real estate company received a roughly $30 million investment from Menora Mivtachim, one of Israel’s largest financial institutions. New York Times brought this to light this in 2018. In April, 2018, according to The Times, the Kushners had collaborated with Israel’s rich Steinmetz family. They bought a $200 million of Manhattan apartment buildings. And built a luxury rental tower in New Jersey. Mr. Kushner’s company has also taken out four loans from Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim. Justice Department is investigating the allegations that it helped wealthy Americans evade taxes. The Kushner family’s foundation even now donates money to a Jewish settlement group in the West Bank.

While Kushner's family's cozy relationship casts a long shadow on the predilections of a Key person instrumental  in drawing the proposals, his team member David Friedman is too close to Zionist ideals. So the team indicated to the world much in advance, how the contours of the deal would going to be. A few unprecedented announcements by Trump forewarned any hope for Palestinians.

Trump's series of decisions in favour of Israel, even before the 2019 January Peace Plan
In December 2017, he announced, that Jerusalem will be the Capital of Israel. He swiftly shifted the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in May 2018. Trump is least bothered that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory and was forcibly annexed in 1967. It is an avowed policy of the Palestinians to make East Jerusalem as their Capital. But Trump least cares.

In March 2019, Trump announced official recognition to the occupied territory of Golan Heights as part of Israel. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Syria failed to get it back in 1973 war. There was armistice. But in 1981, Israel annexed the approximately 1000 sq. km area. Elated by this, Netanyahu announced that the settlements in the Golan Heights would be named -Trump Heights. 

Trump's announcements are contrary to International Law and UN Resolutions
In December 2019, the UN General Assembly in a resolution, “The Syrian Golan” declared that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the occupied Syrian Golan is null and void and demanded that Israel to withdraw from the territory. The Fourth Geneva Convention makes it illegal for nations to move populations and establish settlements in territories acquired in a war. This convention applies to Golan Heights and West Bank as well.

Apart from these unilateral pronouncements, the US which promises an economic package of $ 50 billions under this plan, last year it stopped $ 300 millions of yearly contribution to UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949. 

How does annexation plan affect Palestinians?
By asserting sovereign rights over settlements, the Israel will have legitimate right to keep its army in the neighbourhoods of Palestine Authority. Any way the army stands there. Jordan valley is home to around 60,000 Palestinians. 11000 illegal settlers (only in Jordan valley) are also there. The Palestinians have over 12000 acres of agricultural land. If the valley is stripped of from Palestinian Authority, Palestinians will be effectively cut off from Jordan river, a life line for food and water security. Half of the food requirements come from this fertile strip of the Jordan valley to the Palestinians. Gazans are prohibited to use the sea.  And now West Bank people will be cut off from its life line. In exchange they are promised to get two unconnected strips of desert land bordering Egypt and nearer to Gaza with a promise of building a huge industrial hub to solve unemployment problem. Keeping the annexation in view of the rich land, Israel came up with illegal settlements in 86% of the Jordan Valley since long.

Overall, Israel has settled about 4,00,000 Jews in West Bank in 132 settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem. There are about 27.5 lakh Palestinians living in the West Bank. There are around 60,000 Palestinians living in those areas of Jordan Valley, especially the Jericho town and surroundings.  The move could result in some 4.5% of Palestinians in the West Bank living in enclaves would come under the annexed territory. Mr Netanyahu has said Israeli sovereignty will not be applied to Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, and reports say the same exclusion will extend to Palestinians in other annexed parts of the West Bank i.e., East Jerusalem too. Either these Palestinians will be eased out gradually or live like secondary grade citizens without any rights whatever.

Part 2

US Unilateral approval of annexation plans and Universal condemnation 
Immediately after the announcement of Trump plan, The Palestinian President  Mahmoud Abbas announced withdrawal of all the agreements with the US and Israel. Hamas welcomed West Bank announcement.  

The US plan was condemned universally. EU, Arab League disapproved annexation plans. They all urged Netanyahu to abandon his patently illegal and disastrous plan. As a last step, the UN convened a Security Council meeting where, except the US, all advised Netanyahu from his misadventures.  Since the launching of Trump's plan Jordan was vehemently opposing the annexation of Jordan Valley. It has been pursuing intensive diplomacy to try to pre-empt annexation.

Antonio Gueterres, the UN Secretary General said in the virtual meeting of UN General Assembly held on 24th June: Annexation is “A watershed moment" that will constitute” a most serious violation of International law” and asked Netanyahu to drop his misconceived  plans.

Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Peace envoy to the Middle East was forthright: “Annexation could irrevocably alter the relation of Israel- Palestinian relations. It risks upending a quarter century of international efforts and support of a future viable Palestinian state.”

UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights's Michelle Bachelet said that the intended annexation would be disastrous and shock waves of consequences would last for decades.

Meanwhile seven EU nations- Belgium, Britain, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland and Norway in a joint statement warned the Israel regime that the annexation would " severely undermine" the Mid East peace process.

A letter by 1,080 Parliamentarians of EU countries from 25 Nations, urged the EU leaders, “to act decisively in response to this challenge”. 

In June, hundreds of International Law professors and scholars signed an open letter condemning the “flagrant violation of bedrock rules of international law that would pose a serious threat to instability in a volatile region”.

In a joint statement, 50 UN rights experts condemned Israel's annexation plans would leave "Palestinian Bantusthan", an apparent reference to a farcical homeland for Blacks by then South African apartheid regime in 1970s.

For the first time the annexation plans are being compared with apartheid policy pursued by the then South African white regime. Benjamin Pogrund, a renounced South African-born Israeli writer and former ally of Nelson Mandela, has long argued against the use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of West Bank Palestinians. But in an interview with the Times of Israel, said annexation would change his assessment. “That is apartheid. ... an exact mirror of what apartheid was in South Africa”. 

But Netanyahu would care the least.  He used the American approval to the extension of sovereignty and occupation of Jordan valley as leverage in the election campaign in March 2020. As none could get majority to form a government on their own, with the active mediation of the Trump administration, the rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and  Benny Gantz came together, after two months of limbo, and formed the government in May. 

Would annexation begin on 1st July?
In the wake of universal disapproval, including his strong ally Britain, Trump perhaps developed cold feet to say yes to the annexation before US elections. Differences cropped up among the three who drafted the “peace plan”. Kushner wants the annexation to be done after the US elections, and the rest of the two want it to proceed according to the plan. These differences reflected in Netanyahu government too. Netanyahu is wary of Trump defeat and is afraid that the new administration will dump the Trump plan. So he wants it to quickly get approved in the Parliament to make the occupation de jure. The defence minister Gantz, who will become PM after another 18 months, wants to delay.  As a middle way, Mr Netanyahu may initially act to annex just the settlements, which could amount to only 3% of the West Bank. The remaining 27% may wait until the boundaries are agreed with Washington. 

Palestinian Lives Matter
Expecting people's resistance Israel kept its occupying forces on full alert. There are a few incidents wherein Israel soldiers were attacked with bricks when they raided some villages. Israeli soldiers recently killed Ahmed Erekat, a close relative of PLO Secretary Generally. He was dragged from the car, shot, and bled to death. Palestinian Red Crescent Ambulance reached, but he was not allowed to be treated. Reacting to the brutal killing, Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi, referring to various killings of Palestinian civilians recently, said: Palestinian lives too Matter. 

Palestinians' Resistance 
There are protests and demonstrations all over West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Jericho, the main town after Ramallah, witnessed thousands of people's gathering a week ago. Addressed by Palestinian officials, attended by diplomats of several countries- Britain, China, Russia, Japan and Jordan- people asserted this has been our land and we would protect at any cost.  UN Peace Representative for Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov and EU representative Stern too participated in the meeting. Even in Tel Aviv, Israelis and Palestinians United by opposed the annexation plans by Netanyahu. "No to annexation, no to occupation, yes to peace and democracy".  Bernie Sanders addressed the gathering from the US: "It has never been more important to stand up for justice, and to fight for the future we all deserve," Sanders said. "It's up to all of us to stand up to authoritarian leaders and to build a peaceful future for every Palestinian and every Israeli." Some waved Palestinian flags.  Even the leaders of Black Lives Matters from Britain stood in solidarity with Palestinian people in this difficult period. Activist, writer Professor Angela Davis said: “For those everywhere struggling against racism and freedom, the Palestinians continue to serve as inspiration”. In a recent interview to Al Jazeera she urged the Black Lives Matter activists to support the Palestinian people's cause.

Hamas's armed wing Al-Qassam Brigades said Israel's annexation plans amount to declaration of war. It fired two rackets into Israel from Gaza. It was a symbolic protest. 

All words, No action by the Europe and Arab Countries and Israel' impunity unhindered
A senior journalist of Al Jazeera termed the Europe governments’ condemnations as “just lip service”. Why don’t they go beyond statements, is the genuine query by all. In 1981 Israel unilaterally annexed Golan Heights area. It still continues. Israel's brazen impunity continues. Israel has been in non-compliance with 40 UN Security council resolutions and 100 UN General Assembly resolutions.

Michael Lynk, UN Special Rapporteur says: “We wouldn't be here in 2020 debating this, if firm lines in the sand had been drawn in 1980...” Israel is well aware of the inane response of the International Community. "It will pass resolutions. But virtually do nothing", he lamented. When Russia grabbed Crimea from Ukraine, sanctions were imposed by EU. Russia was taken out by G8. Its application to OECD membership was kept in abeyance. But EU doesn't dare to do any similar action against Israel. This tacit complicity makes Israel brazen and audacious.

But the two state solution, the off spring of Oslo Accord, the caricature statehood for Palestinians, is totally buried. There is no option left for Palestinian people except to resist and revolt to achieve self- determination. Is another intifada in the offing?

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Jul 3, 2020

Varanasi Subrahmanyam

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