Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moving forward with his annexation plans, which would allow Israel to claim nearly a third of the overall size of the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Although the illegal annexation of Palestinian land is supposed to represent only one provision of the Donald Trump administration’s so-called “Deal of the Century”, Netanyahu has made it clear that he is not interested in implementing the other requirements of the deal.
The Israeli prime minister told a group of extremist Jewish leaders on 7 June that there will be no freeze in the expansion of illegal settlements.
Earlier, he had argued that whatever Palestinian entity — if any — would be formed in the remainder of the West Bank, it would not be called a state. Netanyahu understands that he is presented with a historic opportunity, where there is no accountability whatsoever for his actions, not even a gentle reprimand by Washington.
The most consequential discussion regarding the nature and timing of annexation seems to be taking place within Israel itself, as Washington has already greenlighted the Israeli action, and other European countries are either silent, or complicit, in the latest Israeli infringement on Palestinian rights.
From the very start, the debate among Israel’s political elites has been concerned with the so-called “demographic bomb”. Their aim is to acquire all Palestinian land inhabited, with a minimum number of Palestinians. (Note how the land that is in the process of being annexed is sparsely populated, compared with the rest of the West Bank.)
On 4 June, Israel declared that the approximately 50,000 Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank area that is slated for annexation will not be granted Israeli citizenship. By doing so, Netanyahu wanted to send two messages — one to the Palestinians, and the other to the Israelis:
To the Palestinians, Netanyahu wants to make clear that a one-state solution is not in the offing and, that by annexing Palestinian territories, Palestinians will have no legal status to demand equal rights in accordance with a democratic inclusive constitution.
His message to the Israelis, especially his supporters within the Likud and ardent ultra- nationalist and religious parties, is that the Palestinian “demographic bomb” is still not a threat, and that Israel’s Jewish citizens will continue to constitute the majority of the population, once the annexation is complete.
But what message will the Palestinians send to Netanyahu?
It is quite difficult to discuss with any degree of certainty what will happen once Israel moves forward with its annexation plan. The lack of clarity is related to the complexity within the Palestinian political context and the lack of tangible Arab solidarity with Palestine at this critical historical juncture.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has long served as a security buffer for the Israeli army and illegal Jewish settlements. In fact, the political justification of the PA’s existence in the eyes of Israel, the US and their Western allies, is precisely that: providing security for Israel.
There was much talk about the PA’s role in state-building and good governance, but all of that amounted to nothing in the end, because the establishment of a Palestinian state was never a priority in the West’s political agenda.
On 19 May, PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared that his authority was cancelling all agreements with Israel and the US. We still do not fully understand what such a decision means on the ground. If the PA, itself, is the outcome of these agreements, and if all donor countries’ support has been received on the basis that the PA merely exists as a provisional fulfilment of the agreements, why, then, should the PA continue to exist? What role does it still serve? And is it not high time for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the more representative Palestinian political body, to be resurrected?
It can be argued that Abbas has cancelled the agreements, without following his decision with any meaningful action on the ground, in anticipation of the Palestinian protests that will surely follow Israel’s annexation of nearly 30 per cent of the West Bank.
When Palestinians take to the streets chanting against Israel and the US, condemning Arab silence and duplicity, will they also condemn the PA and Abbas for their decades-long cooperation with Israel and for their unmitigated failures and endemic corruption?
Alarmed by the grim possibilities ahead, Abbas and his cronies are desperately hoping to reposition themselves as part of the Palestinian collective anger at Israel. But the Palestinian people, highly educated and politically savvy, fully understand that Israel would have never been able to sustain its occupation and expand its illegal Jewish settlements with relative ease, without Abbas’ direct contributions.
If Israel annexes parts of the West Bank, and the Palestinian protests are eventually contained without resulting in a serious overhaul of the Palestinian leadership, Netanyahu will be emboldened even further, which may result in more annexation of Palestinian land.
It follows that Netanyahu’s annexation plan is a moment of reckoning, not just for Israel, which is putting the final touches to its colonial project in Palestine, or for Arab governments and the international community, which either turned a blind eye or are, in fact, facilitating Israeli colonialism, but for the Palestinians as well.
It has been proven, repeatedly, that the current political formula — a two-state solution championed by an ageing and corrupt Palestinian leadership — has completely failed.
It has also been made clear that no future vision that discounts the centrality of the Palestinian people, in Palestine and throughout the “shataat” (diaspora), could possibly survive, let alone bring about a just peace. (The Oslo Accords, the Geneva Initiative, the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet Roadmap are only a few of many such feeble attempts.)
The Palestinian response to the Israeli annexation plan will clarify the nature of the struggle against Israeli colonialism and apartheid in the coming months and years.
I strongly believe that Palestinians are ready to move on, beyond the PA, Abbas’ useless rhetoric, factionalism and the futile search for Arab governments’ solidarity that merely translate into tired speeches and the occasional financial handouts.
While, in Netanyahu’s mind, the end-game is drawing near, his annexation scheme could possibly lead to the reordering of the political game altogether, with the Palestinian people finally pushing themselves to the centre of the political equation.
Whether the Palestinian collective response to annexation leads to another Intifada, or manifests itself in any other form, there is no escaping the fact that the Palestinian people have long been marginalised and that the time has come for them to reclaim the mantle of struggle, once more.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.