Donald Trump has given Netanyahu more than he could ever imagine. The West Bank will be the ultimate prize.
On April 28, the winner of the Israeli elections, Benjamin Netanyahu, has formally started negotiations for the formation of Israel’s next ruling coalition. Israel’s political system is based on meticulously formed and volatile coalitions.
Since its first elections in 1949, none of the political parties has won a majority.
After the results of the recent election, it seems that Netanyahu has to satisfy the demands of five potential coalition partners.
The informal meetings and discussions have started very early; Netanyahu has already attempted to broker deals with religious and far-right parties. It’s a matter of days, and the new cabinet will convene and their plans will be exposed.
Netanyahu has to deliver on his promises in the electoral campaign. He pledged “to extend the sovereignty of Israel.”
There is no doubt that such a commitment drew right-wing votes in the tight election race. But the question remains: was it an enthusiastic electoral pledge? Did Netanyahu mean it? If yes, can Netanyahu execute his words into real action? And what will be the repercussions?
Netanyahu’s promise came days after Donald Trump’s proclamation of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Trump’s decision surprised even his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was on a visit to the Middle East when his president made the announcement.
Prior to the unexpected decision, Pompeo said Washington’s enduring policy of not acknowledging Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights would not change.
Cynically, after endorsing Trump’s resolution, he also stated that Trump’s proclamation does not mean Washington would recognise Israel’s sovereignty over the occupied West Bank.
What is the West Bank?
The West Bank is a territory crammed between Israel and Jordan, specifically on the western bank of the Jordan River. About 2.5 million Palestinians live in 11 provinces. And 600,000 - 750,000 illegal settlers occupy 42 percent of the West Bank and 86 percent of East Jerusalem. They live in 150 settlements and 119 outposts.
Historically, the West Bank was administered by Jordan after the foundation of Israel in 1948. Then Israel occupied the territory from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War but has never entirely annexed it. Thus, for more than 50 years, the West Bank has been illegally occupied by Israel.
The Israeli right believes the West Bank is part and parcel of the biblical regions of 'Judea and Samaria'. They unanimously argue that the West Bank doesn’t belong to Palestinians. Israeli diplomats and political commentators explicitly state that Israel legally controls the West Bank simply because it was won in a defensive war.
Since the Oslo agreement in 1993, the West Bank has been divided into three areas:
Area A is where Israeli presence is quite minimal. This area, where the vast majority of the Palestinians live, is predominantly controlled and run by the Palestinian authority and utterly subject to Palestinian laws. Area B, which is the mixed territory, is controlled by the Israeli authorities yet subject to Palestinian civil laws.
The third is Area C, where all illegal settlements are established and is entirely subject to the Israeli authorities.
The situation is quite sophisticated for any annexation plan to be realised. The boundaries between the three areas aren’t clearly carved. They are intermingled with each other in a puzzling manner.
Can Netanyahu deliver on his promise?
Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights was colossal and catastrophic because it equated sovereignty with power. Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Golan Heights through force and has held the territory for more than five decades.
Trump’s proclamation confuses concepts of occupation vis-a-vis sovereignty. Such a precedent is deeply problematic because it sets a worrying pattern: for any state can conquer any territory and hold it for a certain period and later gain international recognition.
Pragmatically, when Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights passes without any consequences whatsoever, what might rein in Netanyahu from delivering on his promise of annexing the West Bank in the presence of the heavenly gift that keeps on giving freely and generously and that is Donald Trump.
His proclamation was rhetorically rejected by the moribund Arab League. Reportedly, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi embarked on recruiting Arab leaders to back Trump’s Palestine-Israel peace plan, labelled as the “Ultimate deal/deal of the century.” Though many believe that Trump’s vague deal is nothing but a mere hoax.
Nonetheless, there is an increasing fuss in regional media outlets about the deal.
Jordan’s King Abdullah relentlessly reiterates that his country will never succumb to the everlasting pressure from local and international powers.
Jordan’s stance regarding the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem is clear: no solution for the Palestinians without the two-state solution and definitely, there will be no alternative home for Palestinians neither in Jordan nor in the Sinai.
Egypt’s official standpoint is not as outspoken as Jordan’s.
The Arabs’ official standpoint towards Palestine has been either passive or complicit, and their attitude is not about to change in the short term.
The most precarious effect of any pending annexations, however, is that it sets the pattern that Israel’s aspirations have to be satisfied and none has the right to oppose.
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