As annexation looms, the Palestinians consider their options

Ali Adam

The National /  June 27, 2020

Palestinian leaders are threatening to dissolve the Palestinian Authority if Israel annexes the occupied West Bank.

As Israel moves towards the annexation of much of the occupied West Bank next week, Palestinians fear they are entering an era where hope for a two-state solution and independence may vanish for good.

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced on May 19 that he would withdraw from all agreements with Israel in response to the plan, leaders of the Palestinian Authority – the body that has limited self-rule over the territory – said they would dissolve it if Israel proceeded with its plan.

In a speech on Wednesday, Mr Abbas said that: “The implementation of the annexation plans in the occupied Palestinian territories is an illegal step that will entail that Israel assume all responsibilities for the occupied land according to the Fourth Geneva Convention as the occupying power.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged to annex the West Bank on July 1. After swallowing occupied East Jerusalem, Israel aimed to take the Jordan Valley and the scattered settlements nearby.

The Israeli design was tied to the US Middle East peace plan released in January. That designated land which makes up more than 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank part of Israel.

The annexation will end any hope for a Palestinian state and will leave the Palestinians with nothing but isolated pockets of land and a form of apartheid, Palestinians and UN analysts said.

The Palestinians would be left with no choice but to consider their most serious response to Israel’s policy: dissolving the Palestinian Authority.

“We have informed all countries, including the US and Israel, that if Israel moves forwards with annexation, Israel will have to bear its full responsibilities as the occupying power,” senior Palestinian official Hussein El Sheikh told The National.

“We are not agents for the Israeli occupation. We will never accept to play this role under any circumstances.

“The existence of the Palestinian Authority is one of the outcomes of the Oslo Agreement which is now dissolving. We will never agree the PA to be reduced to providing services,” Mr El Sheikh said. “We don’t want to do this. But Netanyahu is leaving us no choice.”

A financial crisis within the PA also increased the odds of it being dissolved. It was caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated an already weak Palestinian economy, and a stand-off between the authority and Israel on tax revenues.

Last month, the authority rejected the revenues which Israel collected on its behalf, after Israel made the transfer of money a condition of security co-ordination with the Palestinian body. This has left the PA with of one of its most severe financial crises since its inception as the revenues represent about 63 per cent of the public budget.

As a result, the PA was not able to pay its 180,000 employees their salaries for the month of May, and the Ministry of Social Affairs was not able to pay out monthly benefits for the poor.

The PA was expected to take drastic austerity measures in the weeks ahead.

After threatening to dissolve the authority, PA officials were reported to have told the Israeli military liaison office, known as Cogat, that in the event of annexation, Defence Minister Benny Gantz must pay the salaries of Palestinians employees next month.

Tareq Baconi, the International Crisis Group’s analyst for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The National that the official Palestinian response to annexation was one of deterrence.

“Pre-emptively ending security coordination and revoking agreements with Israel are both an attempt to show Israel what the cost of annexation might be and to attempt to influence the Israeli leadership not to proceed with these steps,” he said.

In recent years, the calls from Palestinians for a single binational state as opposed to the conventional two-state solution have increased. The PA’s leaders, however, have said on many occasions that they want to stick to calling for a two-state solution as it was “more realistic ” and “the solution that’s consistent with international resolutions”.

While Palestinian officials talked of dissolving the PA, Israel continued with preparation for annexation. On June 18, the Israeli army placed cement blocks on roads in occupied West Bank villages that lead to the Jordan Valley.

All Palestinian factions condemned the Israeli plans and agreed a campaign of non-violent resistance across the West Bank. Protesters will have to strike a balance between taking to the street and steering clear of a second wave of coronavirus cases in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

With days to go until annexation, Palestinians have appealed to the international community for support. Last week, there were calls from parliamentarians across Europe for punitive measures against Israel and recognition of the state of Palestine.

Ahmed Majdalani, member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, called on “the international community, specifically all countries that have economic relations with the occupation, to stop their dealings with it, and to withdraw all investments in response to its violation of international law, especially in the ongoing process of annexation of the Palestinian territories.”

Ali Adam regularly contributes to The National