World abandons Palestinians on eve of annexation

A man waves a Palestinian flag in front of a group of Israeli soldiers

A man protests Israeli plans to annex swathes of West Bank land that would leave Palestinians in affected areas without citizenship.

Shadi Jarar’ah APA images

It is, in the famous words of arguably the greatest-ever football manager, “squeaky bum time” for the world over Palestine.

In July, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has promised to begin seizing what he has quite unashamedly described as an “historic opportunity”: the formal annexation by Israel of large swathes of the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military is beginning its preparations, while Israeli settlers are angry that the proposed annexation won’t go far enough.

Faced with such obvious intent, several countries, politicians and international actors have registered their protests. Britain will “not support” annexation, and France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland have all mooted punitive economic measures in response.

Joe Biden, the presumptive US Democratic presidential nominee, wants to press Israel not to take any actions “that make a two-state solution impossible.”

Jordan has been vociferous in protest and Gulf countries too have sounded the alarm. Annexation would be a “serious setback for the peace process,” according to the UAE’s foreign minister Anwar Gargash.

Saudi Arabia has made similar protestations.

The UN’s Nickolay Mladenov has urged Israel to “abandon threats of annexation,” which, he warned, if it went ahead, would be a “most serious” violation of international law.

All mouth

With China “deeply concerned,” Russia strongly objecting and even the Vatican cautioning against annexation, there would seem to be a solid bloc of global opposition to Israel’s plans.

And yet. None of that is deterring Israel, as more and more detailed plans for annexation are beginning to emerge.

The Israeli government has been quite candid that Palestinains living in the areas it will annex – thought to be 30 percent of what remains of the West Bank (outside East Jerusalem) which includes major settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley – will not receive citizenship and will instead have to continue to endure second- or third-class civil rights and status.

Israel will also steer clear of towns and other major Palestinian population centers, leaving some of these entirely surrounded by what would become Israeli sovereign territory.

Israel is confident and open about its plans because it enjoys the support of Washington. Israeli officials have been clear that the pending annexation will follow the outline of the so-called Trump plan for peace, named for US President Donald Trump, devised by his son-in-law Jared Kushner and actually authored, according to some Israeli far rightists, by Netanyahu.

Israel only really cares about US opinion. And if US opinion changes – as some reports suggest – then that might slow down annexation.

But annexation is not a sudden invention of Trump or Netanyahu. It has been Israel’s intention since it occupied the West Bank in 1967 – and arguably before – and the Trump administration is simply providing a clear path, where previous US administrations would insist on creeping annexation for the optics.

End of a paradigm

The US-sponsored peace process that followed the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993 was always only really a debate between supporters of Israel in the US and Israeli leaders. The question under debate was how much more land Israel would take and under what circumstances.

Palestinian Authority officials continue to hold out hope – in public at least – that help is at hand from elsewhere. PA head Mahmoud Abbas has time and again demanded an internationally led peace process to replace the US-dominated one.

But European countries will not step in. France and others may talk about punitive measures, but for the EU to act collectively, all 27 member countries need to be on board. Israel allies like Hungary and the Czech Republic could block even preparatory discussions on sanctions and thus spare bigger allies like Germany – who publicly claim to support international law – any embarrassment for having to protect Israel’s violations.

The UK, which gave away Palestine, may say it considers further annexation a breach of international law, but it too is not going to take any action. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, has been offered several chances to lay out how the UK will stand up for international law, but has declined to offer any detail.

Russia and China are busy with their own spheres of influence and Arab countries – from Jordan to the Gulf – are too dependent on US military support to step too far out of line.

Clenched buttocks, then, for all these countries as the end of the Oslo paradigm sets out in sharp relief their impotence over Israel.

Palestinians have to fend for themselves. Palestinian officials know where the wind is blowing, but privately express fears that abandoning the PA, as the end of the Oslo paradigm would necessitate, will undermine the possibility of any unified Palestinian leadership.

With no PA, the argument goes, Israel is free to divide Palestinians by empowering local strongmen in separate locales to maintain order in exchange for narrow personal interests and the ability to dole out favors for loyalty – basically stepping into the role the PA, reluctantly or otherwise, has played so far.

But that is the future Palestinians have to confront, divided as they already are. Such township tactics, moreover, are ultimately not sustainable for Israel, which, if it is to ensure outright “victory,” will have to engage in another round of massive ethnic cleansing surpassing that of 1947-49.

Israel may or may not have the appetite for that. For Palestinians, any leadership, existing or emerging, that wants to unify and inspire its people must start with recognizing that the old ways are done.

A new-old struggle faces Palestinians, one that starts with keeping people on their land and that needs to end with a struggle for freedom and the assertion of national rights in one Palestine, complete.

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper.