Is­raeli an­nex­a­tion threat unites world in con­dem­na­tion

Arab News - - Opinion - YOSSI MEKEL­BERG

In a way, it is tempt­ing to won­der why there is so much fuss about Is­rael’s plan to an­nex parts of the West Bank. The scope of the pro­posed an­nex­a­tion is not yet clear and, al­though it might end in the im­po­si­tion of Is­raeli sovereignt­y over a third of the occupied Pales­tinian ter­ri­tory, it might also be merely a sym­bolic ges­ture con­cern­ing a very lim­ited area of land. More­over, even with­out this act — one that is in de­fi­ance of in­ter­na­tional le­gal stan­dards — a gen­uine peace process is cur­rently no more than a pipe dream, which means that Is­rael will con­trol these ar­eas for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Af­ter all, the cur­rent Is­raeli gov­ern­ment is not in­ter­ested in gen­uine peace ne­go­ti­a­tions, while the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship in Ra­mal­lah is more con­cerned with self-preser­va­tion and its ri­valry with Ha­mas, which con­trols Gaza and for its part has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent no­tion of co­ex­is­tence with Is­rael. And, in the ab­sence of an hon­est and will­ing in­ter­na­tional peace bro­ker, what are the chances of a peace agree­ment in the fore­see­able fu­ture any­way?

Under these cir­cum­stances, an­nex­a­tion can be seen as a re­flec­tion of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion and as the out­lin­ing of pos­si­ble bor­ders should a peace agree­ment based on the two-state so­lu­tion ever ma­te­ri­al­ize. Ul­ti­mately, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment is plan­ning, one way or an­other, to an­nex the set­tle­ments that house most of those set­tlers who, in any fu­ture peace agree­ment, are ex­pected to re­main within what would be­come the newly drawn bor­ders of Is­rael. How­ever, one can hardly re­call an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that has been so united and vo­cif­er­ous, and jus­ti­fi­ably so, in con­demn­ing Is­rael’s in­ten­tions to uni­lat­er­ally an­nex occupied Pales­tinian land. Their si­lence would have been in­ter­preted as an ap­proval of ter­ri­to­rial piracy, but the UN, the Arab League, in­di­vid­ual Mid­dle East states, EU gov­ern­ments and leg­is­la­tures, and even Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions in dif­fer­ent parts of the world share the view that uni­lat­eral an­nex­a­tion by Is­rael is a step too far and can­not be tol­er­ated. Whether or not it changed the sit­u­a­tion on the ground, it would be a dis­play of con­tempt for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and in­ter­na­tional law, and would be per­ceived as the point at which any peace­ful so­lu­tion with the Pales­tini­ans is ren­dered ob­so­lete. UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res, who prefers to deal in un­der­state­ments and is usu­ally re­luc­tant to risk up­set­ting the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, last week told a vir­tual meeting of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil:

“If im­ple­mented, an­nex­a­tion would con­sti­tute a most se­ri­ous vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law, griev­ously harm the prospect of a two-state so­lu­tion and un­der­cut the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a re­newal of ne­go­ti­a­tions. I call on the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment to aban­don its an­nex­a­tion plans.” His peace en­voy to the Mid­dle East,

Nick­o­lay Mlade­nov, warned in the same vein that an­nex­a­tion could deal a se­ri­ous and ir­rev­o­ca­ble blow to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian re­la­tion­ship that would have se­verely neg­a­tive le­gal, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions; let alone fur­ther un­der­mine decades of ef­forts to reach a point where a vi­able Pales­tinian state is es­tab­lished. A sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment was also ex­pressed by the Arab League, with its head,

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, warn­ing that Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion plans are a provo­ca­tion that can only in­flame ten­sions and im­peril peace in the Mid­dle East to the point of ig­nit­ing “a re­li­gious war in and be­yond our re­gion.”

Add to this that seven Euro­pean na­tions — Bel­gium, Es­to­nia, France, Ger­many, Ire­land, Nor­way and the UK — have warned in a joint state­ment that an­nex­a­tion will “se­verely un­der­mine” prospects for re­sum­ing the Mid­dle East peace process, and that more than 1,000 par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from across Europe signed a let­ter strongly op­pos­ing Is­rael’s plans, and the pic­ture of an al­most united world­wide front against this move be­comes clear.

Is­rael will con­tinue to ques­tion the real in­ten­tions of those in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity who crit­i­cize its plans to carve up the West Bank. It will con­tinue to ac­cuse them of be­ing Is­rael-haters, anti-Zion­ists and, for good mea­sure, anti-Semites too. That might be true of a small mi­nor­ity, but the vast ma­jor­ity of Is­rael’s crit­ics are noth­ing of the kind.

The Ne­tanyahu gov­ern­ment’s an­nex­a­tion plan is test­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and stretch­ing its pa­tience to the limit. It is bring­ing into ques­tion whether in­ter­na­tional law and in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism mean any­thing at all. It risks an erup­tion of vi­o­lence be­tween Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans with re­gional and in­ter­na­tional con­se­quences. It could desta­bi­lize Jor­dan. It will put pres­sure on Gulf coun­tries to re­verse their del­i­cate rap­proche­ment with Is­rael. It makes a mock­ery of the UN and its se­cu­rity coun­cil’s res­o­lu­tions. And it ques­tions Europe’s fa­vor­able treat­ment of Is­rael and co­op­er­a­tion with it on a wide range of strate­gic is­sues — co­op­er­a­tion with a coun­try that is harm­ing the EU’s in­ter­ests in the re­gion and rais­ing ten­sions with the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions of its mem­ber states, to say noth­ing of an­other refugee crisis that may well re­sult.

Al­though the in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus de­cry­ing Is­rael’s land-grab­bing plans is im­pres­sive in its rar­ity and in­ten­sity, and es­pe­cially so for tak­ing place in the midst of a dev­as­tat­ing pan­demic, which threat­ens many so­ci­eties’ well-be­ing in an un­prece­dented man­ner, it was also in­evitable con­sid­er­ing the likely dire con­se­quences.

It re­mains to be seen whether the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will once again re­strict it­self solely to words of con­dem­na­tion or whether it also in­tends to take mea­sures to ei­ther stop the an­nex­a­tion bill or re­tal­i­ate should it be pre­sented to the Knes­set in the com­ing days or weeks. Any in­ter­na­tional re­sponse will de­pend to a large ex­tent on the scope of the land slated for an­nex­a­tion, on how many Pales­tini­ans will be part of this move while de­prived of equal rights, and on the way it is framed by the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment.

Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu has al­ways been bet­ter at de­liv­er­ing rhetoric than trans­lat­ing it into poli­cies and cour­ses of ac­tion. Yet, with his new sta­tus as the ma­jor de­fen­dant in a cor­rup­tion trial, his cal­cu­lus has changed and his ac­tions are be­com­ing ever more self­ish and ir­re­spon­si­ble. In the case of an­nex­a­tion, it re­mains to be seen whether the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will match Ne­tanyahu’s rhetoric word for word and, more im­por­tantly, deed for deed, in­clud­ing, for in­stance, by rec­og­niz­ing the state of Pales­tine.

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