On May 13, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his first overseas visit since the Coronavirus outbreak, choosing Israel as his destination. While his itinerary indicated that he was merely there to discuss COVID-19 and regional security issues, the looming Israeli annexation of the occupied West Bank was unquestionably on the agenda.
Pompeo confirmed to local Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom that decisions regarding annexation were up to the Israeli government. He also provided updates to PM Netanyahu and Deputy PM Gantz regarding President Trump’s “Vision for Peace,” presented in January of 2020.
Neither meeting with nor notifying the Palestinian leadership of his visit, Pompeo and the Trump administration in effect presented a fait accompli to the world: Israel has the authority to do whatever it chooses in the occupied West Bank.
The West Bank, comprised of Areas A, B, and C under Oslo II, includes the regions of Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and Jericho, but not East Jerusalem. It is home to over two million Palestinians. The annexation plan targets the Jordan Valley, over 30% of the West Bank, which mostly falls under Area C that is militarily controlled by Israel. Palestinians living in any territory to be annexed – if they are not expelled – would be at the mercy of the far-right Israeli government. Essentially, this would be the final blow to the peace process, and signal the beginning of a new phase of human rights violations in Palestine.
Trump’s peace plan has already been rejected by the Palestinian leadership and denounced by the European Union (EU) and several Arab countries. The foreign ministry of the United Arab Emirates said last week that the Israeli government’s attempt to impose sovereignty on parts of the occupied West Bank was “unacceptable and violates international law and resolutions, and impedes the peace process.” Regardless of this broad opposition, however, it seems as if the annexation will go forward this summer.
Israel’s annexation plans also threaten the peace treaty signed with Jordan in 1994. Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that “if Israel really annexes the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.” Jordan has been lobbying the EU to take more stringent action against the move.
In response to rumors of impending annexation, PA President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that all agreements signed with Israel and the United States were now void. This includes security coordination between Palestinian and Israeli services. While this is not the first time Abbas has threatened to cut security ties, it is the first time that he has followed through. After his announcement, the PA began withdrawing its police forces from positions around Jerusalem. Abbas was also reported to have told Israel that it would “[have] to shoulder all responsibilities and obligations in front of the international community as an occupying power over the territory of the occupied state of Palestine.”
Whereas Pompeo regretted and dismissed Abbas’ decision, Russia’s reaction was more nuanced. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly offered Russia’s help to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians in collaboration with the Middle East Quartet. The Quartet, comprised of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia, was formed in 2002 to help de-escalate the conflict in the region.
Although annexation of territories acquired by force is contrary to international law, it is expected that, with American approval secured, Israel will begin annexing parts of the West Bank as soon as July 1st. By depriving the Palestinians of yet more territory, such an action would make even more unrealistic the prospect of the two state solution. It will thus be another nail in the coffins of a moribund “peace process” that has not produced peace, serving instead as a cover for further Israeli colonization and absorption of Palestinian land.