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Wed 12 August 2020
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While there has been universal condemnation of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the Palestinian West Bank, Jonathan Fenton-Harvey explains how words alone won’t rescue the two-state solution

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Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian West Bank from 1 July has not immediately taken place, yet the threat is far from over. While it would violate international law and the Palestinian population’s human rights, and worsen Middle Eastern stability, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others have shown half-hearted concerns. 

The international community has championed a ‘two-state solution’ for Israel and Palestine, matching the territories pre-1967, before the former occupied the West Bank in the wake of a six-day war with Egypt, Syria and Jordan – which previously controlled the territory. 

Israel’s current hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invokes ‘biblical justifications’ and dubious security claims to account for the annexation, which he and his supporters rather call imposing Israeli ‘sovereignty’. The so-called “deal of the century” cooked up by US President Donald Trump in January gave a green light to annexation, though reportedly aimed to deliver a ‘peace solution’. The move would not only crush any fair peace solution, several UN experts warn it would create a “21st Century apartheid.”

Acting on this would deliver “a cascade of bad human rights consequences,” says Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.

“Israel’s decision to unilaterally march ahead with the planned annexation on 1 July undermines human rights in the region and would be a severe body blow to the rules-based international order,” he added.

Unprecedented condemnation of Israel has erupted across Europe and worldwide as a result. Around 130 UK MPs proposed sanctions on Israel in early May if it proceeded with annexation, including former Tory Chairman Lord Patten and the former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell.

France also led European Union calls for action, and Belgium on 26 June even passed a resolution on sanctions, should Israel proceed. Russia has also stated its opposition to annexation, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s friendly ties with Netanyahu. 


Lukewarm Johnson

Almost every country in the world has denounced annexation while claiming to favour the two-state solution—showing the move would lack official recognition. However, leaders have long failed to act on these concerns, and would likely fail to prevent annexation should it go ahead.

An example of this was Prime Minister Johnson’s piece for the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, titled “As your Friend, I urge you not to annex the West Bank”. Not exactly the toughest response.

Indeed, Johnson failed to even mention the human consequences of annexation. The Prime Minister implied that he did not want Israel to go ahead with the move, but he would not do anything to stop them. This continued in a phone call with Netanyahu on 7 July, where Johnson echoed his previous comments.

Like many of his predecessors, Johnson has prioritised Britain’s commercial, security and military relations with Israel, limiting London’s desire to support an unbiased peace solution. Meanwhile, Britain tries to save face by calling for an adherence to international law, criticising Israel’s settlement expansion and pushing for a peaceful and secure two-state solution. However, the UK has not even taken the most basic measures, like banning illegally made goods in the occupied territories or stopping British companies operating in the West Bank.


European Union Paralysis

The European Union likewise has the potential to act, being Israel’s main trading partner. However, divisions and the desire to uphold ties with Israel marginalise any momentum in favour of punitive action. Though the EU declared last November that goods illegally produced in Israeli settlements must be labelled, even this measure was not widely implemented. And while UN Security Council resolutions require states to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”, the UK and many others have not done this. 

Others have shown vague signs of wanting to prevent annexation. Germany’s Parliament declared to Israel on 2 July the “urgent demand to refrain from the annexation of parts of the West Bank and from the continued expansion of settlements.” Yet no further steps were put forward. 

Moreover, a number of Eastern and Central European countries, particularly those with hard-right and xenophobic administrations, are more sympathetic towards Israel, and have often blocked any effective action. Among the most notorious is Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who toys with anti-Semitic tropes himself, yet bolsters Netanyahu. Europe’s failure to act presents few obstacles to Trump’s more resolute and malicious position.


Pre-occupied Trump

While the annexation has been delayed, Trump also delayed his moving of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which ultimately took place in May 2018. While Trump remains President, Israel still has a small window to push ahead with the annexation.

But even if annexation does not proceed, Israel has still embedded itself in the West Bank, with now over 600,000 settlers since 1967, enforced by its military occupation, with mass house demolitions and detentions of Palestinians, including an increase of child prisoners during the Coronavirus pandemic. The West Bank lost around $48 billion between 2000-2017, due to the occupation, according to the UN. 

Meanwhile, the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza since 2007, and three major conflicts with the Hamas faction which control the Gaza Strip, has created an unfathomable humanitarian crisis. 96% of the water is undrinkable, power cuts are frequent, the surrounding sea is polluted by sewage, and most people are in sheer poverty. The UN in 2012 warned that Gaza would become ‘uninhabitable’ by this year, 2020. 

Skin-deep concerns for peace and inactivity from Israel’s western allies have prevented a peace solution, with or without annexation. If it proceeds, Europe and Britain would likely offer some more words of criticism and scale back some largely irrelevant projects, but then business would soon go back to normal. This situation has revealed that ending this vast indignity is needed, and that Britain and other world powers should act on their state concerns. Finally recognising Palestine as a state would be an important start. 


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