Israeli Annexation And A Silent International Community

In December, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced his intention to move the US embassy there. Condemnations abounded, with great hand-wringing and troubled emotions. The United States had to veto an otherwise unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the decision but could not block a similar UN General Assembly resolution, which passed overwhelmingly.

Palestinians took to the streets in protest, as did other people across the Middle East and around the world, including in the United States itself. There was some violence, but it was not very different from protests against past Israeli actions. Outside of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, those protests came and went in a matter of weeks.

Inside the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the US decision shattered the last shreds of credibility of the “peace process,” which was long used to keep the lid on Palestinians while settlements expanded. As a result, Donald Trump has become as much an enemy to Palestinians as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration

Trump destroyed the basis for a two-state solution and crippled the chances for a peaceful alternative to that solution in the short term. He also radically shifted the United States from being a biased interlocutor between its dear friend Israel and the barely tolerated Palestinians to a full-fledged partner with Israel in its attempt to destroy the very concept of Palestine as a nation with national rights. In response, the international community did nothing but mutter some complaints, wag a finger, and move on with business as usual.

It was this very outcome that I warned about when Trump was making his decision on Jerusalem. I wrote, “there’s also a distinct possibility that after a week or two of protests, and even some violence, by the beginning of 2018, US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has become the new normal,” and that if that happened, “It would also tell Israel, in no uncertain terms, that its view that its national and territorial desires completely trump Palestinian rights is correct.”

Israel has received that message loud and clear, and both Jerusalem and Washington are moving forward on that basis. Benjamin Netanyahu said today that “I can tell you that I’ve been talking about [annexing the settlements] with the Americans.” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely—Netanyahu himself holds the foreign minster’s portfolio—elaborated on this at a right wing conference in Jerusalem:

I have no doubt that with this current American administration, with the right cooperation and work, we can reach agreements on this topic — something that never existed on the past. There was never [before] a [US] administration that said settlements are not an obstacle to peace.

All of this comes amidst two other developments: the leaking of parts of the Trump administration’s plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the decision by the Israeli government to temporarily halt a bill that would extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements.

Annexation of Settlements

Israel attributed its decision not to immediately move forward with the so-called “Annexation Bill” to concerns about the “security situation in the North,” which refers to the tensions with Iran, Russia, Hezbollah, and Syria that escalated this weekend after Israel conducted large-scale bombing raids in Syria and Syria downed an Israeli fighter jet. In fact, it was really done for two other reasons.

One reason is that Netanyahu, identifying the annexation of settlements correctly as a historic moment, said that “…it must be a government initiative rather than a private one.” The other is that Netanyahu wants to coordinate this move with the American “peace plan.”

Palestinian journalist Mohammed Othman describes the leaked details of the plan in Al-Monitor: “Palestinians will have their own ‘city of Jerusalem’ by building new villages and neighborhoods. This is combined with the establishment of a Palestinian state that includes over half of the West Bank area, all of the Gaza Strip and some neighborhoods in Jerusalem.” The Jerusalem point repeats what has been proposed many times, that Abu Dis or another Jerusalem suburb be renamed “al-Quds,” the Arabic name of Jerusalem. Such a sham has never gained any traction at all among Palestinians, and it is hard to see how it ever could.

The plan, Othman reports, is being prepared without any Palestinian input. It

allows for the annexation of 10% of the West Bank area to Israel; allocation of parts of Ashdod and Haifa for Palestinian use, while Israel remains in charge of the security there; the establishment of a safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty; and granting Israel the upper hand in the demilitarized Palestinian state, which will have its own police force.

It’s obviously not a plan that the Palestinians will accept. But it is also a plan that the US and Israel can impose on them.

Implications of Netanyahu’s Statement

After Netanyahu made his statement about discussing annexation with the Americans, Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid tweeted that a US official told him that, “The U.S. hasn’t received or agreed to any proposals from Israel about annexation of the settlements in the West Bank.” Israeli officials quickly confirmed that this was so, as did the White House’s spokesperson. But Netanyahu’s actual claim of having discussed the matter with the US was not contradicted, merely clarified.

Despite the back and forth over statements, it is clear that Israel would be annexing the settlements under the US plan. Netanyahu is probably discussing with Washington precisely what land Israel would annex. Although one leak of the US plan has Israel annexing some 10% of the West Bank, another gives the Palestinians just over half of the territory. The 10% figure refers to the built-up areas of the settlements, but a final Trump plan, worked out to Israel’s approval, would likely give Israel considerably more land around the settlements. The regional councils that govern the settlements, along with the closed “military zones” that essentially bar Palestinians from even entering, make up some 42% of the West Bank. This “less than half” figure is what Israel could reasonably expect to get in a Trump plan.

Although the Palestinian leadership will protest and appeal and the Palestinian people will surely take to the streets in prolonged demonstrations, the US and Israel can impose this plan. Israel can declare sovereignty over its settlements and the US can recognize it. If the Palestinians do not choose to self-govern, Israel can wall them off. And the plan is thus imposed.

Failure of the International Community

And why shouldn’t Israel do so? The international community has done nothing in response to Trump’s “taking Jerusalem off the table,” which effectively decides the matter in favor of Israel. The plan would implicitly keep the actual city of Jerusalem “united” under Israeli rule, would extend Israeli sovereignty to the settlements, would establish permanent Israeli borders, and resolve the Palestinian refugee question by telling those refugees that they’re on their own.

That’s the “peace” Netanyahu and Trump envision. A third intifada of some kind would probably result, but Netanyahu likely believes that he can quell that by outlasting and out-brutalizing the Palestinians as Ariel Sharon did during the second such uprising. Protests elsewhere would come and go.

The international community has enabled this by its muted reaction to the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is it prepared to do more than author resolutions and issue statements? Is it ready to act against the United States and Israel in some meaningful way? If not, and it seems highly unlikely that it will, the Trump plan will go ahead.

I suspect that Netanyahu is underestimating the consequences. The reaction to such an imposed plan could be much wider than a third intifada. It could involve Iran. It could draw in other Arab states, as well as the United States in some fashion. And, like the Jerusalem decision, it will have long-term implications that are not immediately visible.

But Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition seem bent on this course, and it seems the Trump administration is all in. Only a concerted and unified effort by the international community can avert what, in the best-case scenario would be another, maybe even a bigger, catastrophe for the Palestinians and, in the worst case, could spark a regional war as well.

Escalating Violence In Israel, West Bank Is The Result Of Failed Peace Process

In what has almost become an annual ritual, an upsurge in violence has again put Jerusalem on edge. Originally 8148113621_de93dc64a3_kcentered on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount area in Jerusalem’s Old City, the clashes have now spread beyond, into the West Bank. Read more at Facts On the Ground

A Top Israeli Diplomat Publicly Admits What Netanyahu Won’t

Hotovely’s interview has gone largely unnoticed by Middle east analysts and reporters, hidden behind the United Nations General Assembly meeting, the deepening conflict in Syria and Russia’s involvement there, as well as the aftermath of the Iran nuclear agreement. That lack of notice, however, belies the great significance of Hotovely’s revelations about Israel’s intentions in the West Bank. Continue Reading at Talking Points Memo

In Their Own Words: Israeli Officials Oppose Palestinian State

Israel’s new government does not support a two-state solution. But don’t take it from us. Listen to the words of the leading figures in Israel’s government. Read more at the FMEP blog.

Vengeance, Not Justice in Wake Of Murders of Israeli Youths

The saga of the three kidnapped Israeli youths in the West Bank took a tragic, if expected, turn today, when their bodies were discovered near Hebron. None but the most starry-eyed optimist thought the young men would be found alive after all this time. But the story is far from over.

Even before the announcement was made that the bodies were found, clashes were reported between Israeli forces and Palestinians in the town of Halhul, where the grisly discovery was made. A massive Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presence was reported, roads were closed and the area was generally closed down. The Israeli security cabinet is meeting at this writing to decide on further measures.

The only thing that seems certain right now about the Israeli response is that it will be unjust and have nothing to do with addressing the terrible crime that has just been confirmed. For the moment, at least, it appears that the perpetrators, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha, are beyond the reach of Israel. Since Israel cannot punish those who so profoundly deserve punishment, they will punish those that they can. This, sadly, is the calculus of occupation. There is already violence reported by residents of Hebron. Some might see justice in that, but ask yourself how you would feel if your son, brother or father – or just a neighbor— was a murderer and you were the one who had to pay for their crime.

There is still no evidence that the two killers, who were apparently members of Hamas, did not act alone. Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that he will hold Hamas responsible and has repeatedly called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sever the unity government that he only recently forged with Hamas. Now, Netanyahu has declared, in a meeting of Israel’s security cabinet that “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay.”

What might that mean? Well, earlier, some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party described the response they wanted to see.

Danny Danon, the Deputy Defense Minister said “This tragic ending must also be the ending of Hamas! The nation is strong and ready to absorb [attacks] for the sake of a mortal blow against Hamas. … [W]e have to destroy the homes of Hamas activists, wipe out their arsenals everywhere, and stop the flow of money that directly or indirectly keeps terror alive… make the entire Palestinian leadership pay a heavy price.”

For Danon, it is not even enough that Hamas pay for this, but the Palestinian Authority as well. Yet there remains no evidence Hamas, as an organization had anything to do with this. The Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, issued a very telling statement about the murders: “Following intensive operational intelligence work by the Shin Bet, less than 24 hours after the kidnapping it became evident that two Hamas activists, Marwan Qawasmeh and Amar Abu Aisha, are those behind the kidnapping of the three teens.” No mention made of Hamas’ involvement; merely that the two men were members. If Bibi really has anything connecting Hamas to this crime, he’s keeping it inexplicably secret.

No matter to the outspoken Tzipi Hotovely of Likud, who said, “The despicable kidnapping and murder of the students cannot go by in silence, and those responsible in Gaza must pay the price. The government of Israel must declare a war to the death on Hamas, which is responsible for the murders, and return to the policy of [targeted] assassination.” Like Danon, Hotovely expresses no concern about the Israeli lives this will put at risk, much less those of innocent Palestinians. Nor do they care about the consequences of such actions.

One might think that these Likud members might have some interest in actually tracking down the murderers. But no, they’d prefer to cynically use this despicable crime to further a political agenda of the worst kind—one that legitimizes intense violence that will mean a far greater loss of innocent life. In this, they are joined by their fellow travelers of the American right wing. The extreme pro-occupation forces took to Twitter even before Netanyahu made his announcement to politicize and distort these events.

Whatever the two killers were thinking, their monstrous crime will yield no positive results for anyone. The PA is crippled, quite likely permanently, by its response to the initial kidnapping. Hamas has been devastated in the West Bank by the Israeli response, leaving it unable to take advantage of any political opening that might be created. The people of the West Bank will see a major crackdown, and Israel will surely follow the call of Housing Minister Uri Ariel for more settlements to be built in response. Gaza will be hit by more missiles. The only victors might be the most radical elements in the Occupied Territories, the ones Hamas has been in conflict with in Gaza and who have generally laid very low in the West Bank.

There seems to be little interest in capturing the perpetrators of the crime, and a great eagerness to make Hamas in particular and the Palestinians in general suffer for this outrage. And I’m sure that is just what will happen. The question will then become how Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even the PA will respond.

Will they attempt to hit Israel back with more attacks on civilians? If they do, we may well have witnessed the beginning of a third intifada. Will they make a mere show of firing a few rockets that land harmlessly as most do? If they do that, there may be a backlash of rage that strengthen the more radical groups in the Territories. There are ISIS- and al-Qaeda-like groups there, which have seen little support among the Palestinian people, but this could change if the existing groups are seen as doing nothing in the face of Israeli aggression.

Whatever the outcome, the episode demonstrates yet again the futility of acts of violence. No one will gain from any of this, even if they think they will. And lost in it all, the murder of three young men, a heinous crime which everyone condemns, while everyone who gets hurt on both sides will have had nothing to do with it.