On March 2020, the 3rd general elections took place in Israel for 120 seats of the Knesset. The right-wing Likud party, led by Netanyahu, was victorious in spite of charges against him of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Nov 2019. After several compromises, an emergency government of national unity was formed on April 20 for a limited period of 36 months, to be presided by Netanyahu for the first 18 months and by left-wing leader Gantz during the last 18 months, under the approval of the president Rivlin. In the first phase, Gantz will be vice-premier and Minister of Defence. The alternation on the guide of the executive will be enshrined by a law of the Knesset.
The slight predominance of the Likud party will entail the implementation of the US President Trump’s so-called "deal of the century", which encompasses the Israel political process of incorporating the occupied West Bank, which includes Israeli settlements, the region of Jordan Valley, and nature reserves. In other words, the government has been authorized to bring a de-facto 'annexation" plan. This would incorporate about 30% more of the total West Bank area, to debate in the Knesset since 1 July 2020.
Amnesty International underlines that this agreement would worsen violations of human rights, the impunity of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other gross violations. in so doing, this would perpetuate flagrant violations of international law. Annexation territories by the use of force breaches Art. 2 (4) UN Charter, that generally set out jus cogens norms and humanitarian laws. The plan would extend Israeli law to the OPT, not changing their legal status. In fact, under domestic Israeli law, it's nothing else but an Israeli settlement expansion, denying civil and political rights to Palestinians, their freedom of movement, of speech, and non-discrimination.
The rise turmoils in these strips of land are likely to escalate. In front of what has been described by A.I. as an incoming "law of the jungle" after the latest elections, this NGO is currently urging the international community to strengthen the implementation of international law stressing, that any annexation of the occupied West Bank is null and void. It's also claiming a halt of the construction of Israeli illegal settlements in the OPT and trades, and support ICC investigations.
Under Art. 47 of the 4th Geneva Convention, people in occupied territories shall not be deprived of their rights as the result of the occupation neither by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the occupying powers, not by any annexation in whole or part of the occupied territories.
Furthermore, it's not clear what will be ruled out about citizenship and residency under this incorporation of lands. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu affirmed that Palestinian residents in the areas that will be annexed wouldn't get Israeli citizenship.
Annexation would also result in a mass-expropriation of private and agricultural Palestinian lands and home demolition, thus violating the right to adequate housing and violate prohibiltions to demolish housing unless necessary for military operations. (in 2019 Israel demolished 617 Palestinian structures and evicted 899 people in the West Bank).
What is further inflaming the crisis is Palestinine’s economic dependence on Israel. This is especially true for the 150.000 Palestinians working in Israel (5000 in Gaza) with official permits and about 60.000 who work illegally in Gaza strip and West Bank. The adopted restrictions mean depriving hundreds of millions of dollars flowing for the Palestinian market and a decline of its purchasing power due to the lack of liquidity. Moreover, due to Israeli health measures, Palestinian imports have been banned. To make matters worse, OPEC continues to cut oil exports, holding up the prices. The World Bank reported in April that, if the coronavirus crisis and its economic effects wouldn't ease, the Palestinian economy will shrink by 7%, causing an unprecedented collapse. The Palestinian finance minister has already asked for a loan from Israel of 500 million Israeli shekels ($141 million) per month until the end of the pandemic but it's unlikely it could fulfill its obligations. The PA (the governing body of the autonomous Palestinian regions) and the paramilitary PLO have also called the international community to impose sanctions against Israel and started boycotts and disinvestment, announcing that they consider it as a “declaration of war”.
On 28 January, the Trump administration held a press conference in the White House, announcing a "peace to prosperity: a vision to improve the lives of the Palestinian and Israeli people” plan, that pleased the new coalition government in Israeli. It proposed incorporating existing Israeli settlements in West Bank, including Jordan Valley and East Jerusalem; Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel; a territory for the future of Palestine, including parts of West Bank, Gaza Strip and some Jerusalem surrounding; linking the Palestinian territories through new roads, bridges, and tunnels; freezing Israeli settlement construction for four years; and investing $50 billion to build a new Palestine state.
Following announcement of the US-proposed "Deal of the Century", an "International Conference on the Question of Palestine" was held last February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, gathering practitioners, academics, and civil society, to thwart unilateral actions and to implement the substantive exercise of inalienable rights in Palestine. This highlighted the uselessness of a new plan and the necessity of effectively executing existing agreements and UN resolutions, based on the Two-State formula.
On 1 July, hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Gaza and the West Bank against annexation. The following day, Pope Francis summoned the US and Israel ambassadors to prevent an escalation of violence in these lands, reckoning that the state of Palestine and that of Israel have the same right "to exist and live in security, within internationally recognized borders", discouraging unilateral actions. Further complicating the situation and Palestinian sufferings are economic and health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, Israeli alternate Prime Minister Gantz announced it would be desirable that the propagandized annexation take place after the proclaimed state of emergency due to the coronavirus.
In conclusion, the economic downturn, the spread of COVID-19, and the paralysis of Israel and Palestine, that claim the same lands under their religious beliefs, have highlighted the weakness of the international system in dealing with the Israeli-Palenstinian issue. Inadequacy of political summits with clumsy changing strategies, long distant from the dramatic reality ground, makes this a sad quarrel with no clear, effective resolution in sight.
Paola Canale is a write/journalist covering International Relations and Human Rights.