The West Bank: When push comes to take

Israeli leaders and settlers stifle the peace process by asserting their “right to all parts” of the West Bank.

Israel enclave in east Jerusalem
Leaders of the Israeli settlement movement have attempted to take over much of Arab East Jerusalem and desire the full annexation of the entire occupied West Bank [Getty]

On the rare occasion that the Israeli army dismantles an illegal Israeli-built outpost in the West Bank, Palestinians in nearby villages go into lockdown. Normally within a day, there is retaliation from the settlers. Not against the soldiers who demolished their “property”, but against the perceived beneficiaries. Violence against the nearest Palestinian community has become a routine reaction – against property and people – in what have become known as “price-tag” actions.

Now that Palestinian resistance is growing, and their government has had the temerity to pursue their interests without Israeli approval, history suggests we will see a backlash. These actions, aimed at securing Palestinians’ historic rights, can cost Israel far more than any outpost. The price-tag is on a different scale.

The Shomron Council of settlers have taken the lead in determining the bill: no less than the total annexation of Palestine. In an open letter to the UN, the Council demand recognition of the Occupied Territories as “lands belonging eternally, legally and unambiguously to the Jewish People”. The claim is based on the “promise of the Almighty” as enshrined in the Talmud, and Article 80 of the UN Charter which they assert protects “Jewish legal rights to the entire Land of Israel”.

Settler logic and the Oslo Accords

It is a lie of breathtaking audacity. Article 80 contains absolutely no reference to the alleged rights of the Jewish people. It actually concerns the guarantee of rights for states or people in “trusteeship agreements”, which can only abstractly bear any relation to the conflict at all. Genuine UN resolutions 181 (of the General Assembly) and 242 (of the Security Council), which call for Palestinian statehood and sovereignty, are overlooked. 

The letter demands that the Palestinian population of the “Land of Israel” are relocated to Jordan, where they can “live in peace and tranquillity among people of their own flesh and blood”. Presumably, this would be a forced, mass transfer similar to the Nakba of 1948.

Settler logic is becoming mainstream. Likud Party Knesset Member Danny Danon is preparing a bill proposing the annexation of the West Bank. “A Palestinian declaration of statehood would officially bury the Oslo Accords,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “If [the Palestinians declare a state], I’m going to suggest to my government to extend our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over the highly populated blocs we have in Judea and Samaria, just to start with.” 

His proposal is supported by many of his fellow ministers, who will argue for it at a specially convened Knesset event next month. This will determine whether or not the proposal will be brought to a vote.

The message has already arrived at the very top. Before Prime Minister Netanyahu arrived in Washington last week, he was approached by a group of Israel’s most influential religious leaders insisting that he assert “the historic right to all parts of our country”.

Netanyahu responded with arguably his most uncompromising public address yet. He slammed the 1967 borders – the basis for all previous negotiations as “indefensible” and out of touch with reality. He declared that the Jordan Valley would remain forever occupied, and that there was no question of Palestinian refugees being granted their historic right of return. He stopped short of suggesting annexation, but with the West Bank surrounded on all sides and no acceptance of internationally recognised borders, Netanyahu offered no encouragement for the possibility of Palestinian statehood.

It remains to be seen how serious the threat of annexation is. MK Danny Danon has indicated that he hopes the threat alone will be enough to derail the expected UN General Assembly recognition of Palestinian statehood in September. The Israeli right would prefer to continue their expansion under the radar without the international outrage that would follow de facto annexation. The creeping “inch by inch” colonisation continues apace, with the inauguration of a new settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem, this week – and the authorisation of hundreds more units in the West Bank. 

A credible challenge to occupation

Yet the developing momentum of calls for Palestinian liberation may force Israel’s hand. A non-violent resistance movement inspired by the Arab Spring is gaining traction domestically and internationally, throwing the occupation into a harsh public spotlight. Neighbouring Egypt is also applying pressure by opening the Rafah border. Should the UN vote to recognise Palestinian statehood in September, as a growing coalition of states already have, Israel’s control may be irreversibly weakened. Forced into a corner, faced with a choice of compromise or aggression, few would expect Israel to choose the former. 

President Obama has given them the green light for impunity. The Arab states remain too incohesive to offer a significant deterrent. The most significant stumbling block is the European states. France, Germany and Britain have all stepped up the pressure on Israel – a trend Obama will have attempted to reverse during his recent charm offensive on the continent.

Ironically, annexation could play into Palestinian hands. The Palestinian Authority has threatened to dissolve itself after the failure of negotiations, thus forcing Israel into responsibility for the occupied population – in line with international law. 

The youth activists, responsible for the Nakba day protests, are wary of the upheaval and violence that would come with annexation but feel it could advance their goals. “This would bring us closer to the one-state solution,” says organiser Fajr Harb. Along with his movement, Harb has lost faith in a two-state solution that would leave a Palestinian state crippled by settlements and access restrictions. A bi-national state would give Israel the unpalatable options of either granting civil rights for all, implementing a dictionary definition of apartheid – or carrying out ethnic cleansing on a scale unseen since 1948.

It is already a triumph for Palestinian activists and politicians to have forced Israel to contemplate such high-risk strategies. At last there is a credible challenge to the stealthy expansion that has served Israeli interests for decades. Should Danny Danon and the settlers see their dream of tanks rolling into Ramallah fulfilled, the Israeli fallacies of defence and security will be shredded for all to see, revealing the actual intention to secure “the entire Land of Israel”. Could the international community stand idly by and watch annexation or the forced transfer of millions? Israel is weighing up the gamble.

Kieron Monks is content manager of This Week in Palestine magazine. His freelance articles have appeared in The Guardian, Observer, New Statesman, Tribune, Ma’an News and many others.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.