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Annexation Leaves Palestinians Nothing to Discuss

Yehuda Shaul
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Mahmous Abbas and other Palestinian officials, Ramallah, June 15, 2020.
Mahmous Abbas and other Palestinian officials, Ramallah, June 15, 2020.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS
Yehuda Shaul

The Palestinian president folded the newspaper, sighed, and laid it aside. He had just finished reading last weekend’s column by Amos Harel, calling on him to pick up the phone to White House officials and discuss the details of the peace plan they’d drawn up. He remembered that Aluf Benn, the editor of the paper he makes sure to read every morning, had made a similar recommendation.

It was hard, bitter as gall, but he realized he had no choice. He picked up the encrypted device and pressed the speed-dial button. After two rings, a pleasant voice answered, “Hello, Yesha Council. How can I help you?”

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Harel, like Benn, has been urging Abbas to resolve the annexation mess for all of us. Their suggestions to him are based on two assumptions: First, that Palestinian readiness to renew contact with the U.S. administration will tip the scales and lead it to at least suspend its support for a move that is a pillar of its plan, and second, that Palestinian refusal is connected to honor. Abbas is “locked into a feeling of affront” and refuses to “swallow his pride,” writes Harel, while Benn writes that for the Palestinians, consenting to any discussion would “amount to an appalling national humiliation.”

With all due respect to two senior journalists whom I genuinely admire, it seems to me their analysis is missing the point, and even worse – missing the substance of the plan cooked up by the Trump administration.

The malicious nature of the plan does not stem from the question of annexation of one extent or another, but from it being a platform to move from the two-state solution paradigm, which is based on UN resolutions and broad international consensus, to the fulfillment of the irreversible Israeli vision to control the entire area between the Jordan and the sea, and to fix the Palestinians’ status as subjects with no rights.

The main purpose of those who drew up the plan and are promoting it was to take the concept of the two-state solution, empty it of content and implement its opposite. The “Palestinian state” they are advancing would be noncontiguous pieces of territory, with Palestinians having no control over the entrance of people and goods, or over the airspace or airwaves, and keeping them subject to full Israeli security control. Thus, under the cover of “two states,” the plan seeks to gather international support for establishing Palestinian Bantustans that will be surrounded by a sea of constant Israeli control.

As a result, any negotiations based on this plan not only won’t be able to achieve the desired peace agreement, but will cause damage and contribute to the perpetuation of the occupation. The Palestinian Authority will only be entitled to even those Bantustans – which the plan calls a “state” – if they fulfill impossible conditions, like taking complete control of the Gaza Strip, dismantling Hamas and halting whatever Israel describes as incitement. Moreover, Israel is entitled under the plan to annex some 30 percent of the West Bank, in complete contradiction of international law and basic norms.

The chances that the U.S. administration will agree to negotiate on the basis of anything other than the plan it has invested in over the past few years, and instead hew to guidelines based on international law or the outline identified with the Clinton administration, can be compared to the likelihood that U.S. President Donald Trump will rejuvenate Obamacare. No phone call from Abbas will be able to overcome Trump’s desire to leave scorched earth in those fields plowed by his predecessors, or the ideological determination of his associates.

On the contrary, the Palestinian leadership had the sense to realize that refusing to sit at such a tilted negotiating table constituted the only obstacle to the capitulation of other players to the caprices of the incumbent U.S. president. For the Palestinians, Europeans and Arab countries to begin a process based on the Trump plan would solidify its relevance and thus make it the platform on which all future negotiations will be based. Their refusal to yield to the dictates of the new policy will make it possible for the next administration to formulate its vision based on principles acceptable to them.

Another assumption underlying Benn’s and Harel’s analyses is that a partial, immediate annexation is the worst possible option. Indeed, converting the existing regime in the West Bank into a de jure apartheid would be an awful development, because of its declarative impact and its practical implications. It should be fought in almost any way possible.

A protester during a demonstration against annexation, Tel Aviv, June 23, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad

However, replacing annexation now with annexation later, which, besides having American agreement will also undermine the feasibility of any alternative – is an even worse option. This is because it will deprive the Palestinians, and us, of the ability to challenge the status quo in the future and return to the guidelines based on UN resolutions.

Therefore, even those who believe the occupation must end today have to admit that sometimes there is no choice but to hunker down. Instead of criticizing Palestinian refusal to capitulate to the American diktat courtesy of the Yesha Council, we must support it and strengthen the agreements with the traditional partners to the two-state solution.

This must be done not out of a desire for a one-state solution, as per Benn’s barb, but out of a deep commitment to a reality that will provide equality and rights to all people living in the region. This will be achieved only when there will be two independent states here, side by side and truly secure.

Yehuda Shaul is one of the founders of Breaking the Silence.

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