With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to annex portions of the West Bank, liberal critics here in the US and across Europe are in a tizzy. They have been quick to blame this crisis on Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump – since Trump’s “Deal of the Century” allows for Israel to claim at least 30 per cent of the West Bank. The critics, however, are wrong since paternity for this imminent extension of Israeli sovereignty over occupied Palestinian lands goes beyond the current Israeli government or the Trump administration. There are, in fact, three culprits.
In the first place, blame must be placed squarely on all Israeli governments going back to the beginning of the occupation over one-half century ago.
In the late 1970s, Likud embraced a plan to accelerate settlement construction in these areas while also expanding settlements in the interior of the West Bank. The plan also called for building roads to connect these settlements to pre- ‘67 Israel for the expressed purpose of carving up the West Bank making a contiguous Palestinian area impossible.
Today Israel has virtually annexed much of the West Bank, exercising near complete control over the occupied territories. They have moved over 650,000 of their citizens beyond the internationally recognised border, built roads and infrastructure to connect these settlers to Israel proper, constructed a 290-mile wall (much of it on Palestinian land), and set up over 100 checkpoints, denying Palestinians freedom of movement. In the Jordan Valley, they have burned thousands of acres of Palestinian agricultural land and fenced off much more.
Fault must also be found with successive American administrations which protested or complained, but ultimately acquiesced to this Israeli colonial conquest.
Beginning with the Bush administration and continuing under Obama, while new settlement expansion was frowned upon, existing settlements were viewed as “realities.” For the Israelis, the lesson was clear, settlement expansion might be frowned upon, but once built, they were accepted. The approach by Trump in the “Deal of the Century” is the logical extension of 50 years of US acquiescence.
Last but not least, Europe must share some of the blame. We are 100 years after the notorious San Remo Conference, which arrogated to itself the right to carve up the region and support the Balfour Declaration without any consultation with or consideration for the rights of the indigenous people of whose lands they were giving away. In the intervening years Europe changed, but only somewhat.
It was 40 years ago, that nine major European countries, frustrated with the lack of US leadership, issued the Venice Declaration – in which they called for an end to the occupation in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 224 and 338, the right of the Palestinians to be represented by the PLO, and their right to self-determination.
While Europe has passed numerous declarations and voted to condemn Israeli policies on a number of occasions, including a recent statement warning against Israel’s annexation of the territories, they continued to cede control of Israeli-Palestinian peace to the US. In addition, European declarations are without teeth, so their warnings have been ignored.
If we are to learn any lessons from past failures, on the eve of Israel’s threat to formally annex parts of the West Bank, here’s what must be done:
First, Israel must be called to account not only if it moves forward with annexation, but for its half-century of lawless behavior. To end impunity, there must be accountability. The response cannot just be recognition of a Palestinian state. Because this state will still not be in control of its territory, economy, and resources – such recognition will be a hollow gesture. Accountability requires sanctions, because if there are no economic and political consequences, then bad behaviour will continue.
It is of critical importance that the human rights of the Palestinian people be elevated as a concern by the international community. The Palestinian people cannot remain defenceless as they continue to be victimised. Land theft, home demolitions, collective punishment of civilian populations, mass incarceration, abuse of children, the daily humiliation at checkpoints, and other forms of repression will continue to scar Palestinians as long as the international community feigns powerlessness.