Middle East Eye / June 25, 2020
Annexation would increase Israeli control over occupied territories and negate prospects of a viable Palestinian state, legislators warn.
Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament are calling on US Democrats to “take a firm stand” against Israel’s plan to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, and use “all the tools” at their disposal to prevent it.
In a letter addressed to Democratic members of the US Congress on Thursday, members of the Joint List, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel, said annexation would be a violation of “universal values and norms”.
“We would respectfully suggest that this undermines American interests. We caution that any such move will destabilise the region further and will heighten the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and its neighbors, notably Jordan,” reads the letter, led by Knesset Member Aida Touma-Sliman and signed by all 15 Joint list legislators.
The Joint List is the third-largest party in the Israeli parliament. The bloc’s statement comes less than a week before the 1 July deadline for the Israeli government to start the process of annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament framed their government’s plans as an initiative enabled by the Democrats’ rival currently occupying the White House – Republican President Donald Trump.
“The act of annexation was endorsed and encouraged by the current US administration in the context of its so-called ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan,” the letter said.
“Let us be clear, without the administration’s plan, annexation would unlikely be considered by the Israeli leadership. That plan was adopted by all of the factions comprising the new governing coalition in Israel – some with more enthusiasm, some with polite reservations.”
Trump unveiled his “deal of the century” plan earlier this year, which would allow Israel to retain all of its West Bank settlements, the existence of which the International Court of Justice has said is contrary to international law.
The scheme, which has been dismissed by Palestinian leaders, also promises Palestinians financial assistance and recognition of statehood over a fragmented territory with no control over its borders or its air space.
Still, the US administration has not made an explicit endorsement of unilateral annexation outside of the framework of a negotiated solution.
On Thursday, a US official told Reuters that the administration had not made a “final decision” on annexation. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Palestinians for rejecting Trump’s plan and referred to annexation as an Israeli matter.
“The decisions about Israel extending sovereignty towards these places are decisions for the Israelis to make,” Pompeo said.
Democratic letters in Congresss
Democrats have received increasing calls from human rights groups to help prevent annexation by insisting Israel should face repercussions if it goes ahead.
So far, the party has only verbally denounced Israel’s plans. The campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has categorically ruled out setting conditions on US aid to Israel.
In the Senate, a letter warning that annexation would “erode the strong support among the American people for the special relationship and diplomatic partnership with the United States that Israel currently enjoys” only gained the support of 21 legislators.
Democrats in the US House of Representatives are also circulating a letter expressing “deep concern” over Israel’s plans.
Palestine solidarity activists have long called on Democrats to apply meaningful pressure on Israel, using the vast leverage that Washington has over the Middle Eastern country, including its international diplomatic support and military aid worth $3.8bn a year.
Palestinian-American analyst Omar Baddar told Middle East Eye last week that annexation is already a reality on the ground that has been “effectively enabled by Democrats”.
“It seems as though there is no line that Israel can cross that would cause a majority of Democrats in Congress to start talking about accountability,” Baddar said.
He added that it was “unbelievable” Democrats were still using outdated terminology that failed to recognise the bitter harshness of Israel’s plan to officially declare its “theft of Palestinian land” on the world stage.
However much of the Palestinian territory is annexed – a few or all settlement blocs, or the entire Jordan Valley – the Joint List warned of dangerous consequences.
“It will mark the crossing of a new Rubicon in the intensification of the Israeli control over Palestinian lands taken in 1967, in negating the prospect of a viable, sovereign and independent Palestinian state, in expansion of the illegal settlement project and in increasing human rights violations in the occupied West Bank,” wrote the Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament.
Their letter also warned that annexation would hurt Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as Palestinians living in the occupied territories.
“As a parliamentary faction representing mainly the Palestinian minority within Israel, we know that our constituents will be exposed to heightened racist incitement and discrimination due to the pending plans in the West Bank,” the Joint List members said.
“Structural institutionalized discrimination is a reality for Palestinians both inside Israel and Palestinians under occupation; its manifestation and practices differ – but acts such as home demolition, racist legislation or police violence have little respect for the Green Line.”
The legislators also paid tribute to racial justice protests unfolding in the United States, saying that Palestinians were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We would like to express our unequivocal support for the struggle for equality and to achieve historic as well as contemporary racial justice in the US,” the letter reads.
“The Black Lives Matter movement is inspiring and empowering our struggle here for justice and equality for all.”
Critics of Democratic leaders in Congress say the party’s seemingly unshakable support for Israel puts it at odds with a base that is increasingly sympathetic towards Palestinians.
The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), a Washington-based advocacy group, said earlier this month that Democrats must listen to their supporters on ending militarism at home and abroad.
“More important than establishment Democrats is their base and the support among young progressives, especially Black and progressives of colour, for Palestinian rights and freedom,” USCPR manager of policy and advocacy campaigns Sana Siddiq told MEE.
“We’re in the middle of a nationwide conversation, led by the Movement for Black Lives, about divesting from violence and harm and investing in community needs and safety. That conversation is part of the DNA of the movement for Palestinian rights, and divesting from militarism, including ending US military funding for Israeli violence, is something that Democrats are going to have to get on board with if they want to remain relevant.”
Ali Harb is a writer based in Washington, DC; he reports on US foreign policy, Arab-American issues, civil rights and politics