Israel to begin limited annexation of West Bank territories

Arab world unites in opposition and warns of dire consequences if annexation proceeds

Palestinian protesters pray on  the street  in the village of Hares near the city of Salfit during a demonstration against Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

Palestinian protesters pray on the street in the village of Hares near the city of Salfit during a demonstration against Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Photograph: Alaa Badarneh/EPA

 

With only a few days left before the target date set by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for beginning the process of annexing parts of the West Bank, all the indications point to a limited move, initially at least, seeking to extend Israeli sovereignty to a few settlement blocs.

Citing a senior Palestinian official, Israel’s Channel 12 reported on Friday that the Palestinian Authority had received a message, relayed via Jordan, that the annexation would be significantly reduced.

The official told the network the message had been delivered after Mossad chief Yossi Cohen’s reported meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah this week.

Only a few weeks ago, Mr Netanyahu was talking about Israel annexing about 30 per cent of the entire occupied West Bank, beginning on July 1st, including most Jewish settlements and the sparsely populated Jordan Valley, which runs along the western shore of the river Jordan.

Annexation became an option under the terms of the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century”, but was supposed to be co-ordinated with the Palestinians as part of a process leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

However, the Palestinians refused to even consider the plan, claiming it was biased in favour of Israel and marked the end of the slim hopes for a feasible two-state solution.

So Mr Netanyahu, who formed a government with the centrist Blue and White party last month, pushed ahead with a plan to unilaterally annex areas of the West Bank, saying he was ready to enter negotiations with the Palestinians, but failing to commit explicitly to a Palestinian state.

Mr Netanyahu is keen to complete the annexation before the US presidential elections in November as a Democratic victory is likely to scuttle the entire process.

Dire consequences

Although Mr Netanyahu can likely muster a majority in the Knesset parliament for any annexation move, the Trump administration stressed the importance of an Israeli consensus.

So far, talks between Mr Netanyahu and Blue and White leaders have failed to produce an outline for annexation.

Three days of talks at the White House this week involving US officials involved in the process also failed to reach a decision on the next steps to implement the Trump plan and senior administration officials are due in Israel this weekend to continue the deliberations.

The Arab world, led by the two countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel – Jordan and Egypt – have warned of dire consequences if the annexation proceeds.

Palestinian officials have said that even a minor annexation will lead to the collapse of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which administers Gaza, has likened annexation to a declaration of war.

The international community, led by EU states, have also voiced strong opposition to the planned Israeli move.