Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been promising for more than a year to annex West Bank land the Palestinians want for a state. With Donald Trump in the White House, he’s now got the backing he needs to turn that pipedream of the Israeli right and nightmare of the Palestinians into reality. The economic carnage of the coronavirus has cast a shadow on Trump’s re-election prospects, however, and Netanyahu has to move fast if he wants to be assured of getting this done under the aegis of the US president’s Middle East peace plan.
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Then again, he might not really want to, and may have been using annexation as a campaign rallying cry during a drawn-out election cycle. It’s clear to Netanyahu that such an explosive proposition would soon come up against the harsher reality of its consequences, including the risk of reigniting violence.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war. Netanyahu’s predecessors shied from extending Israeli sovereignty there to avoid the international uproar that would have ensued from what is widely regarded as a violation of an international treaty forbidding annexation of occupied territories.
Today, more than 400,000 Jewish colonists live there among 2.6 million Palestinians who claim the West Bank as the heart of their hoped-for state. In addition, more than 200,000 Jewish colonists are also present in occupied east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed shortly after capturing it, too, from Jordan in 1967, alongside more than 300,000 Palestinians. The Palestinians say annexation of West Bank land would deal an irrevocable blow to their dream of an independent, viable homeland.
Netanyahu has said he’d like to extend Israeli sovereignty over all of the roughly 130 heavily fortified colonies, dozens of satellite outposts, and “other areas important to our security, our heritage, and our future.” Under the Trump plan, that would account for about 30 per cent of the West Bank, leaving the Palestinians with non-contiguous enclaves that would be joined by a system of tunnels and bridges.
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