Is­rael may soon en­sure an­nex­a­tion be­comes ‘the new nor­mal’

Arab News - - Opinion - CHRIS DOYLE

Noth­ing about the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment’s de­clared in­ten­tion to an­nex parts of the Oc­cu­pied Ter­ri­to­ries is new or in the least bit sur­pris­ing for any­one who has been pay­ing any at­ten­tion.

An an­nex­a­tion process could kick off any time from July 1. It is merely the next stage of an ex­ist­ing process. For­mal an­nex­a­tions have hap­pened twice, when Is­rael claimed East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981. Creep­ing an­nex­a­tion had started in 1967, with the grad­ual but sys­tem­atic ap­pro­pri­a­tion of oc­cu­pied lands for set­tle­ments and “mil­i­tary” pur­poses. It has never ceased. All that is hap­pen­ing now is that land, hav­ing al­ready been stolen, is about to be gift-wrapped in stars and stripes pa­per.

The set­tler-colo­nial takeover of the West Bank has been re­lent­less, but Is­rael’s ter­ri­to­rial ap­petite has yet to be sated. Read all the early Is­raeli plans, no­tably the Al­lon Plan of 1967 and its later ver­sions. It is crys­tal clear. Is­raeli gov­ern­ments of ev­ery per­sua­sion ex­panded set­tle­ments. The Is­raeli set­tle­ment ex­pert Dror Etkes summed up the process by say­ing: “It’s about tak­ing from the Pales­tini­ans and giv­ing to the Is­raelis. The way you do it is con­fis­cat­ing land and al­lo­cat­ing only to Is­raelis. That’s one. And the other is seal­ing up and pre­vent­ing the ex­pan­sion of Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties.”

The con­stancy of Is­raeli ter­ri­to­rial ex­pan­sion is matched by that of the in­ac­tion of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. What makes this more alarm­ing is that Is­rael is re­mov­ing any mean­ing from the in­ter­na­tional rules­based sys­tem, high­light­ing once again the stag­ger­ing dou­ble stan­dards. The Fourth Geneva Con­ven­tion, vi­o­lated each and ev­ery day of the 53-year-old oc­cu­pa­tion, is be­ing ren­dered void.

Is­rael’s ear­lier an­nex­a­tions were both con­demned in UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions, in­clud­ing by the US. Noth­ing was done. In­stead, Is­raeli armed forces marched into Le­banon as far as Beirut in 1982. The mes­sage was clear: Is­rael could an­nex ter­ri­tory, build set­tle­ments and use dis­pro­por­tion­ate force with­out fear of con­se­quences, es­pe­cially if done bit by bit. This next wave of an­nex­a­tions may well be a sim­i­lar process of theft, start­ing with a small an­nex­a­tion of set­tle­ments around East Jerusalem, be­fore adding to them at ju­di­cious mo­ments. How­ever, a huge sin­gle swoop for a third of the West Bank can­not be ruled out ei­ther, es­pe­cially as some Is­raeli lead­ers see US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump as their best hope to achieve this, leav­ing them per­haps only six months to get it done.

All the signs are that the swift and de­ter­mined EU-wide re­sponse to Rus­sia’s il­le­gal an­nex­a­tion of Crimea in 2014 will not be repli­cated over Is­rael. Those mea­sures in­cluded sanc­tions and as­set freezes, all of which re­main in place to­day. Pales­tini­ans have the right to ask how their case dif­fers when their lands are an­nexed and hopes dashed.

Around the world, states with ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions will be de­lighted to see this core le­gal prin­ci­ple un­der­mined and an­nex­a­tion be­come “the new nor­mal.” If Is­rael can an­nex ter­ri­tory uni­lat­er­ally, why not Rus­sia? China has ter­ri­to­rial am­bi­tions on its bor­ders and in the South China Sea. Un­less they take ac­tion, Bri­tain and the other coun­tries in­sist­ing China has to ad­here to in­ter­na­tional agree­ments over Hong Kong will be hack­ing away the legs they are stand­ing on. An­nex­a­tion also crushes the chances of peace. The two-state so­lu­tion has al­ready been gob­bled up by a one-state re­al­ity of Is­rael with Pales­tinian Ban­tus­tans. Ne­go­ti­a­tions seem point­less if the oc­cu­py­ing power has no in­ter­est in end­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion.

Even if the in­ter­na­tional ac­tors lo­cate a few ver­te­brae, stop­ping for­mal an­nex­a­tion is not enough. The in­for­mal and de­lib­er­ate creep­ing an­nex­a­tion, where Is­raeli law spreads across the West Bank through set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion, must also be re­versed. The sta­tus quo is in­tol­er­a­ble and a recipe for pro­longed con­flict.

If Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu de­fers an­nex­a­tion, it will be be­cause creep­ing an­nex­a­tion works just fine. His cal­cu­lus would be that Is­rael can hoover up the in­ter­na­tional plau­dits for his “re­straint,” while en­larg­ing de facto an­nex­a­tion on the ground.

For Pales­tini­ans, this cri­sis has no pos­i­tive out­come. It is all de­grees of de­feat. For­mal an­nex­a­tion would see an ac­cel­er­a­tion of land loss, home de­mo­li­tions and more bar­ri­ers to move­ment. Tens of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans may land up in an­nexed ar­eas, de­prived of any rights, while some fear be­ing forcibly dis­placed, pushed out of their homes and lands into Pales­tinian cities.

The Pales­tini­ans are be­ing herded like an­i­mals. The world watches and whim­pers a few protests. Is­rael ex­pects com­plete Pales­tinian sur­ren­der — an ac­cep­tance of their sta­tus as a tol­er­ated pres­ence with no rights. Un­der­ly­ing this ap­proach is a rarely ac­knowl­edged but long-term racist at­ti­tude to­ward Arabs that their lives do not mat­ter. It is the same ap­proach that ig­nores the hu­man hell of Gaza; pays far more at­ten­tion to the Western vic­tims of Daesh; flat­tens Raqqa and Mo­sul through aerial bom­bard­ment; fails to act over the war in Syria; re­fuses to carry out body counts in Iraq; and ef­fec­tively as­serts that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi chil­dren un­der five was a price worth pay­ing. It is why the world will do noth­ing to help the Pales­tini­ans who live in a ter­ri­tory where one group of peo­ple has full rights and the other does not.

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