It is now only a matter of time. And a short time at that. But one thing is certain: the final check on Palestine has now been moved. And such beginning has a date marked in red: 20 April 2020, the date of the establishment in Israel of the “Annexation Government”. The government of the “King” and the “General”, Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu and Benny Gantz. According to the Israeli press a date has already been set: on July 1st Netanyahu will submit for approval to the government and the Knesset the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the Jewish settlements in the West Bank occupied by Israel in 1967. Remaining portions, the Palestinian-inhabited centres or little more, will remain under Israeli military law. This battle for annexation and the unilateral extension of Israel’s borders is crucial to the Likud leader who has always been committed to it as he considers it his historic legacy. The extension of Israeli sovereignty over the settlements, envisaged by the peace plan for this region promoted by the Trump administration, will be pursued “with responsibility”, the Blue and White party has stressed.
Quite frankly it is hard to imagine exactly what this “responsibility” will entail, unless it is an attempt to reassure the portion of the international community that still believes, at least in words, that the colonisation-annexation of the occupied territories, so defined by at least two UN Security Council resolutions, is an illegal act, contrary to international law as well as a basic sense of justice. The plan provides for annexation of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank Palestinian territories, including the Jordan Valley, i.e. the eastern border of what was to be the future Palestinian state. Bibi had promised their immediate annexation once he was elected. The inhabitants of the settlements (500,000 in the West Bank and 250,000 in East Jerusalem) immediately answered the call by pouring into the polling stations.
«For the first time in 53 years of occupation, a plan to annex the occupied Palestinian territories has become an explicit part of an Israeli government plan», Saeb Erekat, historic chief Palestinian negotiator, now Secretary General of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) has said in an exclusive interview with Reset. «Implementation of this plan –Erekat adds – deals dialogue and the resumption of peace negotiations a mortal blow, it definitively destroys the two-State solution and constitutes a threat to security and stability in the Middle East ».
According to Martin Indyk, former US Ambassador to Israel in the days of the Bill Clinton presidency, currently a fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, it will be very easy for everything to be settled quickly: «Trump will greenlight the annexation to secure his Evangelical base going into the election», Indyk has written on Twitter.
And Washington’s official seal came indeed few hours later from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: «The Israelis will ultimately make those decisions. That’s an Israeli decision, and we will work closely with them to share with them our views of this in a private setting», the head of US diplomacy told the press and was picked up by Israeli websites. Pompeo said he was happy that Netanyahu and Gantz have reached an agreement to form a national emergency government.
The Israel of dialogue broadly agrees with the Palestinian j’accuse against Donald Trump’s Deal of the Century. «It is not by moving forward in the direction of colonisation of the occupied Palestinian territories that Israel will succeed in achieving a lasting and just peace with the Palestinians. Peace based on the two-states solution», says Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, the United Arab List that in the March 2nd elections achieved a historical result, having obtained 15 seats thanks to which which it has become by a wide margin the third force in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). «The alternative is to institutionalize the apartheid regime in the Territories, but this would shatter all remaining hopes of peace. We want to live in a peaceful place based on ending the occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the state of Israel, true equality on the civil and national level, social justice and certainly democracy for all. An aspiration that will never be fulfilled as long Netanyahu and the racist right wing parties are in government». As to the Palestinian state mentioned in the plan supported by Trump, Odeh’s view is peremptory: «Calling it a State is ridiculous! The idea is a sort of bantustan in which Palestinians will be imprisoned. Such a pseudo-state would have no control over its borders and would be totally dependent on Israel. This plan was developed for it to be rejected by the Palestinian leadership so that people could say ‘there, you see, they only know how to say no’».
The reasons for rejection of the “Deal of the Century” are illustrated in the letter-appeal of 50 European ministers and leaders: «The (American) plan contradicts internationally agreed parameters for the Middle East peace process, relevant UN resolutions, including security council resolution 2334, and the most fundamental principles of international law. Instead of promoting peace – the signatories point out – it risks fuelling the conflict, at the expense of Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, and with grave implications for Jordan and the wider region, where it has been met with, as in Europe and the United States, widespread opposition. The plan allows for annexation of large and vital parts of the occupied Palestinian territory and it legitimises and encourages illegal Israeli settlement activity. It recognises only one side’s claims to Jerusalem and offers no just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. It envisages a future Palestinian “State” with no control or sovereignty overs its fragmented territory. The map presented in the plan proposes Palestinian enclaves under permanent Israeli military control, which evoke chilling associations with South African bantustans». And more: «Peace to Prosperity” is not a roadmap to a viable two-state solution, nor to any other legitimate solution to the conflict. The plan envisages a formalisation of the current reality in the occupied Palestinian territory, in which two peoples are living side by side without equal rights. Such an outcome has characteristics similar to apartheid – a term we don’t use lightly.
The international community, particularly the European Union, must prevent such a scenario from unfolding, in order to preserve the dignity and rights of the Palestinians, the future of Israeli democracy and the wider international rules-based order».
The Trump-Netanyahu pair is not alone in wrecking the “two-states” solution. Although they all appear to be standing by their “Palestinian brothers” in rejecting the “Deal of the Century” developed by the Trump administration, if one looks beyond the official and entirely predictable statements, as authoritative diplomatic sources and international analysts confirm, the position on the Arab side is far more complex and fragmented, and far less supportive of the Palestinian cause. Indeed, for quite some time now the Palestinian question has no longer been a priority on the agenda, and in the interests, of the more influential Arab countries or regional players with power plans like Turkey and Iran. As pointed out in a documented report by Dion Nissenbaum for the Wall Street Journal, the “Deal of the Century” has undoubtedly jolted regional dynamics, with Israel preparing to quickly annex portions of the West Bank, once envisaged that they could be part of a Palestinian state and that the main Arab leaders might, albeit provisionally, support the U.S. initiative. Arab and Moslem leaders have for decades stated that any agreement with Israel would have to include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian Territories and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But the same Arab leaders who, in words, continue to support this position, outside officialdom do not fail to manifest their annoyance over the Palestinian leadership’s rejection of any compromise on these points. A rejection that has hindered, or in any case slowed down, the desire felt by those leaders to strengthen ties with Israel, whether for business purposes, or – see Saudi Arabia and the Sunnite Golf monarchies – with a view to containing Iranian, and Shiite, expansionism along the Damascus-Baghdad-Beirut line. And Gaza. And indeed, as remarked by Nissenbaum, «The Trump administration has wooed officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and other nations in the region in an effort to transcend the political impasse, and to some extent they are responding».
«There is no doubt – says professor Nabil el-Fattah, former director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic studies (Cairo) – that for some time there has not been any Arab or Moslem leader who has not sought to handle the Palestinian question on their own, in the context of their own power play. Trump is now drawing strength from the weakness of the Palestinian leadership to force through his plan».
The fact remains that the Gulf monarchies are not the only ones, but have also been joined by a Sunni country with a central role in the Middle East like President-General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt, in avoiding embracing the rhetoric of anti-American and anti-Israeli indignation that in the past acted as fundamental internal cement. Times have changed. And indignation has left the field to business and new alliances. So much for the “Palestinian cause”.
Photo: Johannes EISELE / AFP
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