Call for action: turning the tide on Israeli plans for annexation of parts of the West Bank
In the coalition agreement, the new Israeli emergency government expressed its intention to unilaterally annex parts of the occupied West Bank from the first of July 2020 onwards. This step would signal the start of the effective implementation of the contested Trump plan. The impending Israeli annexation has been met with widespread condemnation. UN Secretary-General António Guterres, EU High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell, as well as the Patriarchs and Heads of the Holy Land Churches amongst others, have expressed their concern about annexation, warning it would be detrimental to a peaceful and rights-based solution to the conflict, as well as the stability of the region.
Annexation amounts to an act of aggression and is strictly prohibited under international law under any circumstances. It violates the UN Charter, UN General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), UNSC resolution 242, and 497. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in the 1980’s the UN univocally condemned these moves, strongly prohibited the acquisition of territory by war, and called upon states not to recognize Israeli sovereignty in these areas. However, over the years, the failure of third states to live up to their obligation to end the unlawful situation has led to Israeli impunity with regard to these illegal annexations. If Israel goes ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank and is not held accountable this will result in a severe breach of international law that is likely to reverberate into other territorial conflicts.
CIDSE members’ partner organizations in Israel and Palestine are deeply concerned about the possible annexation and the Israeli government’s disregard for international law backed and encouraged by the US administration. While the exact outline of the plans is still unclear, partners warn that such a move would unavoidably lead to a deterioration of Palestinian human rights and the Palestinian right to self-determination. Annexation would have a devastating impact on the daily lives of the Palestinians living on the annexed lands. If the model of East Jerusalem is mirrored on the West Bank, after annexation we can expect to see mass land expropriation and nationalization of private Palestinian property and land. This in turn would lead to increased evictions, home demolitions and forced transfers.
A recent report by the Israeli volunteers for human rights organization, Yesh Din, warns that annexation would exacerbate the limited freedom of movement Palestinians already face today. The increased isolation of Palestinian enclaves, new security regulations, and the construction of additional by-pass roads for settlers would lead to even more restricted access to education, health care, markets, workplaces, and of course family and relatives. Moreover, annexation of the Jordan Valley, the fertile strip of land running along the border with Jordan, would amount to a significant loss of Palestinian farmland and in turn loss of income. Annexation would further corrode both the economic and social fabric of Palestinian society, and this will not be limited to Palestinian life in the West Bank. The increased restrictions of movement would further deepen the Israeli policy of separation in which both the movement of people and circulation of goods between Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank are limited and even used as punitive measures. This will further negatively impact the already dire situation in Gaza.
In an interview at the end of May, prime minister Netanyahu stated that Palestinians will not receive citizenship and will remain contained in enclaves, militarily controlled by Israel. Even if the Palestinian Authority would theoretically continue to govern these enclaves, its autonomy will be severely undermined by the Israeli control over access, mobility, and security. The plans of the Israeli government bear testimony of its drive to maximize the territory under its sovereignty while excluding Palestinians. Even if Palestinians in the annexed territories are granted citizenship and the remaining enclaves become independent, it would leave the Palestinian territory highly fragmented and still under Israeli control. In practice, this would result in a discriminatory regime of control, in which, based on ethnicity, some people will have full citizenship and civil and political rights and others not. UN special rapporteur Michael Lynk has pointed to this risk by stating that “the plan would crystalize a 21st-century apartheid, leaving in its wake the demise of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination”. In this respect, we should bear in mind that the fulfillment of human rights and self-determination of Palestinians must not depend on their location, but should be pursued for all.
Two components are essential in finding a constructive way forward and preventing a severe deterioration of the conflict and the state of human rights and international law. First, Israel has to be held accountable and responsible for its gross and systematic violations of the human rights of Palestinians. While recognizing the Israeli right to self-determination and safety, the same has to be extended to Palestinians. Therefore, it is paramount to foster international support for existing mechanisms of accountability. These include the UNHCR database of companies operating in Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the ICC investigation into crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem. Secondly, the collective and international rights of Palestinians need to take center stage in negotiations. A rights-based approach can offer a way out of the failing Oslo paradigm. In this respect, the lack of legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority should be addressed by encouraging the renewal of Palestinian leadership through long overdue election and unification. This could give oxygen and space to the Palestinian people’s legitimate claims, ambitions and visions for the future.
It is undeniable that the lack of international political will to act has largely brought us to this point. Recently, the EU and its member states have been more outspoken against Israeli annexation. EU High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell has emphasized that annexation “could not pass unchallenged”. In the case of the Russian annexation of Crimea, the EU has proven its willingness to react strongly against unlawful annexation. Now again, the EU should live up to its internal standards and show the same strength in opposing the Israeli claims of sovereignty over the Palestinian West Bank. The EU should start by vigorously implementing the existing legislation on differentiating between Israel and the illegal West Bank settlements, and enforcing the correct labeling of settlement products as ruled by the European Court of Justice. Now is the time for the EU to take up a long-overdue active role as mediator and come to a multilaterally settled agreement. This can and should be a pivotal moment to turn the tide.