Since the formation of the Israeli unity government in May 2020, annexation of large parts of the occupied Palestinian territory (“oPt”) has been declared as an official Israeli objective. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his government’s goal of annexation, declaring before the Knesset that “It’s time to apply the Israeli law and write another glorious chapter in the history of Zionism”, therefore placing annexation at the center of mainstream Israeli politics.
Despite the recent attention that Israel’s planned annexation of parts of the oPt is receiving within international political echelons and media, it is hardly a novelty. Annexation, i.e. the extension of sovereignty into occupied territory must be understood in its proper context; it cannot be addressed as a plan that the Israeli government decided to adopt in light of full support of the Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century”, which not only supports annexation, but also encourages it. Rather, Israel’s annexation of parts of the oPt has been taking place for decades now, in a de facto mode, namely in areas C where Israel retains exclusive control as per the Oslo Accords, in small, creeping measures that have been taken up to race-running pace recently.
Palestinians in areas C have already been living in a very coercive environment
In flagrant violation of its obligations as occupying power set forth under international law, Israel has exploited its control of areas C of the oPt, which makes up more than 63% of the oPt, in order to implement a set of arbitrary and discriminatory policies with the objective of grabbing as much Palestinians land as possible. Israel has done this while simultaneously forcibly transferring Palestinians from their lands. As a result, only 5% of the Palestinian population lives in 63% of the oPt, presenting a gradual form of annexation.
Such policies have ensured Israel possesses demographic and geographic superiority, and have led to a drastic situation of systemic abuse of the most fundamental human rights of Palestinians, to an extent where it is difficult to imagine how an already very abusive context can become worse after official annexation.
in the Bethlehem area, the last two green open spaces are under imminent threat of annexation
Palestinians in areas C have already been living in a very coercive environment: from the illegal settlements enterprise, to the physical annexation wall, house demolition policies, restrictions on movement, illegal land grabs en masse and the blocking of access to their own lands, as well as the exploitation of natural resources to the exclusive Israeli benefit. The reality of areas C is one where two ethnicities live on the same land, and where two sets of unequal legal regimes apply – a reality where ethnicity dictates rights and obligations in an unequal manner. For instance, whereas Palestinians cannot “legally” build in their own lands in areas C, illegal Israeli settlements, which international law classifies as war crimes, continue to grow unabated, with full governmental sponsorship.
This is not to say, as many argue, that annexation will “not really change anything” on the ground for Palestinians. Turning a de facto annexation into a de jure one comes with disastrous consequences for Palestinians: not only does it make Israel’s systematic violations of fundamental rights, including the inalienable right to self-determination, a permanent reality, but it also seeks to perpetuate a discriminatory Israeli rule, where Palestinians are forever denied their rights and even the possibility to claim them, and force them to accept their denial of rights as the untouchable “norm”.
The reluctance of international powers to take up their moral and legal obligations as specified under international law is one active element of enabling Israeli annexation, and has emboldened Israel beyond any accountability
Bethlehem serves as a perfect example – in the Bethlehem area, the last two green open spaces are under imminent threat of annexation. The Cremisan and Al Makhrour Valleys, both considered to be the lungs of the city, are both UNESCO world heritage sites with huge historic value, and very rich with natural resources and biodiversity. Both Valleys and their surroundings are extremely important sources of local livelihood, providing quality agricultural produce. Surrounded by Israeli settlements, it has been reported that the two Valleys will be turned into natural reserves, accessible exclusively to Israeli settlers and citizens. Their annexation represents the direct connectivity of illegal Israeli settlements at the expense of Palestinians and their most basic rights and existence in their lands. In this particular case, what is at stake exceeds the lands: the two Valleys are deeply rooted in Palestinian culture and identity, and their loss is the loss of the future as well, specifically for Palestinian Christians. The lands in the Cremisan Valley belong to 58 Palestinian Christian families and 91.5 % of the lands in Al Makhrour Valley are owned by Palestinian Christians; the Palestinian Christian community’s presence in its homeland and existence will be under direct threat should annexation of these lands take place.
However, consequences will not be felt and suffered by Palestinians alone; what the Israeli Prime Minister brags about as “a glorious chapter in Israeli politics” is a direct slap to international law, order, and legitimacy – the consequences of annexation will be felt in the near and far future, both regionally and globally. International law is crystal clear in its stance on annexation: it is illegal and strictly prohibited, and no derogations or exceptions from this principle are permitted. Since annexation is illegal, so is arguably every single policy that was imposed on areas C to lay the groundwork for it. Palestinians have been saying this and suffering from this reality for years. Though welcomed by those who stand on the right side of the debate, condemnations of such actions from the international community have hardly stopped the reality of annexation on the ground. If Israel were to assess the risks of further annexation plans from its own past experiences, it has already illegally annexed occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied Syrian Golan, without being held accountable and merely verbally condemned.
The reluctance of international powers to take up their moral and legal obligations as specified under international law is one active element of enabling Israeli annexation, and has emboldened Israel beyond any accountability. The reason that international law took its contemporary shape as we know it is to act as the guardian of global welfare, and to protect humanity from atrocities, it is specifically meant to prevent violations like annexation. This is exactly why the principle of Third States’ responsibly exists. If international law has no guardians, how do we ensure its continued existence and its preserved mandate?
if the UK wants to maintain its position in favor of the two-State solution, it must make efforts to recognize the State of Palestine with 1967 borders, and engage positively in international peacekeeping mechanisms that the UK itself was key to creating
What message does international reluctance to take pro-active measures to end decades of Israeli violations, including annexation, send to Palestinians? And what message does it send to other state violators of international law? This is an embodiment of the battle between the logic of power, a logic which international law specifically aims to prevent, against international law and legitimacy. Israel’s annexation of parts of the oPt would set a dangerous precedent in favor of the logic of powers should the international community decide to refrain from taking active measures in line with international law and merely condemn. It falls upon the international community to fulfill its legal obligations to prevent this intentional contempt of international law, with urgency, or accept the consequences of permitting it.
The UK in its capacity as a member state of the international community and as a guardian of international law, holds a particular responsibility in the case of Palestine, given its history with the Balfour declaration. What is asked from the UK to counter Israel’s annexation is no more than what international law itself asks of its member states: respect and ensure respect thereof. Measures to fulfil this obligation include non-recognition of Israel’s annexation, reviewing diplomatic and trade relations, banning settlement products in UK markets and holding British companies accountable for their contributions to Israel’s grave violations of human rights. Moreover, if the UK wants to maintain its position in favor of the two-State solution, it must make efforts to recognize the State of Palestine with 1967 borders, and engage positively in international peacekeeping mechanisms that the UK itself was key to creating; such as the UN Human Rights Council, specifically item 7 on the Situation of Human Rights in the oPt, and support the International Criminal Court in its mission and investigations.
It took decades of persistent violations to plan, implement and now attempt to formalize Israel’s annexation – to try to legalize the illegal. It can take much less to reverse this situation if the international community decides to put an end to Israel’s mass violations of human rights which have preceded the imminent threat of annexation. This must be perceived by States who consider themselves as guardians of international law and legitimacy as a pressing obligation, not as an option.
This article is part of CMEC's "Annexation: Brittania Waives the Rules?" opinion series. The views expressed are those of the author alone.