News Analysis: As Israel contemplates annexation, implications weighed amidst growing criticism

Source: Xinhua| 2020-06-08 19:09:57|Editor: huaxia

by Keren Setton

JERUSALEM, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may go ahead with plans to annex territories in the West Bank, the debate within Israel and in the international community continues.

The annexation, which may come in July, is in line with U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace plan revealed earlier this year, which includes Israel annexing territory that the majority of the international community believes should be part of a future Palestinian state.

Israel captured the West Bank territories during the 1967 Middle East war. According to various UN resolutions, Israeli settlement activity is considered illegal. But Trump has adopted a dramatically different approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and taken controversial steps in demonstrating this.

The Trump administration has already recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved its embassy to the city. The U.S. president also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the area Israel also captured in the 1967 war from Syrian hands.

Palestinians have rejected Trump's so-called "Deal of the Century" from the get-go.

The annexation was one of Netanyahu's main election promises. As his government was sworn in just weeks ago, he supposedly has the political maneuvering space to make the move. However, it comes with significant risk and Netanyahu has repeatedly proven himself as a risk-averse leader.

Netanyahu faces internal opposition from the right wing which opposes the other part of the Trump deal: the establishment of a Palestinian state later on. But also, the Israeli leader has coalition partners who do not have a clear position on unilateral annexation and may oppose him.

There is also the potential of severe international criticism and repercussions, ranging from Gulf states to the European Union (EU) which has voiced staunch opposition to the move.

Annexation will probably fuel further anti-Israeli sentiment amongst Palestinians, who are divided between supporters of the more moderate Palestinian Authority (PA), led by President Mahmoud Abbas, and militant organizations such as Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and deny Israel's right to exist.

"Palestinians maximalists, like Hamas, will take advantage of the annexation as evidence of the error that the Palestinians who were willing to entertain territorial compromise have committed," said Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

The PA has already announced it is not bound by any treaties it has signed with Israel and has cut off security cooperation. This cooperation not only helps prevent militant attacks against Israelis but has a key role in maintaining the stability of Abbas' administration.

The absence of cooperation could become increasingly evident if Palestinians decide to protest against annexation and clash with Israeli soldiers at crossings and checkpoints. Palestinian security forces may no longer be there to serve as a critical buffer.

Abbas has also announced their intention to refuse tax money Israel owes the PA. This move could fuel a major economic crisis in an already weakened Palestinian economy.

Therefore, Netanyahu might choose to apply Israeli law to smaller parts of the West Bank, in an attempt to mitigate international criticism.

"If Netanyahu goes for a lesser version of annexation, international motivation to act will decrease," said Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. "But even a smaller move will be viewed as problematic."

Later this week, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is scheduled to arrive in Jerusalem. According to Israeli media, he is expected to warn Netanyahu that moving forward with annexation will cause damage to Israel's ties with Germany and EU.

France has also warned of severe consequences with its ambassador to Israel saying it will view annexation as a "serious violation of international law."

"No country has detailed their response yet and this is no coincidence," Goren added. "They want to see the Israeli decision and then will present the price."

The concern is that such a new policy would trigger a response that has not been seen before. Israel will be risking its delicate relationship with Jordan, which has already been outspoken on the negative ramifications including a possible annulment of the peace agreement between the two sides. Diplomatic relations will probably be downscaled.

This may also occur vis-a-vis Egypt. Such moves would be a blow to Netanyahu's efforts in recent years to foster relations with Arab states.

"It will become much harder for Arab governments to justify their relations with Israel," Zalzberg said.

Recently, the UN Mideast envoy Nikolay Mladenov has also held discussions in an attempt to prepare for a possible Israeli move. The feeling is that if Israel proceeds, it will be a game-changer in the conflict.

"Annexation is a significant move. It will cause a major rift, and is not just another move that major actors will be able to accept," Goren added. Enditem