Ziryan Aziz looks into the internationally controversial initiative to annex parts of the occupied West Bank
Photo by Jakub Rubner
On the 10th September 2019, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outlined his plans to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied Palestinian West-Bank.
Come June 2020, he vowed to take a different course and instead proposed annexing the Israeli settlements starting in July. So far, official annexation is yet to happen, but what will this mean for the peace process, will it happen, and what does it mean for the Palestinians who live there?
What is the West Bank?
A hilly area of land-locked territory, the West-Bank is surrounded by Israel and borders the Kingdom of Jordan. Over the millennia, it has been part of various empires and kingdoms, and is currently occupied by Israel, who seized it from Jordanian and Palestinian forces in 1967 following a war between Israel and its neighbours.
Both Israel and the Palestinians claim ownership over the territory, and the city of Jerusalem, which Israel regards its eternal capital. Many Israeli Jews – especially Israeli settlers - see the territory as part of the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland whilst Palestinians, want to establish an independent Palestinian state in the West-Bank and the Gaza strip, with East-Jerusalem as its capital.
In Oslo in 1993, as part of the peace process, the Palestinian leadership and Israeli government signed an accord dividing the Palestinian territory into zones of various levels of control, but this did not eliminate clashes over the area.
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Israel’s Plans for the West-Bank
Since 1967, the idea of annexing the West-Bank has been increasingly popular in Israel, and since the new American peace plan – which outlines that the US is willing to accept the annexation of various Israeli settlements on Palestinian land – there have been affirmative calls to begin the process.
Israel is looking at the Jordan-Valley as a high-priority area for annexation, and argues it is strategically necessary for its national security to protect the country’s eastern borders. The Palestinians and the international community claim it would harm the peace process, and compromise the possibility of a self-sufficient Palestine in future.
Despite earlier enthusiasm, in June, the PM stated that from July onwards Israel will instead annex just the Jewish settlements, and annexing the Jordan-Valley will be delayed. This is the result of a pushback from pro-settler groups who, whilst strong supporters of the PM, do not support the peace plan on the grounds that it may pave the way for a Palestinian state, something they are firmly against.
Some 763,000 Israeli citizens live in West-Bank settlements. Despite international condemnation, the Israeli government continues to provide building permits for Israeli settlements on Palestinian land that can house communities in the tens of thousands.
The majority of the international community consider the settlements an obstacle to peace, and deems them illegal under international law, claiming they violate the fourth Geneva convention; however, Israel and the US dispute this.
Uncertain Times for Palestinians
The future for Palestinians living in the Jordan-Valley is unclear and complicated. Palestinian communities face problems in accessing the farmland they depend upon due to land seizures by the Israeli army, attacks by settlers, and overlapping settlement boundaries which can encroach on their land. Water shortages caused by having to use old Israeli wells and being unable to drill for new ones causes issues with field irrigation.
The same can be said for gaining new building permits for homes. For many Palestinians, gaining new permits is a challenge, and demolitions are common. Since the beginning of 2020, 16 inhabited buildings alone have already been demolished in Al-Jiftlik village outside of Jericho. Similar to many stories, the buildings were deemed to be within a ‘closed military zone’ according to the army. Many Palestinians fear they will be forced to relocate out of convenience for Israelis.
In Netanyahu’s plans for annexation, Palestinians in the annexed areas will not be given Israeli citizenship, instead classing them as ‘subjects’. Some critics argue that without an independent Palestine, this system is similar to the creation of Bantustan Republics in apartheid South Africa, where autonomous homelands were created for native black South Africans and they were denied citizenship.
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The international community at large opposes any form of annexation. The UN has urged Israel not to go ahead with annexation due to fears it will prolong conflict, and make the possibility of an independent Palestine less viable, a concern which is shared by Jordan. Boris Johnson himself recently made a statement that Britain would not recognise any changes past the pre-1967 border lines.
Despite the strong US support, the Trump administration has allegedly told Israeli officials that unless the government in Jerusalem will recognise a future Palestinian state as part of their agreement, then they will not support annexation.
44% of Israelis support annexing the Jordan-Valley according to a poll in May 2020. 71% of those who supported it identified as being right-wing, whilst 31% identified as being politically central.
Given that the US 2020 elections are fast approaching, Netanyahu may be aiming to begin annexation before the elections go ahead, as should the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden - who is against annexation - win, it may hamper Israel’s chances in the future.
The Israeli PM is also embroiled in a growing corruption scandal including accusations of taking bribes for political favours, fraud, and breach of trust with the media. Calls to annex therefore could be an attempt to reaffirm voters’ trust in him, allowing him to attempt to perform a feat that many of his predecessors were unable to.
With Palestinian and Israeli relations at an all-time low, the future looks dark for a long-term peace solution to this 72-year-long conflict. Worse is the shadow of uncertainty for those whose lives are governed by changing borders and uncertain lands.
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