Netanyahu returns to the suspended annexation plans
When former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman insisted that annexation of the occupied West Bank was merely suspended, not cancelled, much emphasis was made on how the Abraham Accords would usher in a new chapter with benefits for Palestinians. The diversion from the looming annexation provided the international community with the opportunity to re-ignite its two-state rhetorical diplomacy, under the pretence that the earlier status quo remained relevant.
“We’ve prioritized peace over the sovereignty movement, but it’s not off the table, it’s just something that will be deferred until we give peace every single chance,” Friedman stated in 2020. Of course, what Friedman meant was that the normalisation agreements would distance Palestinians even further away from political agreements that adversely affect them. With the international community’s acceptance of the Abraham Accords as the means to promote the two-state compromise again, Israel knew it enjoyed full impunity for the next step, whenever it happened.
With Benjamin Netanyahu soon returning to Israel’s political scene as Prime Minister, the pause over annexation seems to be moving towards an end. The incoming government’s policy is making no distinction between Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank, in keeping with the colonial framework. “The Jewish people have an exclusive and unquestionable right to all areas of the Land of Israel,” the policy statement partly reads. With this absence of distinction, the incoming government pledged to “develop” Area C of the occupied West Bank and to strengthen Israel’s colonial occupation of Jerusalem under the pretext of “preserving and developing a united Jerusalem.”
The coalition agreement also states that “The nation of Israel has a natural right to the Land of Israel.” With such a sweeping statement that eliminates Israel’s colonial history, the document also pledges that “In light of the belief in that aforementioned right, the prime minister will formulate and promote policies within whose framework sovereignty will be applied to Judea and Samaria.”
While the US has already warned against Israeli settlement expansion, the warning is just a nod to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s usual rhetoric that Israelis and Palestinians should enjoy equal rights, despite never explaining how Palestinians can enjoy equal rights within a colonial reality. In terms of the two-state diplomacy, there is nothing that the US or the international community will, or can, do, which works in Israel’s favour regarding annexation. Since UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres keeps reminding that there is no Plan B – a statement which should be altered to reflect the fact that the international community will not allow Palestinians a Plan B, settlement expansion will continue to be normalised until the new government, or any other Israeli government, decides that formalising settlement expansion through annexation will not cause any diplomatic repercussions, however slight.
Netanyahu’s promise to annex the occupied West Bank is based upon timing that will not jeopardise Israel’s national and international interests. Gradual changes are what Netanyahu will be looking at, until normalising Israel’s violations will also extend to formalising annexation.