The new government of Israel could present tomorrow, according to the pact made by the ruling coalition, its plan to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his partner, Beny Gantz, remain divided on how and when kick-start the process, and continue to discuss it with their ally the United States.
“We are talking about the issue of sovereignty that we are working on these days and we will continue working on the following days,” Netanyahu said today, after the meeting with the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and the White House special envoy for the Middle Middle Avi Berkowitz.
Netanyahu’s statement seems to indicate that perhaps tomorrow will not be the key day to begin the annexation, rejected by the Palestinian leadership and by the majority of the international community, with the important exception of the United States.
But since the annexation of parts of the West Bank was one of his campaign promises, the Israeli prime minister could at least make a symbolic announcement without practical implications or immediate effect.
Israel captured the West Bank – along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip – from Jordan in the so-called Six-Day War of 1967 and since then maintains a military occupation and encourages and enables the construction and expansion of colonies, considered illegal by most of the international community and where just under half a million Jewish Israelis live today.
The annexation plan was first included in a “peace plan” presented by the United States and was immediately rejected not only by the Palestinians, who seek the entire West Bank as part of a future state, but by much of the international community.
The plan that the Israeli government is believed to be able to present before parliament tomorrow is based on the so-called peace agreement proposed by President Donald Trump and presented last January.
This “peace plan” gives free rein to the annexation of the Jordan Valley and the main West Bank colonies. It grants about 30% of the territory under permanent Israeli control, while granting limited sovereignty without territorial contiguity to the Palestinians in the remaining lands.
But the plan to redraw the map of this region of the Middle East has come under heavy international criticism.
The UN, the European Union and Arab countries in the region warned that annexation would violate international law and undermine the goal of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said yesterday that this process “is illegal,” a statement that today was condemned by Israel.
“I urge Israel to listen to its former leaders and generals, as well as to multiple voices around the world warning it not to continue on this dangerous path,” Bachelet asked.
The Foreign Ministry today answered him bluntly: “This is not the first time that it has taken a position against Israel, unilaterally.”
“Israel has lost faith in the High Commissioner’s ability to promote human rights,” the ministry spokesperson said in a statement, quoted by EFE news agency.
In addition to the international opposition, Netanyahu and his main government partner and defense minister, Gantz, remain divided on how and when to launch the plan 24 hours a day on the day scheduled to start the process.
The disagreement illustrates the apparent fragility of the brand new coalition government that took office in May, after months of tense negotiations between two leaders who until recently were political rivals.
The agreement with which the governing coalition was formed gives Netanyahu the authority to present a proposed annexation to parliament starting tomorrow.
Gantz, who also has the title of deputy prime minister, said yesterday that the target date of July 1 was not “sacred” and argued that, for him, the country’s priority should be the economic and health crisis caused by the pandemic of the coronavirus, which has already caused 320 deaths and more than 24,700 infections.
“Dealing with the coronavirus and its health and socio-economic consequences is the most urgent matter to address right now,” said Gantz, quoted by the Times of Israel.
However, under the coalition pact, Gantz has no veto power over the presentation of the plan, and Netanyahu can push it through without his approval. Of course, the premier needs the support of his partner in parliament to achieve an absolute majority of the votes.
The other issue that divides the ruling party and that is still being discussed with the United States is which part of the West Bank to annex.
If the initial map presented by the United States proposed an annexation of much of the colonies and the Jordan Valley, Netanyahu could adopt a more prudent strategy to appease internal pressures and minimize the impact on the stability of the region.
According to local media, the options are several. One of them, for example, could be a phased process, with an initial annexation of the settlement blocks closest to Jerusalem, which are also the largest.
In this context, tomorrow there are called protests in the West Bank, where the headquarters of the Palestinian National Authority (ANP) is located, the Palestinian Government that threatened to withdraw from the Oslo Accords if the annexation is carried out, which means its own dissolution.
Mobilizations are also planned in the Gaza Strip, controlled in fact years ago by the Islamist Hamas movement, which called the annexation “a declaration of war” to which it could respond with new attacks.
Just as until now it is not clear that Israel will announce the annexation plan on the part of the West Bank tomorrow, the reaction between the Palestinian population in that territory, marked by the coronavirus pandemic and the long frustration of not envisioning a change, is also uncertain. real after 53 years under occupation.