If the latest land-grab triggers the response it deserves, good could yet come out of evil
By Abdel Bari Atwan
It belittles and demeans the Palestinian cause to reduce it to the issue of the 30% of the West Bank and Jordan Valley which Binyamin Netanyahu is proposing to annex to Israel. The territory targeted for annexation is already under occupation, as is Palestine in its entirety. Yet for many years the world has kept silent about this occupation, lulled by Israel’s deceptions and the collusion of its international partners, and buying into the illusion that the Oslo Accords and their bogus promises would somehow bring it to an end. This was not just a mistake. It was a crime.
‘Area A’ which is under the imaginary ‘control’ of the Palestinian Authority (PA) constitutes only 18% of the West Bank. Areas B and C constitute the remaining 82%. This is where the annexation is to proceed in line with Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, to make the current status quo permanent under Israeli law
The UN and European governments have condemned Israel’s annexation plans. But these condemnations have mainly been issued out of concern for Israel and its long-term future as a Jewish state, not for the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights in their homeland. Not one European state has even hinted at imposing any sanctions in response. They have merely issued warnings and appeals to reconsider. Two of them – Hungary and Austria – even opposed the use of the term ‘condemn’.
What suits the Europeans and Americans best is for the status quo in the Occupied Territories to be allowed to persist indefinitely, in peace and quiet with as little Palestinian resistance as possible. The same goes for the Arab governments that follow their lead and are engaged in their ‘normalisation’ plans. They fear that the failure of the PA project and the termination of its security cooperation with Israelis could trigger another Intifada or upsurge of resistance in the West Bank. That would take the Palestinian cause back to square one – before the Oslo era and its misplaced faith in the ‘rules-based international order’ – and trigger a new liberation struggle under new, younger and more committed leadership. This is what worries Israeli and its Western backers most.
The cardinal sin committed by the PA, heir to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), was to keep quiet about the occupation and become its facilitator. Over the course of the past 27 years it has been turned into a security implement for protecting Israeli settlers. All it obtained in return was a handful of financial bribes and inducements that went to its leaders and their clients and relatives. The Palestinian people got nothing: only more setbacks and humiliation, more theft of their land and sacred sites, the disappearance of their cause from the international radar screen, and abuse on social media from some Arab regimes.
The racist Israeli authorities are planning to appropriate all Palestinian territory and turn the Palestinians into slaves who serve their settlers, sweep their streets and clean their toilets — just as their Black South African counterparts from the ‘Bantustans’ were meant to do under the apartheid regime.
The first phase of the annexation strategy entails taking over the most fertile agricultural land and main water sources in areas of low population density. The big population centres such as Nablus, Hebron and Tulkarem are being left to a second stage whose main component is ‘transfer’. That means removing the inhabitants to Jordan, a direct replay of the ‘clearings’ applied by the founding Zionists in 1947 and 1948, especially on the Palestinian coast and in parts of Galilee. This is why the Jordanian authorities are so alarmed by and opposed to the annexation plan. They know full well that if it succeeds, the next step will be to turn Jordan into the Palestinians’ ‘alternative homeland’.
The Israeli government wants to annex the Jordan Valley not only due to its fertile soil and water resources but also because it would otherwise form the eastern border of a future Palestinian entity. That would give it access to the Arab hinterland, which is something they will not allow. They already regret not blocking the Gaza Strip’s access to the Egyptian hinterland. Despite tight controls and restrictions, the Gaza-Egypt border allowed arms and missiles to be acquired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Some have argued that the annexation of all or part of the West Bank could have positive long-term consequences, as it could set the stage for a one-state solution comprising two nations or peoples. Proponents of this theory, including Arabs and Palestinians, maintain that Palestinians would ultimately constitute a demographic majority in such a state and gain equal rights as citizens. This is utterly deluded. The Palestinians in the annexed areas would live in ghettos or reservations as aliens, denied citizenship or any of the associated rights. The Israelis are well aware of this prospect and have put all the necessary counter-measures in place to foil the ambitions of the dupes who dream of it – including last year’s ‘Jewish nation-state’ law.
The problem lies not so much with the annexation plan itself, but with the way the PA and its component factions – and the Islamic and other groups that oppose it – respond. Do they actually have viable strategies for doing so, and for reviving active resistance to the occupation in a sustainable way? There has been no visible sign of that so far.
The PA has announced a halt to any cooperation with the Israeli authorities. But one of its security chiefs recently told The New York Times his forces would nevertheless continue combating ‘terrorism’ and preventing attacks on Israeli settlers. That amounts to volunteering to protect the occupation for free.
Netanyahu could decide to ditch or defer his scheme. Nobody should view that as a concession or success, let alone something worth rewarding. Some Arab governments have been hinting at precisely that by letting it be known they could speed up normalisation if Israel shelves its annexation plans.
The opposite should be done. Every possible step needs to be taken to press for an end to the occupation by all available means. If the annexation plan triggers such a response – within Palestine, in the Arab world and internationally – good might yet come out of evil.