Is Israel preparing to annex most of West Bank?

Israel’s nonexistent occupation of the West Bank.

Najeh Hashlamoun APA images

The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the West Bank — despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary — has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad.

Leftwing websites in Israel used comically captioned photographs to highlight Justice Edmond Levy’s preposterous finding. One shows an Israeli soldier pressing the barrel of a rifle to the forehead of a Palestinian pinned to the ground, saying: “You see — I told you there’s no occupation.”

Even Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage. He was handed the report more than a fortnight earlier but was apparently reluctant to make it public.

Downplaying the Levy report’s significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report’s publication rather than its substance.

It was, after all, Netanyahu himself who established the committee earlier this year to assess the legality of the Jewish settlers’ “outposts,” ostensibly unauthorized by the government, that have spread like wild seeds across the West Bank.

He hand-picked its three members, all diehard supporters of the settlements, and received the verdict he expected — that the settlements are legal. Certainly, Levy’s opinion should have come as no surprise. In 2005 he was the only Israeli high court judge to oppose the government’s decision to withdraw the settlers from Gaza.

Legal commentators too have been dismissive of the report. They have concentrated more on Levy’s dubious reasoning than on the report’s political significance.

They have noted that Theodor Meron, the foreign ministry’s legal advisor in 1967, expressly warned the government in the wake of the war that year that settling civilians in the newly seized territory was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Experts have also pointed to the difficulties Israel will face if it adopts Levy’s position.

Belligerent occupation

Under international law, Israel’s rule in the West Bank and Gaza is considered “belligerent occupation” and, therefore, its actions must be justified by military necessity only. If there is no occupation, Israel has no military grounds to hold on to the territories. In that case, it must either return the land to the Palestinians, and move out the settlers, or defy international law by annexing the territories, as it did earlier with East Jerusalem, and establish a state of Greater Israel.

Annexation, however, poses its own dangers. Israel must either offer the Palestinians citizenship and wait for a non-Jewish majority to emerge in Greater Israel; or deny them citizenship and face pariah status as an apartheid state.

Just such concerns were raised recently by forty Jewish leaders in the United States, who called on Netanyahu to reject Levy’s “legal maneuverings” that, they said, threatened Israel’s “future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

But from Israel’s point of view, there may, in fact, be a way out of this conundrum.

In a 2003 interview, one of the other Levy committee members, Alan Baker, a settler who advised the foreign ministry for many years, explained Israel’s heterodox interpretation of the Oslo accords, signed a decade earlier.

The agreements were not, as most assumed, the basis for the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories, but a route to establish the legitimacy of the settlements. “We are no longer an occupying power, but we are instead present in the territories with their [the Palestinians’] consent and subject to the outcome of negotiations,” Baker said.

On this view, the Oslo accords redesignated the 62 percent of the West Bank assigned to Israel’s control — so-called Area C — from”occupied” to “disputed” territory. That explains why every Israeli administration since the mid-1990s has indulged in an orgy of settlement-building there.

Groundwork for annexation?

According to Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Levy report is preparing the legal ground for Israel’s annexation of Area C. His disquiet is shared by others.

Recent European Union reports have used unprecedented language to criticize Israel for the “forced transfer” — diplomat-speak for ethnic cleansing — of Palestinians out of Area C into the West Bank’s cities,which fall under Palestinian control.

The EU notes that the numbers of Palestinians in Area C has shrunk dramatically under Israeli rule to fewer than 150,000, or no more than 6 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank. Settlers now outnumber Palestinians more than two-to-one in Area C.

Israel could annex nearly two-thirds of the West Bank and still safely confer citizenship on Palestinians there. Adding 150,000 to the existing 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, a fifth of the population, would not erode the Jewish majority’s dominance.

If Netanyahu is hesitant, it is only because the time is not yet ripe for implementation. But over recent weeks, there were indications of Israel’s next moves to strengthen its hold on Area C.

It was reported that Israel’s immigration police,which have been traditionally restricted to operating inside Israel, have been authorized to enter the West Bank and expel foreign activists. The new powers were on show the same day as foreigners, including a New York Times reporter, were arrested at one of the regular protests against the separation wall being built on Palestinian land. Such demonstrations are the chief expression of resistance to Israel’s takeover of Palestinian territory in Area C.

And it emerged that Israel had begun a campaign against OCHA, the UN agency that focuses on humanitarian harm done to Palestinians from Israeli military and settlement activity, most of it in Area C. Israel has demanded details of where OCHA’s staff work and what projects it is planning, and is threatening to withdraw staff visas, apparently in the hope of limiting its activities in Area C.

There is a problem, nonetheless. If Israel takes Area C, it needs someone else responsible for the other 38 percent of the West Bank — little more than 8 percent of historic Palestine — to “fill the vacuum,” as Israeli commentators have phrased it.

Bailing out the PA

The obvious candidate is the Palestinian Authority, the Ramallah government-in-waiting led by Mahmoud Abbas. Its police act as a security contractor for Israel, keeping in check Palestinians in the parts of the West Bank outside Area C. Also, as a recipient of endless international aid, the PA usefully removes the financial burden of the occupation from Israel.

But the PA’s weakness is evident on all fronts: it has lost credibility with ordinary Palestinians, it is impotent in international forums, and it is mired in financial crisis. In the long term, it looks doomed.

For the time being, though, Israel seems keen to keep the PA in place. In June, for example, it was revealed that Israel had tried — even if unsuccessfully — to bail out the PA by requesting a $100 million loan from the International Monetary Fund on the PA’s behalf.

If the PA refuses to, or cannot, take on these remaining fragments of the West Bank, Israel may simply opt to turn back the clock and once again cultivate weak and isolated local leaders for each Palestinian city.

The question is whether the international community can first be made to swallow Levy’s absurd conclusion.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). His website is

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.




Israeli policy is to do exactly what the euros did to the indigenous tribes in america a few hundred years ago..Reservations, or mere islands of separated,isolated pockets of villages and groups of Palestinians disconnected to each other,without power,without self-government let alone emancipation..If anyone took a bus ride from Tel Aiv to Jerusalem they would notice rolling empty hills lacking settlements,cities,towns and villages. This empty living space that could be used for an expanding population but it is not since the policy is colonization of the West Bank and all of Israelis resources and hunger is steered there.


What I would love is to see a is thinker of Cook's caliber challenging pro-Palestinian critiques of the occupation paradigm, by Yousef Munayyer, Darryl Li, and others, that share some common ground with the Levy report. Let's not forget that the crux of Cook's dismissal of Levy here - "incredulity or mirth" stemming from the breach of "a well-established international consensus" - can just as fairly describe official "international community" responses to arguments against ethnic partition. Or, for that matter, that partition is bundled into the established occupation discourse as a desirable, if not necessary, outcome.


dear joa,

last year we were assigned the following long article. it also seems to highlight the fact that the israeli aim is displacement rather than annexation. (there was a long and lively debate about the piece but this would be too long for here):


Palestinians can wait. They can wait for Israel to annex Area C, which they are likely to do as the absorption of the Palestinian population there won't impact the Jewish demographic makeup of Israel, and will legitimize some of the largest settlements. The US and the EU along with neighboring Arab states will decry the annexation, but will do nothing to stop it, and will offer the PA a few more crumbs in international aid to stand idly by while it becomes a fait accompli. This is what Netanyahu means when he says "independent national life" instead of two-state solution. This was the purpose of the Levy report. Expect this to happen soon, while Egypt is busy establishing it's new government and before the US elections. Palestinians need new leaders and a new strategy of resistance. As we all know, their destiny is their own and they can expect little or no help from the rest of the world.


International Law went out of the window - and for every nation and citizen - at least as long ago as the Nakba in 1948-1950. The UN has treated as a legitimate state a state which has excluded from itself since that time the Nakba refugees/ exiles and their descendants on alleged grounds of the "wrong" ethnicity and/or religion . In doing so, the UN violates the respect it owes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Articles 9, 13, 15 and 21.
No doubt some very powerful member-states of the UN are more guilty of this situation than others. And no doubt they had already got away with huge crimes after the founding of the UN before this one. But, if one is considering Mandate Palestine, and sees that half of the population of a part of it were expelled or otherwise obliged to leave by the other half, have been excluded ever since from their homes and livelihoods, and so deliberately prevented from playing their democratic part in naming and running the country in which their homes and livelihoods stood, then how can anyone anywhere in the world possibly think that they are entitled to any basic right, if they are not at the same time insisting that their government, wherever and whatever it is, restores the Nakba exiles/ their descendants to their homes, ensuring that adequate compensation (if such a thing were possible) is paid to them for their deprivations going back to more than six decades ago? If the Nakba refugees/expellees can be excluded from their rights for over 60 years, if, in the case of the million plus of their number who live in Gaza, they can be bombed and impoverished by the governments, not elected by them, of the lands where their inheritance lies, what human rights remain for anyone in the world? The most powerful states in the world are content that Israeli governments behave as they do, whatever token criticisms these states may utter from time to time for the sake of their own public image.


Of course Israel is preparing to annex the West Bank! Obvious to anyone paying attention. The valid question is whether Israel will "clease" the West Bank of Palestinians or continue to operate the largest open air concentration camp in modern history.