The countdown begins. Wednesday 1er Next July, Benjamin Netanyahu must begin the Israeli annexation of part of the West Bank. Illegal under international law, this campaign promise by the Israeli Prime Minister, appointed in May to head a government of national unity, should allow him to make a lasting mark on the history of his country. And to divert attention from his legal setbacks while he is facing a triple charge of corruption. In an interview last week at Point, Matan Vilnai, former IDF deputy chief of staff, is alarmed by the risks this unilateral decision poses to the security of the Hebrew state. But what about the Palestinians?
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Franco-Palestinian political analyst, Inès Abdel Razek is also Director of Advocacy for the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD). Based in Ramallah, in Palestinian territory, this independent NGO aims to give voice to Palestinians around the world. In an interview at Point, this former collaborator of the UN and the cabinet of former Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah explains why the Israeli annexation would only worsen the already difficult daily life of the Palestinians. And invites to get out of the “trap” of the two-state solution.
Update: Will annexation change the daily life of the Palestinians?
Inès Abdel Razek: In my view, the annexation debate is hypocrisy. Annexation is not a break, but a continuity. That of the Israeli occupation and colonization, an institutionalized system of discrimination based on who we are. Today, a child who is born Palestinian does not have the same rights as if he were born Israeli.
What do you mean ?
In the West Bank and Gaza, your daily life depends on permits issued by the Israeli army and multiple roadblocks. Palestinians have difficulty traveling and circulating, and even getting married to whoever they want. They are subject to latent and overt violence from the Israeli army and settlers in all aspects of their lives. From an early age, when you go to school in Hebron or Jerusalem, everything is dominated by Israeli institutions. To get to university, some Palestinian students have to take hours to cross the wall (separation, editor’s note), subject, of course, to obtain a permit from Israel. This system of discrimination takes on different aspects depending on whether you are a resident of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza or a refugee. It has fragmented and dehumanized the Palestinians. Thus, the annexation of the Jordan Valley will accelerate a situation already in the process of dispossession of the land, resources and rights of the Palestinians. It will now be uninhibited because it is enshrined in permanent Israeli law.
Does annexation risk permanently burying the two-state solution?
The international community affirms that the annexation will ruin the chances of peace and the possibility of the two States on the parameters of the borders of 1967 (before the occupation of the West Bank, note). However, it has been repeating that the occupation will undermine the two-state solution for fifty-three years, as it did with the settlements, the separate roads between Israeli and Palestinian settlers, and then the illegal construction of the wall, which have effectively consolidated an apartheid regime. In my view, annexation is just one more step. For a decade, Israel has been on a trajectory where it has never signed a document or done anything to actually achieve the creation of two states. In fact, the Hebrew State has pursued a policy aimed at making such a prospect impossible, and making the occupation permanent. Believing that all of this was done to be temporary means not knowing the situation on the ground.
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Could the situation change if Benyamin Netanyahu cedes his post as Prime Minister to Benny Gantz in 18 months, as planned?
All this is independent of the power in place. When you look at 1967 and the Israeli settlement plans, you realize that they were planning to take over part of the West Bank and Gaza anyway. In 1995, former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin went to the Knesset (Israeli parliament, editor’s note) to justify the Oslo accords and by placing as a condition the annexation of blocks of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a border with Jordan , in other words the Jordan Valley. All this did not happen with the Israeli right and Benjamin Netanyahu. These plans were also carried out with the Labor Party (Israeli left, note). The colonial project was therefore already underway before 1967 and, since 1948, numerous laws, such as the 1952 law on “property of the absent” which nationalized the property of all Palestinian refugees or displaced persons, have launched a systematic dispossession of the Palestinian people. It is also a problem for what remains of the Israeli left, which has trouble reconciling with this idea.
In my view, this state prism – Israel on one side and a Palestinian state on the other – is a trap.
Did Benjamin Netanyahu really play no role?
By strengthening the far right and the settlers in power, Benyamin Netanyahu has accelerated and somewhere uninhibited the discourse and practices yet condemned by the international community, so that the Israelis are now less careful on the diplomatic scene, especially since ‘They have a unique window of opportunity with Donald Trump.
Didn’t the Israeli Prime Minister declare himself in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state during a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009?
In my view, this state prism – Israel on one side and a Palestinian state on the other – is a trap. Look at the maps: Gaza is today completely marginalized from the rest of the West Bank. Jerusalem is separated from the occupied territories by a wall and the West Bank is itself a Swiss cheese grove, where the Palestinians control only a few islets. So Benjamin Netanyahu is redefining the two-state solution, as he confirmed in a recent column in the Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonoth.
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But doesn’t the Trump plan evoke the long-term prospect of a Palestinian state?
This plan is completely contrary to international law, as well as to the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. It would legitimize the reality on the ground of Palestinian bantustans surrounded by Israel and an oppression that Trump rightly wants to redefine as “the two-state solution”.
According to several sources, Netanyahu could be content to annex only certain settlement blocs surrounding Jerusalem to limit international condemnation. Can this minimum annexation change the situation?
The Israelis are champions of the fait accompli. Over the years, they have nibbled on the Palestinian territories and then negotiated with them the little bit that remains to them by enclosing them in a state and geographic prism which puts the Palestinians constantly at the wall.
The Palestinians this time appear to be supported by former senior Israeli officers who say that a unilateral annexation would also endanger the security of the State of Israel.
When you analyze their arguments, you realize that they remain in total denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and that their main thesis is to say that the status quo – unsustainable and unheard of violence for the Palestinians – is quite comfortable for the Israelis who control everything. So what’s the point of annexing?
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They also warn Israel against the risk of a binational state in which the Palestinians are in the majority.
The fear of a binational state scares the Israelis much more than the Palestinians, because it would undermine the idea that Israel is a Jewish-majority state. However, it is not the peace process that will allow us to move towards two states. We find ourselves today in a reality where a single regime controls the whole territory which goes from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan. He controls the entire population, Jewish and Palestinian. The first is governed by Israeli civil law, including in the West Bank settlements, while the second faces military laws, or discriminatory against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Israeli Arabs, editor’s note). In fact, this regime therefore tends towards supremacy and racial discrimination.
Isn’t Israel the only democracy in the Middle East?
It is a democracy only for its Jewish population. As for the Palestinians, we cannot call ourselves democracy and control an entire population, in the West Bank and Gaza, which is not represented and does not enjoy its fundamental rights. Even the economy is colonial. With the expropriation of land, the control of water, Palestinian agriculture is reduced to a minimum. And the Palestinian territories import more than 70% of Israeli products. Even inside Israel, Palestinian citizens of this country are not equal vis-à-vis Israeli Jews, which was enshrined in the constitutional law of the nation state passed in 2018. They are second-class citizens.
The Palestinian Authority today appears to be totally discredited among its people
The Palestinian leadership that has bet on the two-state solution finds itself trapped in a scheme where it is told, according to the Trump plan, that it will have control of cities linked together by tunnels for compensation financial. Be aware, the successive Palestinian authorities have tried everything: armed struggle, then peaceful struggle with the two-state solution and negotiations. Nothing has been done to put these compromises in place. We promised them a state that never happened. Then the Palestinians went to claim it at the UN, in vain. And, now that the Palestinian Authority wants to prosecute Israeli war crimes before the International Criminal Court (ICC), Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the latter of “pure anti-Semitism”.
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The Palestinian Authority recently broke off security cooperation with Israel. Can this pressure lever be effective?
The Palestinian Authority does not in reality have any leverage against Israel and the asymmetry of power is abysmal. Its survival depends on the maintenance of the status quo and the system of dependence and patronage of Israel and the international community. Its political and security control over area A (17% of the West Bank) actually depends on the goodwill of Israel. The Israeli army enters Ramallah as it wishes. No one is fooled. The Palestinian Authority is only an administrator of services for the Palestinians in the occupied territories, without real sovereignty.
Could the annexation of the West Bank cause its dissolution?
Its dissolution scares the Israelis, as well as all the Palestinians who depend economically on Ramallah. In my view, the existence of the Palestinian Authority actually settles Israel because it maintains an illusion of equality between the two parties. This situation, which the population understands, causes an absence of confidence between Ramallah and Palestinian society. The real question is how to transform the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, of which Fatah, in power in Ramallah, is the majority, Editor’s note), which is the recognized representative of all Palestinians, so that it changes strategy and redesign the national project.
And what do you think this strategy should be?
The question should be how to build a future so that the Palestinians are free and that with the Israelis they can enjoy their fundamental rights. Whether in one state, two states or a confederation. Let us no longer be in a colonial and apartheid regime. To do this, we have to get out of the empty mantra of its meaning, the “peace process”. But it is absolutely necessary to get out of this cognitive dissonance according to which, if the annexation were abandoned, Israel would retain a democratic character.
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Do you think Europe can play a role?
Israel’s allies have never put pressure on him, either politically or economically, to make him understand that, to truly live in security, you must not barricade a people. Unfortunately, all diplomatic warnings were never followed up on and comforted Israel that it could do whatever it wanted. Thus, the moment of annexation could be seized for the international community to really put pressure on Israel and get out of the political prism of the peace process and the state focus. Israel must be held accountable for its actions and there must be a cost, as this creates a huge culture of devastating impunity. And I say that for the respect of international law and the interest of the Israeli and Palestinian populations to have a common future in the long term.
What does Palestinian youth want today?
The Palestinians today want their dignity and their rights. To be able to go to the seaside in Jaffa (south of Tel Aviv). If they live in Jerusalem, to be able to marry a resident of the West Bank without risking being expelled from it. Palestinian youth are confronted daily with Israeli soldiers and settlers. On the contrary, Israelis of the same generation have often never seen a Palestinian in their lives, except during military service. For the Palestinians, the two-state or one-state solution no longer means anything. They simply want to have their collective rights as a people, the end of a colonial regime and civil rights equal to the Israelis, regardless of the administrative configuration.
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