Storm over Is­rael an­nex­a­tion plan grows

Calls for sanc­tions are in­ten­si­fy­ing as the cab­i­net meets and Ne­tanyahu awaits US ap­proval, re­ports

The Observer - - News - Har­riet Sher­wood

The Is­raeli cab­i­net will meet to­day to fi­nalise plans to an­nex parts of the West Bank amid grow­ing in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion and calls for sanc­tions to be im­posed if the pro­posal is im­ple­mented.

Prime min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has said Is­rael will “ap­ply sovereignt­y” to up to 30% of the West Bank, cov­er­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments and the rich agri­cul­tural lands of the Jor­dan Val­ley, from 1 July.

On Fri­day, two rock­ets were fired from Gaza to­wards Is­rael a day af­ter the Pales­tinian group Ha­mas warned that an­nex­a­tion amounted to a “dec­la­ra­tion of war”. In re­sponse, Is­raeli air force jets struck two mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties in the south­ern Gaza Strip, the army said.

The head of Mos­sad, the Is­raeli se­cret ser­vice, vis­ited Am­man last week to dis­cuss the an­nex­a­tion plan with King Ab­dul­lah of Jor­dan af­ter he warned of a “mas­sive con­flict” with Is­rael if it pro­ceeded.

De­spite Ne­tanyahu’s pledge to give the or­der to an­nex on Wed­nes­day, he may be forced to di­lute or de­lay the pro­posal af­ter three days of de­lib­er­a­tions at the White House last week ended with­out an en­dorse­ment.

Ne­tanyahu had been count­ing on the back­ing of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter it un­veiled its “vi­sion for peace” six months ago which said Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank – il­le­gal un­der in­ter­na­tional law – and the Jor­dan Val­ley would be in­cor­po­rated into Is­rael. Kellyanne Con­way, a top aide to the US pres­i­dent, said on Thurs­day that Don­ald Trump was poised to make a “big an­nounce­ment” on Is­rael’s planned an­nex­a­tion, but White House of­fi­cials later said talks were set to con­tinue.

Although there is sub­stan­tial in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion to an­nex­a­tion, Trump’s en­dorse­ment would shore up his cru­cial sup­port base among evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians in the US for Novem­ber’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Hard­line na­tion­al­ists in Is­rael re­gard Trump’s pres­i­dency as a on­cein-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to carry out mea­sures that were un­ac­cept­able to pre­vi­ous US ad­min­is­tra­tions. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, aware that the most pro-Is­rael pres­i­dent in re­cent his­tory could fail to win re-elec­tion in four months’ time, is keen to move fast.

Last week, the UK, Ger­many and France were among seven Euro­pean mem­bers of the UN se­cu­rity coun­cil that is­sued a joint state­ment say­ing the an­nex­a­tion plan was “a clear vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law” that would jeop­ar­dise the pos­si­bil­ity of a fu­ture Pales­tinian state and would threaten se­cu­rity in the re­gion.

The state­ment added: “An­nex­a­tion would have con­se­quences for our close re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael and would not be recog­nised by us.”

The state­ment fol­lowed a let­ter signed by more than 1,000 Euro­pean par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, in­clud­ing se­nior Con­ser­va­tive fig­ures in the UK, which said “ac­qui­si­tion of ter­ri­tory by force … must have com­men­su­rate con­se­quences” and called on Euro­pean lead­ers to “act de­ci­sively”.

The Labour party, a for­mer Con­ser­va­tive chair of the for­eign af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee and a for­mer Bri­tish con­sul-gen­eral to Jerusalem called this week­end for a ban on the im­port of goods from il­le­gal set­tle­ments in the West Bank in re­sponse to an­nex­a­tion.

The arch­bish­ops of Can­ter­bury and West­min­ster have voiced their op­po­si­tion to the Is­raeli plan. The Holy Land Co­or­di­na­tion Group, com­posed of bish­ops from Europe, North Amer­ica and South Africa, warned the pro­posed an­nex­a­tion “would only bring more con­flict, suf­fer­ing and di­vi­sion”.

Al­most 50 UN ex­perts said in a state­ment ear­lier this month that the ac­qui­si­tion of ter­ri­tory by force was a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law. “The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has pro­hib­ited an­nex­a­tion pre­cisely be­cause it in­cites wars, eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, sys­tem­atic hu­man rights abuses and wide­spread hu­man suf­fer­ing,” they said.

Hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions over more than 50 years of oc­cu­pa­tion of the West Bank would, they said: “Only in­ten­sify af­ter an­nex­a­tion. What would be left of the West Bank would be a Pales­tinian Ban­tus­tan, is­lands of dis­con­nected land com­pletely sur­rounded by Is­rael and with no ter­ri­to­rial con­nec­tion to the out­side world …

“The morn­ing af­ter an­nex­a­tion

‘What would be left of the West Bank would be a Ban­tus­tan – is­lands of land’

UN ex­perts’ state­ment

would be the crys­talli­sa­tion of an al­ready un­just re­al­ity: two peo­ples liv­ing in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with pro­foundly un­equal rights. This is a vi­sion of a 21stcen­tury apartheid.”

A prom­i­nent South African Jewish jour­nal­ist liv­ing in Is­rael has also drawn par­al­lels with the for­mer regime in his home coun­try. Ben­jamin Po­grund, 87, who re­ported on events un­der apartheid for most of his ca­reer, pre­vi­ously held the view that ap­ply­ing the term to Is­rael was “at best ig­no­rant and naive and at worst cyn­i­cal and ma­nip­u­la­tive”. But in an in­ter­view last week, he said an­nex­a­tion would mean “Is­raeli over­lords in an oc­cu­pied area, and the peo­ple over whom they will be rul­ing will not have ba­sic rights. That will be apartheid, and we will merit the charge”.

Last week, the Board of Deputies of Bri­tish Jews agreed to de­bate a mo­tion reaf­firm­ing sup­port for a twostate so­lu­tion and warn­ing that “uni­lat­eral steps” would dam­age ef­forts to restart peace talks.

The de­ci­sion fol­lowed grow­ing un­ease among Bri­tish Jews over the plan. A let­ter signed by more than 40 of the most prom­i­nent names in Bri­tish Jewry, in­clud­ing Sir Simon Schama, Sir Mal­colm Rifkind and Dame Vivien Duffield, warned of an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Is­rael and of “grave con­se­quences for the Pales­tinian peo­ple”.

The sig­na­to­ries said their alarm was “shared by large num­bers of the Bri­tish Jewish com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing many in its cur­rent lead­er­ship”.

Ne­tanyahu’s pledge to an­nex parts of the West Bank was made dur­ing his cam­paign to win Is­rael’s third gen­eral elec­tion within 12 months. An­nex­a­tion would be “another glo­ri­ous chap­ter in the his­tory of Zion­ism”, he said at his swear­ing-in cer­e­mony last month.

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