Palestine today: what’s changing?
Hannah Levy Davis explains Israel’s new plans for annexation and its potential consequences.
Following election promises made last year by the Prime Minister of Israel, Palestinians and Israelis alike are bracing themselves for huge potential changes to life in the West Bank. These changes were due to come into effect from July 1, but after peaceful protests in the Palestinian territories, the UK, the US, and Europe, the plans have been postponed. But what’s actually happening?
What we call Palestine is currently composed of two islands of land within Israel: the West Bank (so named because it is the west bank of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip. While the Gaza Strip is home to 2 million Palestinians, with few getting in or out, the population of the West Bank is a little more complicated. It is home to 3 million Palestinians, as well as over 400,000 Israelis known as “settlers”. To keep these two populations separate, the West Bank is divided into 3 zones, known as Area A, B and C. Put very simply, Area C contains the Israeli settlements and is off-limits to Palestinians, and Areas A and B are off limits to Israelis. This is how the West Bank has looked for the last few decades.
However, last year Israel held an election, and as part of Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, he promised to take parts of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Donald Trump’s administration has not only backed the plans, but also designated areas that could become part of Israel as part of his peace plan for the region. This includes Area C and surrounding spaces containing farmland and natural resources, as well as a large stretch of the Jordan valley, making up just over a third of the West Bank. The Israeli cabinet met on Sunday to finalise these plans, ready for implementation from July.
This fork in the road will reveal whether Israel is truly a democratic state.
If this goes ahead, it will mean Israel includes parts of the West Bank where Palestinians live (approximately 4.5% of the population). Thus, Israel is faced with the “apartheid question”: either give these Palestinians an Israeli citizenship and equal civil rights, or hope that they settle for a smattering of reserves, sealed off from Israel and the rest of the world by ten-foot walls. This fork in the road will reveal whether Israel is truly a democratic state.
What next? If Israel annexes these areas, there may be some civil unrest, and not just in the West Bank. Many Palestinians would find themselves even more isolated and restricted than before, both physically and economically as they are cut off from much of the region’s natural resources.
More widely, this move is likely to damage Israel’s relations with other Arab states, as well as its position in the UN and other international organisations. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned that this could spark a “massive conflict” with Jordan, also prevising increased extremism in Palestine. Meanwhile, Emirati diplomat Yousef Al-Otaiba wrote in a column for the Times of Israel that this annexation could be devastating for Israel’s security and economy, further isolating it from the Arab world. Coupled with the uncertainty of the US elections in November 2020, Netanyahu may look around and find himself with very few allies.