It’s time for sanctions
On 1 July, the Israeli government paused its plans to annex swathes of the West Bank, apparently needing more time to finesse the finer details with the US Administration. So continued the dynamic of Donald Trump’s so called ‘peace deal’, with the US and Israel sequestered in virtual rooms dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on the blueprints of the plans that will shape the future of the Palestinian people.
There is a legitimate school of thought that views whether Israel proceeds to annex the full 30 per cent of the West Bank marked out in Trump’s plan, or even a lesser percentage of the territory, as an irrelevance when considering the real impact on the lives of the Palestinians affected.
As Salem Barahmeh of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy recently noted, ‘if you ask Palestinians in the Jordan Valley how they feel about annexation, many will tell you that they thought we had already been annexed long ago.’
In this regard, even if Israel abandoned its overt annexation plans, Israel’s colonising project would continue though increased settlement expansion. Palestinians in the West Bank would remain living under a matrix of control established by a military occupation that deprives them of their basic rights of freedom of movement, of access to their land water and other resources. This matrix of control therefore serves as an already-existing de-facto annexation, enforced by Israel and enabled by a passive international community.
There is therefore a political resistance to framing annexation as a ‘rubicon moment’ that uniquely requires sanctions, because doing so risks normalizing an already-existent status quo of continued de-facto deprivation of Palestinian human rights.
But despite annexation being merely one mechanism of many in Israel’s rubric of oppression, it still matters in two ways. Firstly it will open up Palestinians living in the annexed territories to additional mechanisms of Israeli control. If annexation followed the model of Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, Palestinians would be offered residency rights, bringing them under the jurisdiction of Israeli civil law rather than military law, but without full citizenship rights.
Under such arrangements, Israel is able to apply a raft of discriminatory laws including, for example, the Absentees Property Law. This law dates to 1950, when it was introduced as a mechanism to legitimize the theft of land from Palestinians who had fled or were expelled during the Nakba (‘catastrophe’), thereby permanently dispossessing them. Such a law could be used to dispossess any Palestinian who owns property in the relevant areas, but can be claimed to have been absent from the property between November 1947 and September 1948.
Annexation also matters because it removes the illusion which has created the rationale for passivity on the part of the international community for decades: that Israel’s occupation is temporary, pending negotiations which will lead to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
Although Israel’s intention to establish a Greater Israel encompassing maximum land and minimum Palestinians has been clear for decades, annexation will make it impossible to sustain the conjuror’s distraction trick provided by the Oslo process which has enabled the international community to turn its face from this reality.
This concern is what lies at the heart of many of the statements from liberal Zionists calling on Israel not to proceed. They believe annexation will make it impossible to sustain the illusion of Israel as a liberal democracy maintaining an occupation that is illegal but temporary.
In this regard, annexation is in fact a rubicon moment. Israel is no longer able to pretend that there is a viable peace process founded upon the willingness of the Israeli political mainstream to respect international law and core Palestinian rights. This is also why the framing of apartheid, which for years Israel and its supporters have attempted to disrupt via accusations of anti-Semitic intent, is finally entering the mainstream of political discourse.
The question that remains is stark. Will the international community tolerate apartheid when the stench of it is waved directly beneath its nose? This is not to say that annexation creates apartheid but rather makes its existence transparent and clear.
Raef Zreik, an associate professor of law at Ono Academic College, articulated it beautifully when he said of the Israeli nation-state law which denies Palestinian citizens of Israel full citizenship rights, and of annexation that they are ‘not two separate plans, but two plans that feed on the same rationale, [which] is that between the river and the sea, there are two groups of people and there is a superiority of the Jewish people over the Palestinian people.’
Unless the world acts by imposing meaningful consequences through targeted sanctions now, Israel will believe it is free to continue colonizing all of the land between the river and the sea and establishing its apartheid system. It is for this reason that the language of sanctions delegitimized for decades in relation to Israel, is now echoing in the corridors of Westminster.
Annexation, although a continuation of a process by additional legal means, lifts the veil on that process. The only appropriate response is to echo the call made decades ago in opposition to South Africa’s version of apartheid: Sanctions Now.