Annexation: What exactly happened ?

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  July 3, 2020

With every passing day, the prospect of annexation and what that means for Palestinians living under occupation becomes more and more unclear. We answer some of your questions here.

It’s been two days since Israel was supposed to annex large swaths of the West Bank.

But as the world geared up for massive protests against the policy, the official annexation announcement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never materialized, leaving many wondering, what happens now?

Analysts have cited a number of reasons for the delay on annexation: international pressure, internal Israeli political feuds, and the coronavirus pandemic, to name a few.

Whether annexation was officially declared or not, however, the Israeli occupation of the West bank continues, with dozens of reports over the past few days indicating an uptick in Israeli violations in the occupied territory.

Arrest raids in the middle of the night, land confiscations, and settler attacks have continued, with several reports of attempts by settlers to establish new outposts across the West Bank popping up in the last few days.

With every passing day, the prospect of annexation and what that means for Palestinians living under occupation becomes more and more unclear. What exactly happened, and what’s going to happen in the near future? We answer some of your questions here.

What happened on July 1st?

For months Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been touting July 1st as the date that he would begin annexing large swaths of the West Bank, starting with the hundreds of settlements in the West Bank, and the Jordan Valley.

But as the date drew closer, Netanyahu began to talk about annexation on a smaller scale, saying he would only begin with the three biggest settlements in the West Bank: Ma’ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, and Ariel.

Just days before July 1st, Netanyahu’s coalition partner Benny Gantz began softening his rhetoric on annexation, directly undermining Netanyahu’s narrative.

In addition to expressing his opposition to unilateral annexation, Gantz said July 1st wasn’t a “sacred date” for annexation, and voiced his support for prioritizing the current COVID-19 crisis over annexation at the moment.

“It’s true, July 1st was never a sacred date set in stone,” Diana Buttu, Palestinian political analyst and former advisor to then PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, told Mondoweiss. 

“The reason everyone was so fixated on that date was because it was the date that Israel could begin putting forward bills on annexation before the Knesset,” she said. “It wasn’t set in stone, but it was the date they could begin the process.”

In addition to infighting within Netanyahu’s government, and no real plan on Netanyahu’s part on how to go about annexation, Buttu noted that the delay could be attributed in part to the mounting international pressure on Israel to stop annexation.

“All the international pressure is helping in the sense that it’s the first time that there’s a focus on Israel’s actions; there’s uniform condemnation by the world, and it’s the first time we’re seeing that people are focusing on what life is like for Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and other areas slated for annexation,” she said.

Will annexation happen?

The lack of any formal announcement from Netanyahu on July 1st, along with the mounting pressure from the international community, and threats from the Palestinian Authority (PA) to relieve itself of its duties, has left many people wondering if annexation is going to happen.

Critics say that annexation is not a matter of if, but when.

“Annexation has emerged as a top priority of Israel’s government, which is eager to take advantage of President Trump’s green light with his ‘deal of the century’,” Palestinian-American scholar and activist Noura Erakat told NowThis news.

With Trump’s time in office potentially coming to a close in November, analysts have speculated that Netanyahu might be hard pressed to move forward with at least partial annexation before the US elections in November.

Even if Trump is defeated by Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, Buttu said, she doesn’t anticipate that annexation will fall by the wayside.

“I think Netanyahu is looking at the ‘political alignment of the stars’ with two things in mind,” Buttu told Mondoweiss.

“One is, we have the US elections coming up. But even if Trump is voted out,  I don’t think that Biden will undo annexation, particularly if it’s an annexation on a ‘small scale’, for example annexation of the settlements,” she said.

“On Top of that, with Germany now at the head of the UN security council, the likelihood that Germany is going to press for condemnations or sanctions on Israel because of annexation is slim, and Netanyahu knows that,” Buttu said.

What will annexation look like?

Many Palestinians say that while formal annexation was not recognized on July 1st, the systems of apartheid and “de facto annexation” have already existed in the West bank for decades.

“What’s happening now is the result of decades of harmful US/MidEast policy,” Erakat told NowThis.  “Trump and Netanyahu are planning to enact de jure, or official, annexation. But in reality this land theft is already in place through de facto annexation.”

Erakat slammed the unequivocal diplomatic, military, and financial support the US has given Israel over the years despite Israel’s consistent violations of international law. This continued support in the face of flagrant violations has enabled Israel “to expand and entrench its sprawling colonial settler enterprise,” Erakat said.

Since 1967, Israel has already unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, a war crime under international law, and has also continued to illegally occupy the West Bank and besiege Gaza.

As a result, Palestinians living in these areas have for decades been subject to Israeli policies that affect their everyday lives. Basic things like the ability to build your home or farm your land or travel between territories requires Israeli permission.

Despite being subject to Israeli rule, millions of Palestinians do not enjoy basic civil rights like citizenship or voting rights that allow them to participate in the system that controls their lives.

Just because de facto annexation is already in place, however, doesn’t mean that formal annexation won’t change anything on the ground, Buttu warned.

“Do I believe that annexation is going to change reality on the ground? Yes, I do,” Buttu said, adding that while “we’re not yet sure how annexation is going to play out, or what it’s going to look like, it will be formalizing apartheid, and there will be repercussions as a result.”

One potentially devastating consequence of annexation that Buttu fears is a return to the pre-Oslo policy allowing Israel to revoke the residency rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

“That might happen, and it’s terrifying,” she said. “In addition to that, I think Israel is going to let the settlers go loose, the army will do nothing to control them; I expect there will be much more land confiscation and the settlements will build and spread like wildfire.”

“That’s the difference between annexation and no annexation.”

What will happen in the meantime?

While the world waits for annexation to unfold, Israel is continuing its policies of occupation across the West Bank, with many Palestinians voicing concerns that things are already getting worse since July 1st.

On the same morning as “annexation day,” Israeli forces raided the city of Ramallah, the de facto political “capital” of the PA, and arrested at least three Palestinian youth, including two women.

On Friday, dozens of Palestinians were injured during anti-annexation protests, a number of fishermen from Gaza were detained while fishing off the coast, and the Israeli army continued to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural structures across the territory.

Since July 1st, local media and activists have noted an uptick in settler violence against Palestinians, and attempts to confiscate Palestinian land and establish new outposts.

Over the past two days alone, such incidents were reported in the Bethlehem, Hebron, and Nablus districts.

While annexation has brought newfound global attention to the occupation of the West Bank, many Palestinians have voiced their concerns over the fact that if Israel halts annexation temporarily, the international community will succumb to a false sense of accomplishment, and return to the days of being complicit in Israel’s illegal occupation.

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Buttu told Mondoweiss. “We haven’t yet seen the international community patting itself on the back, but that’s also because we haven’t yet heard the official statement  from Netanyahu saying he’s not going forward with annexation.”

“Now that the door has been opened to focus on annexation, we need to push it forward, and show people how Israel is using creeping annexation, or de facto annexation. This is the first time some diplomats are even hearing those terms, so we need to continuously be highlighting that,” she said.

For now, Palestinian activists and leaders are using this moment not only to warn against annexation, but to put forward new ideas and visions for peace, as more and more people come to terms with the reality that the two-state solution is essentially dead.

After years of political infighting, opposing Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah united on Thursday and vowed to work together to fight against annexation.

Meanwhile, the conversation on the future of a one-state solution is becoming increasingly mainstream, even with the highest ranks of Palestinian government.

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss