by Chandni Desai
Plans for de jure annexation of Palestinian lands have emerged at a time when the world is battling against one of the deadliest pandemics in a century. As nation-states around the globe turn their attention inwards to their own national health and economic crisis, the Israeli settler colonial state has used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to escalate their attacks on Palestinian life and land. On July 1, 2020, Israel’s new unity government (formed between the Likud Party and Blue and White) was slated to vote on the annexation of the West Bank territory in occupied Palestine. The annexation vote would have allowed Israel to unilaterally incorporate occupied Palestinian territory within its borders. The vote was delayed in part due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and political crises taking place both in Israel and the U.S. – the international broker for the annexation deal. The Israeli annexation proposal was also met with global condemnation, which has resulted in the temporary suspension of the plan. Nevertheless, this is simply a delay. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to Israeli journalists, “there is no change in my plan to apply [Israeli] sovereignty to the West Bank and Gaza, in coordination with the U.S., I am committed, it has not changed…this issue continues to remain on the table.”
U.S. imperialism has always played a vital role in the Zionist colonization of Palestine. In the latest imperialist assault on Palestine, in January 2020, the Trump administration released “Visions for Peace” also known as “The Deal of the Century,” or simply the Trump Plan, described as a so-called “peace” plan for Israel-Palestine and the Middle East. “Visions for Peace” is an Israeli plan devised in collaboration with the U.S. Trump administration, and in consultation with officials from Gulf states, without Palestinian input or consent. The suspended Israeli annexation plan functions hand in hand with the Trump Plan to further expand settler colonial imperialist dispossession in Palestine. For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew up the map that is included in the Trump Plan and has been cited as working on this plan for the past three years. The Trump Plan negates Palestinian statehood and aspirations for self-determination and requires Palestinian capitulation to Israeli occupation and the cessation of the Palestinian struggle. Rather than brokering meaningful peace, the plan is, in essence, a scheme to expand Zionist settler colonialism and apartheid in Palestine.
De Jure Annexation and its Economic, Political and Social Implications
De jure annexation formalizes de facto annexation practices juridically by extending Israeli law to occupied areas, and creating laws that authorize current and future land annexations. De jure annexation would cement Israeli colonial policies and practices of dispossession and land theft. If the temporarily halted Israeli plan is eventually put into motion, it will have serious economic, political and social implications for Palestinian life, and exacerbate the ongoing human rights and international law violations.
The Trump Plan provides a blueprint that outlines the parameters of de jure annexation, which would enable Israel to seize strategic transportation and land areas amounting to as much as 60% of West Bank territory. Stop the Wall, a Palestinian grassroots organization, has estimated that 75 Palestinian villages with populations totaling approximately 118,000 people will be displaced, and ethnically cleansed from the proposed annexation areas. This includes the non-recognition of entire Palestinian communities and the ban on construction, which has already been enacted for for decades, and has resulted in home demolitions and massive displacements all over the West Bank.
The destruction of the Palestinian economy is fundamental to this plan, as annexation is premised on the theft of plush agricultural land and natural resources (including dead sea minerals) and will deny Palestinians access to farming, food and animal production, which is estimated to generate approximately $3.4 billion for the Palestinian economy. Water confiscation will be one of the main elements of de jure annexation. During an interview with Jamal Juma’, coordinator of the Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign on the Liberation Pedagogy Podcast, Juma’ pointed out that 60% of the water in the Jordan Valley (including the natural spring water) will be cut off entirely. This will entrench Palestinian dependency on purchased water, which they will have to buy at exorbitantly high prices from Mekerot – Israeli’s national water company. Additionally, 50, 000 hectares of arable land will be confiscated from Palestinians, which they will be banned from using. As a result, animal production, which is a major source of income in the Jordan Valley will not be able to continue. De jure annexation will strangle the Palestinian economy, debilitate trade, and ultimately force Palestinians to become dependent on Israeli goods and services, as well as imported products.
Economic policies that further capitalist accumulation in the region and deepen imperialist social relations have and will be used to garner support to materialize both the Trump and Israeli plans on the ground. In 2019, as the Trump plan was being drafted, members of the Trump administration made state visits to several Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain to discuss the economic aspects of the plan, and sought their public support. Bahrain also hosted a U.S. led conferenced called “Peace to Prosperity” in June 2019 that focused on the economic aspects of the Trump plan, which the Palestinian leadership boycotted. Economic policies and incentives are and will be used to entice Gulf States to accumulate surplus capital in the region, in exchange for support for Israeli annexation. This was seen most recently on August 13, 2020 when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) established full diplomatic ties with Israel via US mediation, and overtly normalized their relations with the Zionist state, claiming this was part of a deal to halt the annexation of Palestinian lands. Rashid Khalidi suggests that the UAE has never been at war with Israel and has had economic ties with the Zionist state and is its ally, which has now been made public. Additionally, on September 11, 2020 Bahrain also announced diplomatic ties with Israel. Adam Hanieh reminds us that understanding the adoption of neoliberal policies by Arab governments in the region from the 1990’s onwards is important to grasp how “neoliberal transformations have also occurred with the internationalization of Gulf capital, the dramatic restructuring of class relations which not only enriched national capitalist classes backed by authoritarian states, it has also acted to strengthen the position of the Gulf states within the wide regional order,” and its relations with imperialism. Additionally, the neoliberalization of the Zionist state’s economy led Israeli capitalists to envision the opening up of Arab markets to Israeli and US investors, under the guise of “peace.” Thus, it is highly possible that additional states in the region will forge diplomatic ties with the Israeli regime.
The de jure annexation plans proposed by Israeli leaders is reflected in the Trump plan, particularly the map, which denotes that the already existing apartheid infrastructure will be expanded further by creating additional Israeli industrial zones, separate Jewish only-roads and military checkpoints, as well as extending the illegal apartheid wall. Annexation will include the further Judaization of the landscape by segregating Palestinians and confining them to South African style bantustans (ethnic enclaves). It is important to note that this system was designed based on the reservation systems in the settler states of Canada and the U.S. According to Noura Erakat, “the Trump/Netanyahu plan “cements the containment of Palestinians within a series of 115 bantustans and signals the irreversible death of a viable Palestinian state.” This infrastructure is part of a settlement expansion regime which aims at eliminating Palestinians from the landscape and replace them with Jewish settlers, a perennial aim of Zionism – the racial elimination of the native. As of 2020, approximately 463, 535 Israeli (Jewish) settlers live in the West Bank and 220, 200 live in East Jerusalem – a combined settler population of 683,553. While the settlers remain outside so-called Israel proper, they are granted Israeli citizenship and provided government subsidies for lower cost of living. Annexation will increase this settler population at a rapid rate. This will threaten Palestinian residency in the proposed annexed areas. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that “Palestinian residents in the areas to be annexed would be not given Israeli citizenship”, forcing them to live in an apartheid colony, surrounded by Israeli settlers and outposts, which are deemed illegal under international law.
Historical Context of Annexation and the Formation of De Facto Annexation
The Zionist settler colonial annexation of Palestinian lands, water, and resources outlined in the proposed annexation plans put forth by both Israel and the United States are not new.[i] It is, therefore, imperative to understand the historical and political context that precedes the current annexation proposals. More than a century ago, imperialist desires and colonial plans led to the conquest of Palestinian lands, theft of resources, and the dispossession of an Indigenous people from their homes and lands. The Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), which enabled Britain and France to take possession of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, in many ways, set the stage for the dispossession and violence that mark Israel’s occupation of Palestine. As part of the 1916 agreement, the colonial powers split up Greater Syria (also known as the Levant) into regions and imposed imperial borders between Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. At the time, Vladimir Lenin described Sykes-Picot as the “agreement of the colonial thieves” because the colonial governments developed territorial agreements among themselves, of which lands they would colonize, control and govern, and established artificial states while exploiting Arab lands and resources without consent.
Following the Sykes-Picot agreement, the British declared support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in mandate Palestine. The Balfour Declaration (1917), which facilitated mass Jewish immigration to Palestine, consolidated Zionist aims to conquer Palestine and proved to be a strategic imperialist maneuver to keep Egypt and the Suez Canal within British influence. The support of western imperial powers for a Jewish homeland in Palestine accelerated and legitimated attempts at Zionist settler colonization culminating with the 1948 Nakba (catastrophe). In March 1948, Zionist political and military leaders laid out Plan Dalet, the blueprint for the forcible depopulation, ethnic cleansing and destruction of Palestine and its people. Plan Dalet outlined specific operational military orders for the conquest of Palestine that resulted in the Nakba –a catastrophe that destroyed over 531 Palestinian villages, depopulated 11 neighborhoods; dispossessed and ethnically cleansed over 800, 000 people from their lands; and transformed a peasant population into refugees (of whom many were proletarianized). As Sherene Seikaly powerfully writes “the ghost that must always haunt narration is 1948, the year of that twin birth: the Israeli state and the Palestinian refugee condition”.
Two decades later, during the 1967 War (known as the Naksa or Arab-Israeli war), Israel seized the remaining Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula. As a result of the 1967 War, Palestinians were once again dispossessed from their homes and lands. In 1967, Israel began enacting de facto annexation which enabled the colonial state to expand its military occupation as well as settlement development and construction towards the aim of an ethnonational Jewish only state. Settlement construction was articulated and refined through in two major Israeli plans, the Allon Plan (1967) and the Sharon Plan (1981). The Allon Plan proposed Israeli annexation of major parts of the occupied West Bank, specifically East Jerusalem, Gush Etzion, and the Jordan Valley. The passage of the Allon Plan would have led to the annexation of approximately 30% of the West Bank, including half of its agricultural land in addition to the Dead Sea, and impacted the 65,000 Palestinians who resided there. The Sharon Plan in 1977 called for a new belt of Israeli settlements to be built in the Western part of the West Bank, the construction of east-west highways across the territory, and in 1991 launched a settlement expansion plan that attracted Jewish settlers by offering large economic incentives.
According to Adam Hanieh (2013), the Allon and Sharon plans: “envisaged Israeli settlements placed between major Palestinian population centers and on top of water aquifers and fertile agricultural land. An Israeli-only road network would eventually connect these settlements to each other and also to Israeli cities outside of the West Bank. In this way, Israel could seize land and resources, divide Palestinian areas from each other, and avoid direct responsibility for the Palestinian population as much as possible. The asymmetry of Israeli and Palestinian control over land, resources, and economy meant that the contours of Palestinian state-formation were completely dependent on Israeli design”. A de facto annexation of Palestinian lands and resources has occurred, as Hanieh describes, through apartheid infrastructure such as settlements, separate road networks, and checkpoints. The expansion of this settler colonial infrastructure has hindered Palestinian freedom of movement and sought to utterly transform Palestinian land ownership, the Palestinian economy, and Palestinian modes of social reproduction.
The signing of the U.S. brokered Oslo Accords (1993-1995) between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization lead to even greater annexationist strategies on the part of Israel. As part of the Oslo Accords, Israel laid claim to 78% of historical Palestine and expanded its settlement construction. In 1995, Oslo II partitioned the West Bank into three administrative divisions – Areas A, B and C. The Palestinian Authority has limited governance of Areas A and B, with external Israeli control, whereas Israel has full control over Area C, which constitutes 60% of the West Bank and most of its natural resources. Israel has declared Area C a closed military zone, which prevents Palestinians from accessing their own resources and lands. Israeli settlers, on the other hand, can expropriate resources from this area as they wish. The determination of residency rights in these areas have also been solely determined by Israel, which enables the settler state to strip Palestinians of their rights to their homes, lands and natural resources, while allowing Jewish settlers to have access to that land. Oslo created an apartheid infrastructure of racial segregation and separateness managed through military occupation, which has been supported for decades by western imperialism particularly the U.S. government through political, financial, military, and diplomatic support for the occupation and settlement project. Erakat suggests it has “also retooled Palestinian police forces into a security apparatus for the settlements and their attendant infrastructure”. Incremental annexation has been on-going for decades, the de jure annexation proposed by the Trump/Netanyahu Plan will legally authorize the colonial theft of land and resources.
Impending Annexation and Accelerated Land Theft during Covid-19 Pandemic
Though de jure annexation has been temporarily suspended, Israeli military night raids of Palestinian homes, arrests, and murders of unarmed civilians have surged. Incarceration and subsequent medical negligence of Palestinian political prisoners continues to increase at alarming rates. There has also been an surge in the number of home demolitions on the ground every day. These settler colonial machinations are occurring in the middle of a declared state of emergency and lockdown that prevents Palestinians from quarantining and physical distancing, making them extremely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Moreover, Riya Al’Sanah and Rafeef Ziadah argue that Palestinian workers are bearing the brunt of the pandemic particularly those that are employed in Israel’s economy, as they have been left exposed to the dangers of COVID-19, with no support, particularly those in the construction industry who are one of the worst affected.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, right wing racist and fascist Jewish settlers, escorted by armed soliders, have destroyed Palestinian crops and attacked their cattle, particularly in Area C villages such as Burqa, Madama, and Burin. Israel also seized over 800 dunums of land in the villages of Shufa, Khibet Jabara and Al’Ra’s, south Tulkarm city, to build a new settlement industrial zone. Also, one day after the formation of the unity government, Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, approved annexing parts of the old city of Hebron, specifically the lands surrounding the Ibrahimi Mosque, which belongs to the Islamic Waqf. As Palestinians struggle to contain the spread of COVID-19, two COVID clinics set up in the Jordan Valley and Hebron were destroyed by Israeli occupation forces. Further, the ongoing siege of Gaza has limited Palestinian access to medical supplies and the equipment necessary to combat COVID-19. Israel has also been bombing Gaza during this period.
Peace and annexation are contradictory, and the Trump/Netanyahu proposals only promise more of the same. Land and water theft, home demolitions, and dispossession are antithetical to peace and Palestinian aspirations for self-determination and liberation from colonialism and capitalist imperialism. The Trump/Netanyahu proposals have been met with strong opposition from all Palestinian political parties and factions, who have cautioned the Zionist state from moving forward with annexation, and have expressed resistance in all its forms. Popular committees on the ground continue to put their bodies on the frontlines to defend their homes, lands and resources and remain steadfast, despite the risks of a deadly pandemic. Civil society organizations and Palestinian solidarity groups from across the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and the Americas are calling for sanctions and intensified campaigns for boycott, and divestment. The modern day agreements of colonial and imperialist thieves – the Trump plan and Netanyahu annexation plan – must be refused, resisted and defeated by all means necessary.
[i] The Palestinian historian Fayez Sayegh (1965) identified three elements of Zionism which includes: racial self-segregation in a Zionist state; racial exclusiveness through eviction and elimination of the Arab Palestinians; and occupation in all of Palestine, with Israeli statehood as Zionism’s perennial aim.
Chandni Desai is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto. She is working on her first book Revolutionary Circuits of Liberation: The Radical Tradition of Palestinian Resistance Culture and Internationalism. She has written articles on Palestinian resistance/revolutionary culture, settler colonial economies and resurgent solidarities, Palestinian oral history and archives, the carceral state and its technologies, memorializing state violence, decolonization and internationalism. She is the host of the Liberation Pedagogy Podcast.