Two weeks ago, on 21 April, Israel’s leading parties crossed the Rubicon and officially endorsed unilateral annexation by Israel of parts of the west bank in the new government’s founding documents.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has lasted more than a hundred years. However, even after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and despite pressure from right-wing parties and civilians who have settled in the occupied territories, Israel has so far refrained from annexing the West Bank.
This is a result of the global consensus that the conflict will be solved only through bilateral negotiations, eventually leading to a two states solution.
This has started to change after the ascension of Donald Trump to the US presidency. Previously seen as the unofficial arbitrator between Israelis and Palestinians, pushing both sides to make concessions, the Trump administration began to take an aggressive pro-Israeli position, culminating in the publication Trump’s ‘Peace to Prosperity‘ peace plan.
The plan, devised by a team of advisors including many Jewish and Israelis but not a single Palestinian, rejects the global consensus that the future borders will be determined mainly by the 1967 armistice borders, and instead opting for a ‘demilitarized Palestinian state’ in only 70% of the West Bank’s territory, divided to dozens of cantons, or, as Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu amply called it, a “state-minus”.
Immediately after the publication of the plan, Israel’s right-wingers seized the moment and turned the question of unilateral annexation, previously a fringe idea in the Israeli society, into a core political demand. Today, under pressure from those right-wing zealots, it seems they may get what they wanted.
The fact that Israel’s military experts themselves reject unilateral annexation and that the centrist leaders who joined Netanyahu themselves rejected such ideas in the past doesn’t matter, as many members from the religious-nationalist political block see the annexation as the fulfilling of biblical prophecies and a religious requirement.
We, Israeli peace activists, sit and watch with horror as the annexation becomes more and more a practical possibility. Such a move would de-facto prevent the formation of a Palestinian state for the foreseeable future, increase military control over Palestinians, and obliterate the chances for peace. This is not to mention the trampling of international law and the very real possibility of violent tensions flaring up, leading to more death and harm for innocent civilians on both sides.
Nevertheless, the fact that Israel’s opposition is currently demoralized and immobilized (due to the coronavirus outbreak) does not mean that there is nothing to be done. When domestic voices fail to sway public opinion, many of us hope that the world’s leading voice for peace and human rights, the EU, will help prevent this irresponsible move.
While the EU has contacted Israel’s centrist politicians and informed them of possible damage to the close diplomatic relationship between Israel and the EU, I believe not enough has been done.
The EU should publicly present a list of tentative steps aimed at discouraging illegal annexation moves. Such steps should be in line with international law and include differentiation between illegally annexed areas from Israel proper, non-recognition of the annexation, and scaling back of bilateral relations when those plans go forward.
Israel currently enjoy many benefits as a result of the bilateral Association agreement, Open Skies Agreement and other treaties granting preferential treatment to Israeli products and citizens. The EU should make sure those benefits do not go towards benefiting illegal moves that will prevent peace for decades to come.
This is the EU’s responsibility not only as global diplomatic player, but most importantly, as a friend and an ally to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.