Israel has erected "a formal, full-fledged apartheid regime," the editorial of Haaretz newspaper said yesterday, in a stark warning about the direction of the occupation state. Drawing attention to measures introduced by the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Haaretz's editorial said that they include the contentious decision to grant Israel's finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, control over the occupied West Bank.
For decades, Israel has governed the occupied Palestinian territories beyond the 1949 Green (Armistice) Line through a military administration. Indeed, that is a "principle of international law". An agreement was reached during January's coalition talks, however, to place the occupied territories under civilian rule.
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"Once the agreement is implemented, Smotrich will in effect become the governor of the West Bank, holding powers that will allow him to control nearly almost all areas of life there, including planning, building and infrastructure, which he intends to use to expand the settlement enterprise and stop all Palestinian development," said Haaretz.
Although this is unlikely to have any bearing on the pace of illegal settlement construction or the inhuman treatment of Palestinians, transferring control from the military admiration to a civilian authority has major ramifications. According to Haaretz, it will constitute a de jure annexation of the occupied West Bank. Formal annexation was meant to have been locked away following the so-called Abraham Accords, and Arab leaders defended the normalisation deal by saying that it had prevented Israel from formally annexing the West Bank.
Past Israeli governments have been cautious about interfering with the formal governing structure in the occupied Palestinian territory, even though they pushed ahead with a policy of maximum settlement expansion and ethnic cleansing. At least in theory, Israel portrayed itself to be an occupying military force temporarily and, until an agreed solution is reached with the Palestinians, it would remain an occupying power. In practice, however, Israel has shown no signs of ending the occupation and treats the West Bank as part of what will be "Greater Israel".
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"In legal terms, the assignment of governmental powers in the West Bank to its new civilian governor… constitutes de jure annexation of the West Bank," said Haaretz. "In light of the fact that there is no intention of granting civil rights to the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank, the result… is a formal, full-fledged apartheid regime."
This, added the newspaper, is a "severe breach international law." Major human rights organisations have already concluded that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem.
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