Annexation, Delay, and More of the Same: Israel’s Colonisation of Palestine
As Israel delays its annexation of large swathes of the West Bank, Sai Englert discusses its causes and implications.
When Donald Trump announced his so-called “deal of the century” at the start of the year, it seemed clear that the Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, would rapidly move to use the plan’s provisions to expand its control over much of the West Bank. In fact, as the plan was announced by the US president, the latter, tellingly present, announced his intention of annexing both the Jordan Valley and major clusters of Israeli settlements – about 30 percent of the West Bank.
Despite these initial confident statements, the actual implementation of the annexation seems to have run into issues. Following his latest electoral victory, Netanyahu had repeatedly stated that he would move forward with annexation as soon as the US-imposed 1 July deadline had passed. A month later, increasing doubts are being raised within his own camp, primarily from settler organisations, about his ability to deliver. This is particularly bad news for Netanyahu given the fact that recent poling suggests that nearly 50 percent of all Israelis support annexation in some form, while only 25 percent oppose it all together.
The delay will be particularly frustrating for Netanyahu give the fact that, in many ways, the plan could not have come at a better time, geopolitically speaking. Indeed, the Israeli state has strong allies in the White house who have demonstrated their willingness to support greater normalisation of its colonial expansion in Palestine. The move of the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018, while largely symbolic given previous US administrations’ recognition of Israel’s unilateral annexation of Jerusalem, was a powerful signal in this direction – as was the support for annexation in the Trump plan.
In addition, under Netanyahu’s leadership Israel has also followed a policy of normalisation of relations with reactionary regimes across the global south. The large presence of African officials at the inauguration of the US embassy, mentioned above, was a powerful indication of its success. Similarly, Netanyahu’s very public relation building with India’s Narendra Modi is paying dividends. The country, a former ally of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, publicly called on the Palestinian Authority to accept Trump’s deal.
Most striking perhaps, have been the increasingly open diplomatic ties between Israel and Gulf states, most importantly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. While these countries have raised some concerns about Israel’s plans for annexation, these seem to have been limited to public rhetoric. Not only had they supported Trump’s plan in the past but they also immediately qualified their recent condemnation with reassurances that current projects – like the joint UAE-Israeli COVID research – would continue regardless.
Similarly, while Jordan has rejected the plan, alongside a number of European states, and raised concerns about growing popular resistance in the country and across the region, no material threats seem to have been made. Tellingly, important economic relations between the two countries, such as Jordan’s import of Israeli natural gas and other goods destined for its Qualified Industrial Zones, have not been put in question by the Jordanian government.
The main reason for the delay, then, appears not to be about disagreement or pressure from its allies – something which, either way, has not tended to have negative consequences for Israel in the past. Instead, it seems to be caused by its failure to receive a final green light from the US. The Trump administration is currently facing pressure from a number of sides: rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases, mass anti-racist social movements following the killing of George Floyd, and the upcoming presidential election. Given these multiple ongoing battlefields, Trump may be hesitant to open yet another front. He might instead think that he can leave this matter to be dealt with after his November re-election. In this context, his allies’ insistence on resolving this issue before Americans go to the polls may be read as their lack of confidence in his ability to secure a second term.
A further note of caution should be raised about the current flurry of discussions regarding the delay and the possible failure of Netanyahu to move ahead with annexation. As a number of commentators have pointed out, it should not be forgotten that Israel has already annexed the whole of historic Palestine, in all but name, through a series of military occupations – first in 1948, then in 1967.
The unabated construction of settlements (there are now roughly 650,000 Israeli settlers living in them), Israeli-only roads, and apartheid walls surrounding much of both Gaza and the West Bank are but some of the numerous illustrations of its de-facto rule. In fact, before it moved to using Google Maps, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism issued maps which bear a striking resemblance to the depiction of the West Bank in Trump’s Plan. The Jordan Valley and the settlement blocs were already treated as being part of Israel proper well before January 2020.
This state of affairs will continue, whether Netanyahu manages to normalise a greater part of Israel’s past military expansions or not. Official annexation would be a victory for the Israeli state, because it would further entrench its rule over Palestinian land. However, as long as the international community continues its, by now, 72 year-long tacit acceptance of Israeli settler colonial rule, and does not impose serious economic and political sanctions, Israel will have no reason to stop – whatever happens with Trump’s plan.